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    Wolves and dogs. What reduces the risk of negative interactions?

    Wolves avoid buildings and are afraid of humans, but sometimes they have encounters with people or their dogs. However, human presence and behavior reduce the risk of negative interactions between wolves and dogs, according to the analysis of data from Poland. The findings were published in Animals.

    Human behavior reduces the risk of negative interactions between wolves and dogs. Since healthy wolves are afraid of humans, the guardian is a kind of protective umbrella for the dog,” says Andżelika Haidt of the Forest Research Institute, who has been researching the grey wolf-dog interaction for several years, in an interview with Science in Poland (PAP).  She published the results of her research on these interactions in the journal “Animals” together with Radosław Gawrys from the Forest Research Institute and Maciej Szewczyk from the University of Gdańsk.

    Andżelika Haidt reminds us that in Poland the wolf is under strict protection, thanks to which we have one of the most numerous populations in Europe. Figures on numbers vary depending on the source.

    “We have a problem in Poland with estimating wolf population numbers – the data depends on the methodology used.  E.g., according to the Central Statistical Office, in 2018 the population in Poland was estimated at 2868 individuals. However, the Pilot monitoring of wolves and lynx carried out under the State Environmental Monitoring’ showed that there were 1886 individuals living in Poland in 2018.  That’s a big discrepancy. However, the CSO, which provides data every year, indicates an increase in numbers,” the researcher concludes.

    He adds that wolves in Poland are present in practically all large forest complexes, they also appear near large urban agglomerations, e.g. in the forests near Tricity or in Puszcza Zielonka near Poznan. As a result of population expansion, wolves are increasingly frequenting areas of intense human recreation, including – recreation with dogs. And sometimes aggressive interactions occur, leading to serious human-wildlife conflict.
     
    The researchers collected data on this using an online questionnaire. It included questions about factors that might influence the likelihood of interaction between these canids.

    “I looked for those willing to take the survey online, in groups focused on outdoor activities with dogs, such as ‘hiking with your dog’ groups or hunting groups.  I’ve also reached out to people who have encountered a wolf while walking their dog offline.  Walking and hunting was the largest group, but there were other activities such as mushroom picking and dog sledding in the forest,” the researcher concluded.
     

    106 encounters with wolves were analyzed – based on reports the researchers found credible. Direct wolf-dog contact occurred in 21 percent of the cases. Dogs were injured in 8 percent of cases, while 3 percent of cases ended in the dog’s death.
     
    “There are more such meetings every year,” summarizesżelika Haidt. There was a statistically significant increase in wolf sightings between 2007 and 2020.

    Analysis of the survey data identified several factors that influence the risk of dog-wolf interactions. One of the most important is the distance between the dog and its handler. The further away the dog was from the human – the greater the risk that the wolf encounter would end in direct contact between wolf and dog. The number of wolves was also important – the more wolves, the bolder they behave and the more likely they are to interact with dogs,” concluded Andżelika Haidt.
     
    Size matters too. “Medium and small dogs are more likely to come into contact with wolves than large dogs. Remember that a large dog can also hurt a wolf, especially a puppy or a young and inexperienced individual,” he stresses.
     
    A simple walk in the woods with your dog is seven times safer than hunting with your dog. Other activities (e.g. horseback riding with a dog or sledding sports) turned out to be insignificant due to the small sample size, the study’s co-author reports.

    Haidt adds that the subject of wolf encounters stirs up huge emotions, and many media mentions of wolf-dog relationships miss the truth.  “I myself have been tracking wolves for six to seven years, working in the woods with dogs. I lead them on a rope or leash and have never had a dangerous situation with wolves, and there are times when I run into them. I know other naturalists who work similarly, and the dogs are safe with them,” says Andżelika Haidt.  – “Of course, it may happen that I come across a sick or habituated individual, but this is true for other animal species as well. I might as well hit a wounded boar that attacks.”

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