BEWARE OF THE WILD BEAST—THE LITTLE GUYS (Musings on Dogs and Wildlife, Part 2)

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Tessi, my gregarious, sweet-natured girl, is a hunter. She has little interest in fetching a ball or a stick—she’ll grab the object, let me attempt to retrieve it from her before eventually dropping it, then head away nose to ground in hopes of fetching something alive. She revels in the search for bunnies, moles and any other small critter she can get her paws on.

The small animals inhabiting our region of southern Ontario are, for the most part, harmless. A muskrat once slashed Tessi’s cheek. Because of this, I discourage her from chasing (though some of my neighbours are happy to let her rid them of their muskrat problems). I can usually stop her if I firmly and sharply command her to before she launches off, and continue to mollify her as we move on.

Of all the muskrats she’s gone after, there’s only been that single incident. I never realized they can be aggressive. Since we live in a marshy area, where muskrats thrive, we’ve spotted them numerous times. They’re often out during the day and have proven to be easy targets for my girl.

There are a few creatures, such as the two below, that we’ve rarely come across. Since, I wasn’t sure what they’d be capable of, I’ve read up on them to be better prepared.


I’ve seen a few raccoons over the years. Fortunately, they’ve always been far off, so I could deftly keep Tessi from them. I don’t trust their sharp-looking claws or their easily aroused aggression. They won’t start a fight, yet they will swiftly defend themselves.

More about raccoons:


Distastefully, I’ve noticed more dead opossums than alive. In either state, I’ve managed to convince Tessi to ignore them.

Opossums seem vicious, also with nasty-looking claws; however, they are docile creatures and rarely fight. If they can’t flee, they’ll either display a false courage and fierceness by baring their jagged teeth and hissing or they’ll play dead.

More about opossums:

Some animals possess attributes with which to defend themselves, with unpleasant results to our dogs.


I’m amazed and grateful we’ve managed to avoid the skunk issue. I can barely stand the occasional smell wafting through the screened windows in summer, I can’t imagine experiencing it under my nose. I’ve known people to let their furry pals out the back door for the evening pee only to return having been freshly sprayed. Maybe because I usually accompany Tessi outside, the skunks hear us and quickly retreat.

When they can’t escape, skunks typically stomp their feet and growl and hiss in warning first. The problem is our dogs don’t necessarily heed those warnings forcing skunks to spray as a last resort.

If your dog suffers a stinky attack, it’s important to work at removing the oils as soon as possible. The longer you delay, the more ingrained the atrocious stench gets.

More about skunks and how to eliminate their stink from our dogs:


Porcupines don’t inhabit our region of the country. I was warned about them the first time Tessi and I headed north, where they do reside. I packed pliers just in case—not that I’d be comfortable in using them, but I felt better for the option. Realistically, it’s advisable to let a vet remove the quills, since you don’t necessarily know how deep they may have penetrated. There can be serious complications. Plus, removal can be extremely painful. A vet may need to sedate your dog or administer anesthesia. It’s important to remove the quills as soon as possible as they can wedge themselves in deeper.

Porcupines aren’t aggressive. If they can’t make an easy retreat, they’ll forewarn the invader with chattering, plus pound their feet and beat their tails.

While researching, I came across some contradictions and misinformation:

  • It is thought that porcupines throw their quills—they don’t. The spines easily come off and attach themselves to another animal when it comes in contact with them. Since canines usually lead with their snouts, that’s where they tend to get nailed.
  • Some “experts” suggest you muzzle your quilled dog for the ride to the vet. I was perplexed as to how one would fit a muzzle over a bunch of spike-like pieces jutting out of a snout. As I continued my research, I found that a few vets specifically state not to muzzle your dog. A muzzle can break the quills and be terribly uncomfortable. (I still think the muzzling process would be next to impossible anyway.)
  • There were suggestions on snipping the quills to make them easier to remove, but it’s best not to because they’ll deflate—actually making it harder for the vet to grasp and remove them.

More about porcupines and quill extraction:

In General

With a couple of exceptions, all the above animals have the following in common:

  • They won’t instigate a fight.
  • They’ll retreat first if given the chance.
  • Otherwise, they’ll likely retaliate in self-defense and injure your dog as a result.
  • They’re typically nocturnal (except for muskrats), but will occasionally appear during the day. This is probably why we’ve rarely encountered them.
  • They’re attracted to our food and garbage. (Muskrats may be the exception.) Keep temptation inside or locked up. And don’t feed the wildlife. (Or neighbourhood cats—one of my neighbours used to leave cat food outside for them, until he realized skunks were feasting on the chow instead.)
  • Dogs don’t always learn from negative encounters with them. You’d presume once our pals have been sprayed, quilled or clawed, they would have learned their lesson and steer clear of that particular animal in the future. Chances are they won’t; many canines have proven to repeatedly pull the same stunt.

Studying animals in our nature encyclopedia


Teaching Tessi not to chase animals was a prolonged process. Though I’ve been quite impressed with the results, I still see the inner battle in her eyes and body language—in her need to listen to me against her wish to pursue her quarry, which occasionally wins out. Her prey drive is intense. I need to leash her if I’m worried about any potential menace. Fortunately, but still annoying anyway, bunnies are the usual targets around our village—we have oodles of them.


 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2014

 What have been your creature encounters?

Part 1 - The Big Guys


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