What is the biggest threat during a mountain hike? What are the risks and dangers in Armenian mountains? Bad weather, thunder and lightning, maybe wild animals and poisonous snakes? These are the things that will first come to your mind, if we ask you these questions. But! It is important to rely on facts and statistics. And the most realistic out of previously listed threats are shepherd dogs, which are guarding herds in the mountains. Often these are dog breeds such as Armenian Gampr, Alabai, Caucasian shepherd and other types of wolfhounds. I would like to note in advance, that in this article we will focus on Armenia. So we can assume that in other parts of the world the picture of wildlife can be different. According to statistics, over the past twenty years, or even more, cases of attacks of wild animals on tourists can be counted on the fingers. While the chance of being attacked by dogs is much higher. Dogs almost always approach strangers, who appeared too close to the camp or to the flock they protect, with loud and aggressive barks, roars and howl. Throughout Armenia there are many places, where you can meet shepherd dogs. Of the tourist trails, you should be on guard when climbing the Azhdahak volcano and during trekking in the Geghama mountains.
In this article you will learn more about risks and dangers in Armenian mountains and how to behave in extreme cases.
Psychology of shepherd dogs
First let’s analyze the psychology of shepherd dogs and compare them with wild animals, for example, with wolves’ psychology. Wolf, just like almost any other wild animal, tries to avoid people. But dogs live with people and they are not afraid of them. Human is not a stranger to a dog. That’s why wolves or bears will try to avoid people and will attack only if they are cornered or if someone is close to their cubs. Of course we can’t ignore the cases when the beast is extremely hungry and can take a forced step. But it’s not as natural, as the situation with the dog. Dogs in mountains have a very specific job – to guard their herd. So it is the job of a shepherd dog, to attack anyone who appeared to be too close to their territory. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen unexpectedly, like it would happen with a wild animal. Most likely dogs will run towards you with loud barks from distance of couple of hundreds meters, will stop at the border of their territory and let you know, that if you get closer, it will not end well for you. It is similar to what a border guard would do. He would warn a person with a shot into the air or in front of the feet of a border violator.
How to behave?
So, how should we behave to avoid being torn to pieces by an eighty kilogram wolfhound? Firstly, don’t violate their border; secondly, don’t stand paralyzed, like you would do if you saw a snake. We have to prevent ourselves from being surrounded by shepherd dogs. It’s unlikely that there will be only one or two dogs. These guys always walk in pack and each of them has their own task. We have to show them, that we are moving, not letting them surround us. Then, it’s almost like meeting with any other animal. We have to behave aggressively and make very loud noises. If you are walking in a group, stand as close to each other as possible. Thus we will appear to be something big and strong in their eyes.
It happened more than once, when dogs came very close to me and started to show aggression. In such situations you have to remember, that there is no diplomacy, compromise or agreement in nature. If they are aggressive, you must show a double aggression, so that they recognize a strong creature in you who can stand up for himself. In extreme cases, everything that comes in hand can be used as a protection – stones, trekking poles, camping knife and so on.
Other ways of self-defense
If you are a strong protector of animal rights there are more civil and convenient ways of self-defense, which at the same time will not harm the dogs. I feel the same way, but my self-defense instinct can’t be taken away from me. So! Firstly, carry firecrackers, small fireworks, basically anything that makes a loud noise and flashing lights. Do not forget about fire safety! If you are in a forest, or if there is a dry grass, then don’t throw firecrackers there. Fireworks should be directed up to the air, so that we don’t burn the environment and ourselves. Firecrackers scare animals. So after you use them, animals will not bother you for some time. Firecrackers also can be used for preventive purposes. In the evening, when you have set up tents, before going to sleep, you can blow up a couple of the firecrackers around the territory of your camp. But be careful with avalanches, if there is a steep snowy slope nearby.
If dogs got too close, then there are two more or less realistic options – stun gun and pepper spray. We will not talk about any kind of air guns, because firstly, it is not right to walk with a gun in front of tourists, and secondly, it attracts a lot of unnecessary glances.
So let’s learn more about stun gun and pepper spray.
Stun gun has many disadvantages. To use it, you should be very close to the animal and use some physical pressure. This way the risk to be bitten is very high. Also it is not very useful if you come across a wild animal, because their thick skin will easily resist the shock of a stun gun.
So the pepper spray remains the best option. You just have to choose the right one. These sprays are divided by the type of damaging substance and by the type of spraying. There are several types of pepper spray. For example, aerosol, stream or combined. Combined pepper spray is the best and most universal option. You can immediately create a barrier of gas fog and get the chance to spray an animal with a stream from a distance up to 4 meters.
Inside of any pepper spray there is an irritant. The higher is the concentration of the irritant, the more enemy suffers. Different irritants have different effects, but the goal is one: to temporarily disable the enemy.
Here are some examples of irritants:
Pepper spray, marked OC (oleoresin capsicum). It works against dogs and hooligans. This pepper spray irritates the skin, mucous membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract. Attacker closes his eyes, starts to suffocate and cough, skin starts to “burn”. It is better to choose this spray.
Tear gas, marked CS, CN and CR. It is an artificial irritant, which is used by military and police to disperse demonstrations. It is useless against dogs, because they don’t have lacrimal glands.
How to use?
After we chose the right spray, we need to learn how to use it. It is very easy – take the bottle, direct it towards the enemy and press the button. For effective damage it is necessary to aim in the eyes and nose of the enemy. Besides that, you need to follow safety measures. Be careful and keep the jet of the spray in the direction of the enemy, to avoid damaging your own eyes. Don’t forget to follow the direction of the wind: if there is a headwind, change your direction and only then use the spray.
So, these basic principles should be enough to protect yourself, if you use them wisely. And always remember, that we don’t aim to harm any animal. All of these measures are acceptable only in extreme cases, when the owner of dogs is not around to control them.
In case if you are afraid of dogs or even if you like them, but don’t want to meet an aggressive one you can check our one day hikes and use our services. Our experienced guides know the trails which do not pass by the camps of the shepherds and are safer than the others. And of course in case of extreme situation they would know how to behave them and protect you from the animals.
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