Beavers- An Unforeseen Gun Dog Threat

beavers

With their razor sharp teeth and heavy front claws, Beavers can become a serious threat.

About this time last year – late March – one of our German wirehairs chased a young beaver around our backyard pond. It dove every time she got close, so she couldn’t catch it. Fortunately, we were able to call her off it before the beaver climbed out of the pond and headed back down the stream from which we assume it had come. If she had confronted it on land, we might have had a dead dog.

Several years ago I wrote an article about the dangers of dog and beaver encounters after hearing about Jeff Sattern’s two German shorthairs’ fight with a beaver. It bears repeating and spreading the word because few people realize that while beavers are usually shy and not aggressive, if they feel cornered or threatened on land, they can attack. Their teeth are razor sharp and their front feet have heavy claws.

beavers

Photo by Nancy Anisfield

Jeff, who lives in Bowdoin, Maine, was in his house when he heard the dogs barking wildly. He ran outside to check the commotion and found Bo rolling on the ground just five feet from the house, struggling with a large beaver. Bo’s kennel brother, Zeke, stood by watching. With no shoes on to make kicking an option, Jeff grabbed Bo’s foot and pulled him off. The beaver, teeth clicking and showing no fear, faked a charge at the dog then lunged at Jeff, too. Jeff led Bo around to the side of the house, yelling for Zeke. Zeke just stood there. Then Jeff saw that Zeke’s legs were covered with blood. When Jeff grabbed him, pulling his head down some, blood gushed out of the dog’s throat – the blood on his legs had come from a severed artery in his neck.

Jeff called to his wife to bring rags then wrapped dish towel around Zeke’s throat and kept it twisted tight. When it seemed Zeke needed to breathe, he’d loosen it for a moment. Bo’s injuries weren’t life-threatening, so they raced to the vet with Zeke.  Both dogs survived. Zeke lost 50 percent of his blood, but the vet said Jeff’s swift action with the tourniquet saved his dog’s life.

Wildlife biologist Kimberly Royar of the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says it is unusual for a beaver to behave that aggressively. “But you can’t ever say ‘never,’” she added. “Normally beavers won’t go more than 100 yards from water, and when they move to a new territory, they tend to follow a water course.” Two-year-old beavers, however, leave their family groups to find their own territory and a mate, often traveling by land or water for miles. That makes them the most likely ones hunters and dogs might run into away from a large water source. Beavers are most active at night, but can be found during the day, especially at dusk or dawn. Rabies could cause a beaver to attack, but, as Kimberly pointed out, rabies in beavers is rare. When frightened, a beaver will hiss or make blowing sounds – a warning that could precede an attack. Beavers will also slap their broad, flat tails on the surface of the water as a warning to predators or other beavers. On land, facing an perceived threat, beavers will rear up on their hind legs while hissing or growling, then lunge forward to bite.

What’s the hunter with gun dogs to do? Be aware and be cautious when running or hunting dogs near water known to be beaver territory.  Keep the dogs in close and be able to whoa or correct the dog that shows interest in a beaver. Similar to the precautions taken against other potentially dangerous encounters – bears, alligators, snakes – recognizing their habitat and the risk to our dogs is half the battle.

Last modified: August 16, 2017

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