Recreationists: Please keep dogs on leash when encountering domestic sheep to avoid conflicts

BOISE — (April 16, 2012) — It’s springtime in the Boise Foothills — the grass is greening up, the flowers are blooming, hikers, runners and mountain bikers are out getting exercise, and domestic sheep are beginning their annual migration through the foothills toward the high country.

The first group of sheep began moving into the lower part of the Boise Foothills over the weekend, and another band is being dropped off today, according to Wilder sheep rancher Frank Shirts.

Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission officials want to remind recreation users to keep their dogs on leash when they encounter domestic sheep — even if they’re on a non-leash trail — so the dogs don’t chase vulnerable young lambs or get cross-wise with Great Pyrenees guard dogs.

White Great Pyrenees guard dogs are used by ranchers to prevent coyotes and other predators from preying on domestic sheep. The dogs are used in place of old-style predator-control methods such as poisoning coyotes or aerial gunning. Each band of sheep (approximately 2,000 animals) is normally protected by two guard dogs. “The coyotes are thick in those foothills,” Shirts said. “The guard dogs are our only means of predator control.”

If domestic dogs are running free and chasing lambs, the guard dogs will confront the dogs, Shirts says. “My guard dogs are going to react to that threat, so it’d be great if people could keep their dogs on leash to avoid any conflicts.”

“Education and common sense are key,” said Terry Heslin, trails and travel management coordinator for the BLM. “I would advise dog owners to leash pets immediately whenever signs of sheep are present–often you’ll see fresh droppings and tracks on the trail.

“A friend told me about hiking with his sister’s “hyper-spastic” dog in Five Mile Gulch,” Heslin continued. “Sure enough, the unleashed dog took off after a flock of sheep and got the attention of two Great Pyrenees guard dogs. Those dogs actually “herded” the wayward dog back to my friend and did not harm her, but they didn’t leave until he put the leash on his dog.”

Shirts also recommends that mountain bikers dismount from their bikes when they pass through a group of sheep to prevent a potential conflict with guard dogs. The guard dogs may charge mountain bikers or chase them, if riders pass through at a fast pace, he said.

“If you try to outrun a dog on your bike, the guard dog will think you’re trying to play a game with him, and he might chase you,” Shirts said. “If you get off your bike and walk, they won’t be threatened.”

The IRRC has worked together with public agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and recreation groups to develop a program called “Care and Share,” which encourages people to care for public lands and share them respectfully with others. IRRC has produced a special educational video and written feature about Care and Share on its award-winning web site,

Gretchen Hyde, executive director of IRRC, said she appreciates that most recreation users in the Boise Foothills give the domestic sheep a wide berth to avoid conflicts during the short period in the spring and fall when the sheep move through. “We know that the sheep migration can be an inconvenience to recreationists, and we’re hoping that the tips we’re providing will allow everyone to enjoy their time in the outdoors without conflict.”

Some other helpful reminders regarding the sheep migration include:

  • Be sure to close gates after you pass through.
  • If you see horses or mules coming up the trail, pull off to the side of the trail and let the pack stock travel through. Horses and mules can spook easily when confronted by strangers.
  • Keep domestic pets on a leash.
  • Get off your bike when passing through a group of sheep and walk to avoid conflicts with guard dogs or herding dogs.
  • Consider using foothills trails in the foothills where you are not likely to encounter domestic sheep — trails such as Polecat Gulch, Hillside to the Hollow trails, Seaman’s Gulch, Table Rock, the Idaho Velopark in Eagle and Oregon Trail Reserve near Columbia Village and Surprise Valley.