Dog Safety Tips for Cottage Country

Dog Safety Tips for Cottage Country

Cottage country in Ontario, Canada, is a wonderful place for both humans and their furry companions to enjoy. Our four-legged friends, however, don’t understand the potential dangers that come with the beautiful landscape, and their safety must be accounted for. These dangers come from local wildlife and environmental hazards. This article includes essential tips and precautions to ensure your dog’s well-being on cottage vacation.

Have a Well Trained Dog

While this preventative safety measure starts long before your cottage vacation, it might be the most important factor to keeping your dog safe, especially in an unfamiliar territory with unknown dangers. Making sure your dog can come when called, and won’t go unabashed into the unknown is important. Here is a list of potential wildlife dangers, and how to deal with them:

Keep your Dog leashed

This is especially important in new areas, as curious dogs exposed to new sensations are much likelier to follow their nose and bump into danger or get lost. Furthermore, it prevents them from preying on local wildlife, thus preserving the natural state of the ecosystem that you’re enjoying.

Know the Local Wildlife

Muskoka is rich with biodiversity, and seeing local flora and fauna is a big reason why the region is such a popular vacation destination. However, some of this fauna can be dangerous, especially to a dog that doesn’t know how to avoid conflict. Knowing the potential dangers before heading out will help you be prepared. When enjoying nature, always pay attention and maintain vigilance. When you see wildlife, try your best not to bother them and let them be, for your and your dog’s safety, their safety, and for the goal of preserving with minimal human interference. To see wildlife in its natural habitat from a safe distance, consider booking a guided tour, such as the Hailstorm Creek tour through the nature reserve by Lake Opeongo, offered through Algonquin Outfitters.

Animals (including bugs)

Black Bears

Common in Muskoka, black bears generally avoid human contact. The most common reasons for the exceptions to this are if a bear feels threatened, if it is attracted to food sources or, worse yet, if a mother feels the need to protect its cubs. To avoid bear interactions, keep dogs on a leash, securely store food and garbage, carry bear bangers and bear spray with you, and don’t bring fragrant foods along on a hike.

If you do have a close encounter with a black bear, there are several things to remember. Firstly, don’t turn and run. Bears can run much faster than humans. Rather, slowly back away while keeping the bear in sight. If the bear is loud, that’s a good sign, as it likely just wants you to leave it alone and is trying to scare you to leave. If not, it’s your turn to get loud by waving, yelling, blowing your whistle or using your air horn or bear banger. Get your bear spray out, make sure the wind won’t redirect the spray back to you, and only use it as a last resort.

If you encounter a bear from a safe distance, or on the side of the highway from your car, feel free to enjoy watching it, but don’t interact with it, and definitely don’t feed it. When bears are fed by humans, they stop fearing them, and start infiltrating towns in search of food. Animal control is then contacted, and often the bear is destroyed. Remember the saying, “a fed bear is a dead bear.”


Moose are the largest species of deer. Although they’re herbivores and generally peaceful animals, they can be very dangerous, especially during the fall mating season or when protecting their young, due to their immense strength. If you see a moose in the wild, keep your distance and give them plenty of space. Don’t approach, as they are likely to become aggressive if they feel threatened. If a moose charges, try to find shelter behind a large tree or other solid object and wait for the moose to calm down before continuing on your way.

Wolves and Coyotes

While wolves are rarer, and coyotes more common, they are both present in many parts of Ontario, including Muskoka. They are generally shy and tend to avoid human interaction. However, they will hunt small dogs, and can smell them from far away. That’s why it is important to keep your dog leashed and supervised, and to not let them roam. If confronted by either of these canines, make yourself look large, have a stick ready as a weapon and deterrent, make loud noises, and back away slowly until you can get you and your dog somewhere safe.


Raccoons are common in cottage country, especially wherever there’s human garbage. They may become aggressive if cornered or feel threatened, and besides the threat of harm, they can carry and transfer diseases such as rabies. To minimize risk, keep your garbage secured and don’t leave food unattended. This includes leaving pet food outside.


Porcupines are interesting and weird looking animals, so we can’t blame dogs for being curious about them, especially the ones that live in the city. However, that curiosity can hurt, as a threatened porcupine is known to use its quills as a defense mechanism. If your poor pup has an unfortunate interaction with a porcupine and gets quilled, they can be removed with tweezers or pliers. Make sure no broken tips are left in the skin, and remember to disinfect with rubbing alcohol or antiseptic solution, and then apply gauze or cloth to help the healing process. Some treats will likely be necessary to distract the dog from this painful process and help them keep calm. Monitor the wound as it heals, and, if in doubt during any of this procedure, seek veterinary assistance.


Skunks, which can spray a strong-smelling liquid if they feel threatened or cornered, are abundant in Muskoka. While they don’t pose a risk of severe harm to your dog, they do threaten to make them unpleasant to be around. Dogs getting skunked is common, as skunks don’t have overt signs to stay away, like a bear’s claws, a wolf’s snarl, or a porcupine’s quills. If your dog has had to learn the hard way what happens when he’s too curious about a black and white medium sized rodent, here are some tips to remove the smell.

  • Act quickly – the sooner the treatment, the easier it’ll be
  • Wear gloves and clothes you can throw out after
  • Wash your dog thoroughly with a skunk shampoo, or make your own with a litre of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 60mL (¼ cup) of baking soda, and 5mL (a teaspoon) of liquid dish soap, and let it sit
  • Shampoo your dog with one specifically engineered to neutralize odours
  • Repeat as necessary
  • Dry them with an odour-neutralizing spray
  • Consult with a veterinarian if the smell persists


While beavers are much better known for their dam building skills than their interest in dogs, encounters can happen, especially if an unleashed dog goes to investigate the curious pile of logs that’s stopping the flow of the river. Having a well-trained dog and keeping it leashed is the best way to avoid any beaver related conflict.


While there are many harmless species of snakes in abundance that want to live harassment-free, the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is Ontario’s only venomous snake. Its habitat is wide-ranging, including tall grass prairie, bogs, marshes, shorelines, forests and alvars. As all snakes and cold-blooded creatures, it also requires open areas to sun themselves. Avoiding these areas and keeping your dog on leash is the best way to prevent snake attacks. If bitten, get to the hospital or veterinarian right away, and, with the proper medical treatment, a full recovery is likely.


Ticks are small 8 legged bugs related to spiders and mites, prevalent in the Muskoka region. They are bloodsucking parasites, and the biggest danger is that they can transmit diseases, most notably Lyme disease. To prevent ticks, consider using a tick collar. If you do find a tick, remove it using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible, then slowly and steadily pull upward with steady pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Once removed, clean the bite area with soap and water. Don’t throw the tick away! Preserve it for identification or testing purposes in a small container with rubbing alcohol, or sealed in a plastic bag. Monitor the wound for any signs of redness, swelling, or irritation, and your dog’s illness symptoms like appetite loss, fever, lethargy, joint stiffness, lameness, or unusual behaviors. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian, and bring them the preserved tick to the next appointment.


There are several plants in Ontario that cause pain when touched. It is important to be able to identify them to avoid them, and know what to do when accidental contact has been made. Always check your dog thoroughly after being outside for any plants (or ticks or other bugs) clinging on. If your dog comes into contact with these plants, remove them from the area immediately, and, while wearing gloves to prevent yourself from getting in contact with the poisonous plant oils, rinse your dog with water. Do not use hot water as it can open pores and potentially spread the irritant further. Then, shampoo with a mild pet-friendly brand, and rinse again. Monitor your dog for any weird behaviour, and contact a veterinarian if in doubt.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Found in wooded areas, Poison Ivy has compound leaves with three almond-shaped leaflets, with pointed tips and smooth or slightly toothed edges. They contain an oil called urushiol, which can cause allergic reactions in many can cause an itchy, uncomfortable rash that lasts a few days to a week. pon contact.

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

This invasive plant can be found in Muskoka and poses a significant health risk. The sap of Giant Hogweed contains chemicals that, when exposed to sunlight, can cause severe burns and blisters on the skin. It is important to avoid touching this plant and to report any sightings to local authorities by calling the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ Invading Species Hotline 1-800-563-7711. For information about invasive species can be found on the Ontario website.

Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Wild parsnip is another invasive plant that grows in Muskoka. A green plant that typically grows 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 meters), the leaves have multiple leaflets arranged in pairs along the stem, which is slender, hollow and grooved. It has yellow flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters, similar to other plants in the carrot family. It produces sap that contains chemicals that can cause a condition known as phytophotodermatitis. Contact with the plant and exposure to sunlight can result in painful burns and blisters on the skin.


Foxtails are a part of some types of grasses with sharp seed heads that can penetrate the skin and migrate into various body parts, leading to discomfort, infection, and potential health complications. Also known as “spear grass,” they are bristly, arrow-shaped structures that resemble foxtails. They are commonly found in open fields, meadows, and along trails. To prevent them from harming your dog, consider protective clothing such as dog booties, vests, and other gear. Thoroughly inspect your dog’s coat, paws, ears, and other body parts after outdoor excursions. If you notice a foxtail on your dog, it’s important to remove it promptly. If it’s visible that’s easily accessible, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp it at the base and gently pull it out. Avoid compressing or squeezing the foxtail, as it can release barbs, making removal more challenging. If you can’t remove it, or suspect there’s one embedded in a sensitive area, such as the nose, throat, or genitals, seek a veterinarian immediately. As always, monitor your dog for signs of infection, such as swelling, discharge, redness, or persistent discomfort.


Burrs are small, seed-bearing structures that can become entangled in your dog’s fur that cause discomfort and matting. Many different plants produce burrs, and the methods of prevention and treatment are similar to the other risky plants already mentioned prevent contact by avoiding high risk areas and wearing protective clothes, and minimize damage by thoroughly inspecting your dog. Burrs, however, are much less threatening than the other plants mentioned, and can be removed with your fingers. If the fur is too tangled around the burr to remove it, it might be necessary to trim your dog’s fur. Afterwards, comb the fur to remove any remnants. A detangling spray or conditioner might assist in this.

Update identification and microchip information

Ensure your dog’s identification tags are up to date with your current contact information, and consider microchipping to improve the chances of a safe return if they get lost.

Secure the cottage perimeter

Before letting your dog run around the yard, make sure that it is securely fenced by checking for any gaps or weak spots in the fencing.

Provide shade and fresh water

To ensure your dog doesn’t overheat, provide access to shade and fresh water at all times, especially during hot summer days. A beach umbrella works great as a shaded area if there isn’t one available.

Be extra cautious in unfamiliar water

Water is a mysterious entity, and if you are unfamiliar with the body of water you are enjoying, err on the side of caution. There may be hidden dangers such as strong currents, water pollution, or toxic algae blooms. Check online resources, such as The Swim Guide, listen to the radio for updates, and ask the locals. When in doubt, stick to known safe swimming areas or consult locals for recommendations.

Be mindful of temperature extremes

Ontario’s summers are hot, capable of getting into the 40s ℃, while the winters can be freezing, sometimes feeling like -30 ℃ with the wind. No matter the season, make sure your dog has what it needs to stay comfortable, like cooling mats, air conditioning, fans, shade, and water for the hot days, and blankets, and warm clothing for the cold ones.

Be cautious with open fires and grills

If you plan to have open fires or use grills, keep your dog at a safe distance to prevent burns or accidents. Many dogs are especially curious of barbeques, eyeing the delicious meat and willing to take risks to sneak some for themselves, with the potential consequence of getting burned by the fire. Supervise them closely, or keep them safe in another place to avoid any mishaps around the flames or hot surfaces.

Plan for emergencies

Have a plan in place in case the worst happens. This includes having a first aid kit handy, being familiar with basic pet first aid, knowing where the nearest veterinary clinic or animal hospital is and when it’s open, and a number to call if they are closed during the emergency.

To help plan your trip to cottage country, here is a list of pet friendly cottage accommodations.