Who hasn't dreamt of seeing a marmot or ibex on a hike? Unfortunately this happens only rarely, because these shy creatures tend to avoid humans. With many trails leading through pastures, you're much more likely to encounter cattle, sheep and the dogs that look after them. Find out here how to make sure your encounter with the animals is a peaceful one.
Keep your distance from cows
When crossing fields where cattle are grazing, some hikers can't resist the temptation of taking a closer look at those cute calves. Beware: a mother weighing up to 600 kilos can get aggressive if she feels you're getting too close and sees you as a threat. Most of the time cattle aren't dangerous – quite the opposite, in fact. Often they come closer of their own accord out of sheer curiosity. But it's important to inform yourself of the warning signals cattle give when they feel threatened: they raise and lower their head, and may also snort, paw or bellow. If you notice these signals, move slowly backwards out of the field. You should never turn your back on a cow, even if it attacks you. It's best to move uphill and keep it within your field of vision without looking it directly in the eye. If you're lying on the ground, curl into foetal position and protect your neck with your hands.
Now that so many large predators such as wolves, bears and lynxes have returned to Switzerland, grazing livestock needs more and more protection. In this country there are around 200 livestock guardian dogs keeping all unfamiliar intruders away from the animals under their protection. Hikers often initially fall into the category of unfamiliar intruder until the dog is certain that they don't pose a threat. If a guardian dog blocks your path or runs towards you barking, you should slow down, and get off your bike if you're riding one. Place your bike between yourself and the dog and wait for it to calm down. If this takes longer you should retreat slowly, remembering not to turn your back on the dog or look it straight in the eye.
Keep an eye on your dog
If you take your dog on a hike you should avoid if at all possible fields where livestock are grazing. Cattle and their guardians often see pet dogs as a threat because they mistake them for wolves. If you have to cross a pasture, you should follow the following rules:
- Keep your dog on a lead.
- Steer clear of the herd, especially if cattle are standing on the path.
- If the cattle or their guardian dog attack your pet, let it loose. This way your dog will be able to run away from the cattle, and dogs will generally sort out the pecking order among themselves.
Herdenschutz, the organisation responsible for protecting livestock, has produced a map showing where livestock guardian dogs are deployed. You'll find more tips on hiking safely (in German, French and Italian) here.