Study sniffs out effects of dogs, humans on wildlife

October 4, 2016 by D'lyn Ford, North Carolina State University
Study sniffs out effects of dogs, humans on wildlife
Credit: North Carolina State University

Exploring a protected forest like Umstead State Park in Raleigh with your dog sounds like a relaxing way to enjoy nature. But how much does your visit disturb wildlife?

A new camera-trap study of 33 sites in the Southeast, published in Biological Conservation, provides the first large-scale research designed to answer that question in North America. Previous studies in developing countries have shown that feral and free-roaming can kill or harass wildlife, but the U.S. situation hadn't been studied.

Using camera traps, the project documented over 23,000 cases of dogs using natural areas, but 99 percent of dogs stuck to the trail and 97 percent were with their owners. Scientists looked at where and when their detected wildlife in comparison with dogs to see what impact man's best friend was having on white-tailed deer, eastern gray squirrels and northern raccoons.

"Other studies have shown that wildlife will run away from people walking dogs, but we wanted to look deeper to see if these occasional disturbances make animals change the ways they use the habitat," says Arielle Parsons, lead author of the study and a researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. "Overall, we found the impact of dogs was relatively minor."

Results showed that a human's presence was more threatening than a single dog or coyote.

Study sniffs out effects of dogs, humans on wildlife
Credit: North Carolina State University

Potential prey species temporarily avoided areas that dogs, humans and coyotes had recently visited, but the deer, squirrels and raccoons later returned. Wildlife reacted more strongly to people with dogs than people without dogs, displaying greater vigilance and avoiding the areas for a longer time.

The study also found that park regulations have some effect on dog and human behavior. Parks with leash laws had a higher leashing rate (76 percent versus 55 percent) and parks that prohibited dogs had 10 times fewer dogs.

"The bottom line of our work is that we have a ton of dogs using our parks, but most stay on-trail and don't harass wildlife much," says co-author Roland Kays, wildlife biologist with North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. "Park regulations for dogs combined with responsible owners can minimize disturbances to wildlife."

Explore further: Hiking, hunting has minor effects on mammals in protected eastern forests

More information: Arielle Waldstein Parsons et al. The ecological impact of humans and dogs on wildlife in protected areas in eastern North America, Biological Conservation (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.09.001

Related Stories

Prairie dogs found to kill competing squirrels

March 23, 2016

(—A pair of researchers, one with the University of Maryland, the other the University of Tulsa, has found that white-tailed prairie dogs living on the North American prairie, sometimes kill ground squirrels that ...

Here's what dogs see when they watch television

September 8, 2016

Dog owners often notice their pets watching televisions, computer screens and tablets. But what is going on in their pooch's head? Indeed, by tracking their vision using similar methods used on humans, research has found ...

A wealth of wildlife, right in the backyard

February 12, 2014

Zoologist Roland Kays travels the world to study rare species, so he calls it a "cool surprise" to find a wealth of wildlife in the suburban backyards of Raleigh and Durham, N.C.

Well-designed dog parks offer great benefit

July 1, 2013

Fenced specialty dog parks are offering great social and wellbeing benefits for both dogs and their owners - but they need to be well-designed for maximum gain, says a University of Adelaide veterinarian.

Recommended for you

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.