With their razor-sharp teeth and heavy front claws, beavers can become a serious threat to dogs
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 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, they can attack if they feel at all threatened. Their teeth are razor sharp and their front feet have heavy claws.
Jeff lives in Bowdoin, Maine and was in his house when he heard the dogs barking wildly. He ran outside to see what the commotion was all about.
Bo was 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. Teeth clicking and showing no fear, the beaver 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. They wrapped a 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. Zeke lost 50 percent of his blood, but the vet said Jeff’s swift action with the tourniquet saved his dog’s life. Both dogs survived.
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 never say never,” she said. “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 for miles by land or water. 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 around dusk or dawn. Rabies could cause a beaver to attack. Yet 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. Facing a perceived threat on land, beavers will rear up on their hind legs while hissing or growling, then lunge forward to bite.
What’s the hunter with 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.
Nancy Anisfield is an outdoor writer and hunting dog photographer, creative director for the Ugly Dog Hunting Company, member of the Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever Board of Directors, and co-owner of the Track2Wing Project which grants Action trackchairs to individuals with mobility challenges who want to train and hunt with bird dogs. She and her husband live in Hinesburg, Vermont, where their lives are governed by her two German shorthaired pointers and his two German wirehaired pointers.