Tortoises are very resilient animals. Their shells are strong enough to withstand plenty of punishment and can provide a lot of protection from physical damage. On top of that, tortoises are very adaptable to their environment. If they’re captive bred, it’s very likely that your tortoise can adapt quite well in the climate they are born in, even if the climate itself isn’t the same as the one from their native habitat.
The best way to ensure your tortoise is safe to make sure it has a secure enclosure. This means a sturdy structure with high walls, a good quality wire mesh roof or lid and making sure it is well secured to the ground so it cant be moved by another animal. However the best way is simple to place your tortoise is a secure location or room where it cant be reached in the first place. We have more detail on all this below.
Despite how resilient tortoises are, however, they are not invincible. They are still vulnerable to many things, like extreme temperature changes, diseases and of course, predators. Tortoises have plenty of predators, such as raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and rats, but one of the most underappreciated ones, and the least expected, are dogs.
Why Are Dogs So Dangerous to Tortoises?
Dogs, and canids in general, have developed strong bites through years of evolution. In fact, their wild relatives, wolves, are able to crush large bones with just a few bites. With a bite force like that, it’s not hard to imagine a dog making short work of a tortoise’s shell in a matter of minutes. If for whatever reason your dog decides that your tortoise’s shell would make an excellent chew toy, then it will not end well for your shelled pet.
What makes dogs even more dangerous is the fact that humans have this idea their heads that dogs are completely harmless. People humanize dogs to a fault, and although they mean well, they don’t view dogs as creatures of instinct capable of doing horrific things when left alone. Whenever a dog attacks a tortoise, their owner’s complacency is more to blame than the dog itself.
As we’ve mentioned before, however, not all dogs pose a threat to tortoises. Some of them can live together peacefully for years without incident. On the other hand, it’s also possible for a dog to simply “snap” and start gnawing on a tortoise even though it hasn’t shown any predisposition to do so previously. It’s important to understand your dog’s temperament before you introduce them to your tortoises. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s better to just not risk it and keep both pets separated.
It’s also possible for the reverse to happen, where the dog is the one vulnerable to tortoises. Tortoises tend to have powerful bites themselves, and if you have a smaller breed around, they can be injured badly if they get bitten. Tortoises also carry germs and other microbes that can cause harm to dogs as well, especially in their poop.
Protecting Your Tortoise
As tortoise keepers, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our tortoises are well-taken care of. This means keeping them well-fed and providing them an environment where they can thrive. This also means protecting them from harm, and one of the easiest ways to do this is by putting them in a dog proof tortoise enclosure.
The first consideration when getting a dog proof tortoise enclosure is safety. Now, this generally means creating a habitat that can keep the dogs out. But having an enclosure that keeps the tortoises in is just as important of an attribute. It would be a shame to have an enclosure that successfully kept dogs and other predators at bay only for your tortoises to leave whenever they want without your supervision and get hurt that way.
There are two distinct ways you can house your tortoises: indoors and outdoors. Let’s break down how you can make either type dog proof.
If you’re keeping a small tortoise species, or younger tortoises, such as hatchlings, then it’s very likely that you’re keeping them indoors. It’s also much easier to manage indoor enclosures, as you can simply put them inside a room where your dog isn’t allowed to go in at all. There are numerous options you can go for, some of which can be cheap if you’re willing to build them yourself.
The problem with regular enclosures is that they’re usually kept on the floor, or slightly elevated off of it. Although this makes it easy for you to see what’s going on inside the habitat at a glance, this also makes the whole setup very accessible to your dog. A good way to remedy this is by putting your enclosure somewhere up high where your dogs can’t reach them.
That’s basically what tortoise tables are. Tortoise tables are enclosures with table legs under them, lifting them up to about waist height. This makes them very difficult for your dog to get into, and in the off chance that they do get to the same height as your tortoise table, some of them area designed with mesh lids. These lids allow light to pass through, but prevent potential predators form going in.
We have a full article on the best enclosure for your tortoise here in which we recommend two great quality tortoise tables, both of which are dog proof.
Here at tortoise lab we recommend Rockever tortoise table. These tables are made of fir wood and are generally 3 feet by 2 feet in length and width, and 1 foot deep. It comes with a covered area that can offer privacy to your pet. There is also a screen door that can allow light and UV to pass through, but the gaps are still small enough to protect your tortoise from predators, such as dogs, if you plan on putting the table outdoors.
A good alternative for tortoise enclosures that also provide protection are rabbit hutches. Now, you might think rabbits are the antithesis of tortoises, but the hutches designed to house rabbits could also work as a secure indoor enclosure for tortoises. Certain rabbit hutches have similar designs to tortoise tables, but with more space. Of course, you may need to adjust them a bit in order to support substrate, but they work great at protecting against dogs.
Securing Outdoor Enclosures
For larger or older tortoises, the only way you can successfully house them is by creating an outdoor enclosure. This can be a bit trickier to secure, as not only will the enclosure need to be dog proof, it should also be able to stave off other predators as well. Some of these predators could fly, and if your tortoise is small enough, they can be carried off. The size of many outdoor enclosures don’t make hte job any easier, either.
Sadly, outdoor enclosures will need to be built from scratch, since most of the tortoise enclosures available in the market are either too small or are designed to be used indoors. If you do start building your outdoor tortoise pen, here are a few things to remember that can help make it dog proof.
Dig a Deep Foundation
When building your tortoise pen, make sure to dig a trench at least a foot below ground before you start building the walls. Most tortoise species will dig, though some more than others. This means that if your walls don’t have a deep enough foundation, your tortoises might be able to dig under them. This can cause your tortoise pen to collapse, or it can weaken the structure enough that your tortoises can simply push through them. It’s also possible for other animals to dig under the walls as well.
Another route through which your tortoise could escape are over the walls of your enclosure. A lot of tortoise enthusiasts suggest making the walls at least twice as tall as your tortoises. Of course, it’s possible for tortoises to stack up, so having high walls might not be enough. To remedy this, build your walls from materials that are smooth.
Smooth walls, such as solid wood panels, can prevent your tortoise from finding purchase with their claws where they can hoist themselves over the wall. As much as possible, avoid using chain link fencing or cloth on your tortoise pen borders.
In order to completely secure your tortoises, you will need to build a proper protective structure over your entire tortoise pen, complete with full walls and a roof. This can be difficult to do, as you also wouldn’t want to prevent sunlight from getting to your tortoises. A good way to go around this issue is by building your walls and roof from wire mesh.
Wire mesh can keep most predators at bay, including dogs, but will still allow sunlight to pass through. The material is also lightweight, so building it into a structure is not too difficult. If building walls and a roof made from wire mesh might be too much for you, you can always just build wire mesh lids over your tortoise pens. Lids will limit the types of plants you can grow inside your tortoise enclosure, but they’re a less labor-intensive way of using wire mesh to protect your tortoises.
Of course, you might be lucky to have a dog that is pretty much okay around tortoises, or you don’t actually own a dog yourself. You will still need to protect your tortoises from stray dogs or your neighbor’s dogs that somehow found their way into your property.
A good way to do this is by protecting your tortoise pen with an electrified fence. It doesn’t have to be too powerful, just uncomfortable enough that any dogs that get shocked would remember to avoid your tortoise enclosure in the future. Electric fences aren’t too expensive, but they can be difficult to install if you’re not a professional, so make sure to ask for help.
Because of their status as man’s best friends, dogs aren’t seen by their owners as animals that could harm a tortoise. While this can be true for some individuals, it’s not a universal rule. Sometimes, dogs just can’t help themselves. It’s just part of their nature as predators. While there might be nothing a dog can do to fight their instincts, there are things that you, as a tortoise keeper, can do in order to protect your tortoise.