Cows look innocent enough, but beware!
Fri, 09/15/2023 - 1:07pm

Cows and Other Hazards

In the field, it's bovines and birds that pose the most risk to the unsuspecting

If entries in various field events and the crowded kennels of professional trainers are an indication, a lot of owners are either doing things with their dogs in the field or are planning to do some field work after the dog’s show career is finished. 

For those of you with Sporting breeds, Hounds, Terriers, Poodles both Standard and Miniature and even breeds like Finnish Spitz who are either starting field work or contemplating it and grew up in a city/town, this will be something of a public-service guide. It is based on many years of experience in the field, in addition to being a child growing up on a farm with livestock.  

One of the hazards you will frequently encounter afield is not so much wild animals, although skunks and porcupines would be an exception, but rather domesticated ones. Heading the list of domestic animals that pose a danger to you and your dog are bovines of all breeds and sexes: Cows, bulls, steers and even a field filled entirely with calves can be trouble. 


Heading the list of domestic animals that pose a danger to you and your dog are bovines of all breeds and sexes. 


If your knowledge of cattle consists of what you’ve gleaned from watching milk commercials, the first thing you need to do is put aside any thoughts that cows are sweet, cuddly critters that merely amble about eating grass and softly “mooing.” Cows, quite candidly, are mean, nasty beasts, and they’re especially nasty if they have calves at their sides. Bulls are even meaner and nastier.

Bovines of all breeds will turn what had been a pleasant trip afield into a nightmare for both you and your dog. Cows view all dogs, large and small, as the reincarnation of the Big Bad Wolf. The sight of a dog will cause cows that are otherwise as docile as Elsie, the cuddly Borden Company’s symbol, to turn into something that resembles a Cape buffalo, long considered one of the five most dangerous animals on the planet. No matter how brave your dog, it’s a guarantee that an angry cow will make him do what every dog from the time of the first canine versus bovine encounter has done — and that is run to their human pal for protection.

What this does, of course, is attract the cow’s attention to the person behind the dog, and the only thing on the cow’s mind is to stomp and — if she has horns — gore you and your dog to ribbons. Cows are genetically hardwired to regard anything that even remotely resembles a wolf as something planning on separating either the cow herself or her calf into parts more easily eaten. Cows are not the smartest animal on a farm — that honor goes to pigs — and they’re not a bit interested in being able to tell Canis lupus from Canis lupus familiaris. To a cow, your peace-loving Labrador, sweet-natured Dachshund or cuddly Westie is Lobo, the legendary leader of a pack of cattle-killing wolves that terrorized ranchers and their livestock in New Mexico for months in the 1890s. 


To a cow, your peace-loving Labrador, sweet-natured Dachshund or cuddly Westie is a wolf in dog’s clothing. 


While cows can pose big trouble for you and your dog, if they’re also accompanied by a bull, the danger increases at least tenfold. Despite the widespread use of artificial insemination, which has largely eliminated the need for bulls to be with the cows, many beef-cattle operations still employ what are called “clean-up” bulls whose job it is to impregnate cows that failed to conceive through AI or that aborted. The trouble is that you never know when a herd of cows might be harboring a bull.  

According to the animal-husbandry folks, a person shouldn’t run away from an attacking bull. Instead, you should slowly back away until you are outside his “flight zone” or you can escape under a fence. Well, I defy anyone to try that remedy if you have a dog with you. If that’s the case, you have two choices, but only if you happen to be armed with either a shotgun or a rifle at the time. You can either shoot the bull, or you can run like hell and hope both you and the dog are faster than the bull. Actually, you only have one option unless you or your liability insurer are willing to cover the cost of the bull, but I’ll confess that there have been times when I would have happily pulled the trigger. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the run-like-hell option was employed instead.  

Another problem with cows happens when a hunting breed is on a hot scent, which means they are oblivious to everything except that hot scent. That happened to a young Labrador one time when I was judging junior retrievers on grounds that were part of a cattle ranch. While the entire area was free of livestock the day before when we set the tests, early the next morning before anyone arrived, the ranch hands moved a herd of cattle into that area. But when we arrived, there wasn’t a cow in sight so, oblivious to the fact that there was a significant herd of Herefords just over the hill, we started the test.  

The Lab completely blew past the area where the bird had fallen and disappeared over the rise. We waited for the dog to return to the area of the fall, but when he reappeared, he was running for his life back toward his owner, and he was just a few yards ahead of a large herd of enraged Herefords that were not the polled (hornless) variety. With much arm waving and shouting by everyone in attendance plus a few rounds fired in the air by the gunners, the herd came to a halt about 50 yards away from the people and dogs.  

However, that did not end the danger, as the cows had been accompanied by a bull, and as he shouldered his way to the front of the herd, it was clear he was not happy that his breakfast had been interrupted nor that his domain had been invaded, not just by humans but also by “wolves.” Eying the people and the dogs, it didn’t take expert knowledge of bovine behavior to understand that he was determined to defend both his turf and his harem. He began pawing up sections of ground the size of dinner plates and ominously shaking his horns, all the while making low, menacing rumbles that were coming from somewhere deep inside him.  


The bull was not a happy camper.


Knowing bulls, I yelled at the gunners and the gallery to get themselves and their dogs to their vehicles and safety as fast as they possibly could. Fortunately, all obeyed that command without hesitation, because just moments after the area was cleared of both humans and dogs, the bull charged, and he meant business. 

My co-judge was one of the last to jump into his truck and slam the door. Turned out it wasn’t a second too soon as the bull put a sizeable dent in the door when he crashed into it. After backing up and shaking his head a few times, the bull looked around for more mayhem to commit, and several other vehicles wound up being targets of his ire.  

Not only did it look like area auto-body shops were about to do a land office business, but it also appeared we were going to have to move the test and start over with the dogs that had already run having to run again. However, one of the members of the host club saved the day by driving to the ranch headquarters and reporting what happened. A few minutes later, a pair of cowboys rode up, roped the bull and drove the rest of the herd back over the rise.

After the cows and one very angry, loudly protesting bull had been removed from the test area, one of the cowboys returned and told my co-judge and I that they had driven the cattle into an adjacent pasture, closed the gate and it was now safe to run the test. Still, as a precaution, he said he would stick around until the test was finished and keep any dogs that strayed out of the test area from going near the pasture where the cows were. Having seen his and his horse’s roping skill when he caught the bull, I had no doubt he could do the same with an errant dog, so we were able to finish the test, which, fortunately, was completed with no further incidents.  

Other domestic (or wild) critters in whose vicinity you need to be very cautious are geese and, now and then, if you happen to encounter them, swans. Geese and swans are territorial birds and are known to chase or attack anyone or anything that disturbs their territory. It’s a bit surprising to most people that birds with such beautiful features can have such a volatile temperament. Both swans and geese loved to nest on the ponds at my dog trainer’s kennel, and on numerous occasions, before he resorted to drastic measures to discourage them from using his training areas, they attacked the dogs.


Geese and swans are territorial birds known to chase or attack anyone or anything that disturbs their territory. 


If you are out training in the spring and early summer, it’s wise to stay away from any areas where you see these birds, as they may be nesting and they get very aggressive during that time. Swans, in particular, have killed smaller dogs when they got too close to a nest, but geese can also inflict a considerable amount of damage to a dog.  

They can also do the same to a human — just ask any golfer. One of my hunting partners had the bruises to prove just how nasty geese can be. He had spotted a particularly promising area to hunt quail and stopped by the landowner’s farm to ask permission to hunt it. While he noticed the farmer had several geese roaming about the yard, he thought nothing of it as he got out of his truck and started walking toward the farmhouse. Just about the time he was halfway between his truck and the house, two of the geese attacked, biting him and beating on his legs with their wings. 

A couple of days later, when I joined him to hunt, he recounted the story of the goose attack. While he said the bites hasn’t been much more than a nuisance, he showed me an impressive rainbow of reds, purples, greens and yellows on his legs where the geese had struck blows with their wings before he was able to retreat to the safety of his truck.  


When geese attack, it's often not a pretty picture.


So, when you are afield, it’s definitely advisable to avoid areas with cows, geese or swans. Just as military pilots have as one of their mantras, “There is no good reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime,” so should you have as your personal watchword when hunting or training with your dog: “There’s no good reason to go through an area already occupied by cows, geese or swans when afield.”  




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