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The Buck Stops Here

Dogs and deer don't mix
By Julia Lane, November 2011, Updated June 2021

When friends and family complain about pesky wildlife, I can’t resist reminding them that we've invaded their habitat. Even when skunks burrowed beneath our chicken coop or chipmunks squatted in our garage, my biggest concern was saving their poor furry souls from our prey-driven pack. That summer rabbits raided our vegetable garden? I didn’t mind eating cookies instead of salad for dinner. (And the dogs appreciated the extra piles of protein they left behind.)

At one time, I would’ve naively asserted that deer are the gentlest of woodland creatures. My dogs and I have come across them many times while taking long walks along the river. Typically, my Pit Bull mix, Shelby, air scents them, and as I follow her gaze, a doe will gracefully dart away, her white tail flickering like candlelight. 

A few days ago, I was walking my Dalmatian, Jolie, and Dutch Shepherd, Ginger Peach,  in our semi-rural neighborhood. It was dusk, and I was eager to finish our route before it got dark since there are few street lights. The dogs suddenly dove into a ditch, their noses hot on the trail of something. About 40 yards away, I heard a loud crash and saw a white tail disappear into the woods. I chuckled, glad the dogs missed seeing the actual deer because they were so busy following its trail.

We continued forward until I saw a loose dog up ahead. One of the farmers allows his Jack Russell free reign, and I just didn’t feel like heeling both dogs past him. We turned around. As we approached the spot where the dogs flushed out the deer, a magnificent eight-point buck trotted across our path. He stopped a mere 20 yards away as we passed.

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Having never seen a buck up close before, I was mesmerized by his size and beauty. I stopped. The dogs and I stared at him,  studying him. He broke our gaze and trotted through a row of bushes. Slowly, he positioned himself behind us. He stood tall. Jolie and Ginger Peach became absolutely still.  Everything around us was quiet. Looking into the buck’s dark brown eyes, I finally realized what the dogs had likely known the moment I stopped. He did not appreciate our company.

We quickly moved away. Ginger Peach let out a little yips in protest, but Jolie was all too happy to get out of there. As we rounded a corner, I glanced back to see the buck cross the street again, no doubt returning to the doe we had scared off earlier.

After sharing this story with friends, I heard terrifying accounts of deer hurting people or dogs during breeding season. (There are hundreds of videos on YouTube demonstrating their strength in graphic detail.) I was grateful that my naiveté did not inadvertently cause harm to my dogs. Has your dog ever encountered  deer? What did you do?

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Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.