As the snow melts in the high country, hikers, backpackers and other visitors will soon be joining bands of domestic sheep in heading for public lands.
Domestic sheep are grazed on public lands under permit from late June to early October. A band of sheep is often accompanied by a pair of livestock protection dogs, which are an effective tool used by ranchers to protect sheep from predators. These large white guard dogs are often Great Pyrenees or Akbash breeds.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will be posting signs along trails and trailheads notifying users of the dates that domestic sheep bands will be grazing in certain areas. Follow these safety tips when encountering guard dogs in the backcountry:
When approaching a band of sheep, allow time for the guard dogs to see you and determine you are not a threat. Remain calm. If you do not appear to be a threat, the dogs will often just watch you pass by.
If you have a dog with you, it may appear to guard dogs as a threat if it gets too close to the band or tries to chase sheep. Keep your dog close to you and under control. Leash your dog for as long as you can see sheep band.
Try not to “split” the band by walking through it; instead travel around the sheep via the least disruptive route. Keep as much space as practical between you and the sheep band, especially if you have a dog with you. As you pass, keep line of sight between you, your pets and the guard dogs.
Bicycle riders should dismount from their bikes and walk past the band with the bike between you and the livestock protection dog. Do not remount until you are well past the sheep.
• Chase or harass sheep or livestock protection dogs.
• Try to outrun livestock protection dogs. If a guard dog approaches you, tell it to “go back to the sheep,” or tell it, “No!” in a firm voice. Do not attempt to hit or throw things at it.
• Attempt to befriend or feed livestock protection dogs. They are not pets. They are lean athletic working dogs, which are cared for by their owners.
• Allow your pets to run towards or harass sheep. They may be perceived as predators by the livestock protection dog and attacked.
• Mistake a livestock protection dog as lost and take it with you.
For more information or to report an encounter with a livestock protection dog, contact the San Juan Public Lands Center at 247-4874 or the nearest Forest Service or BLM office.