Dogs and the Countryside
Many of us enjoy walking our dogs in the country – indeed, a dog accompanies approximately one third of visitors to the countryside. It is easy to understand why this is such a popular pastime – we have a beautiful and varied environment, from mountains to moorlands and beaches to forests. Walking is also highly beneficial for your health, and dogs really enjoy the opportunity to spend time off the lead, investigating and sampling the scents of new areas.
Dogs can however disturb and even cause harm to wildlife. This is often completely unintentional, but at times, a lack of knowledge can lead to issues and irresponsible dog ownership. Groomers have therefore created a set of handy tips for safe and responsible dog walking in the countryside.
Walking in the Countryside
When walking in the country, it is a dog owner’s duty to ensure their pet is not a danger to animals, wildlife, or other users of the countryside. It is therefore important to keep your dog under close control – i.e. you can keep your dog to heel. Your dog should know basic commands including “sit”, “stay”, and “leave”, and you should also be able to fully recall your dog. This is important for the sake of the animal too, as there are a number of risks to canines in the countryside, such as barbed wire, toxic plants, or poisonous animals such as adders.
On a designated public right of way, or council owned areas of the countryside, dogs are generally allowed to roam off lead. However, there may be other users of these public paths to consider as follows:
- Public Footpaths are indicated with a yellow arrow, and are specifically for walkers only.
- Public Bridleways are indicated with a blue arrow, and are for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
- Public Byways are indicated with a red arrow, and are for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and off-road vehicles.
Dog walkers should be particularly aware of horse riders as dogs can startle equines. If you see a horse and rider, recall your dog and keep them on the lead until the horse has passed. Keep your dog still and quiet, in a place that is safely visible to the horse. In winter you might consider hi-vis clothing for you and/or your dog so riders can see you from further away.
The presence of dogs in the countryside can be damaging to our flora and fauna if dog walkers are not responsible. Dogs have natural instincts and do kill or injure wildlife on occasion, and as dogs are not a natural part of our ecosystem we as their owners must keep them under close control. You should be particularly aware of this between April and July, as this is the breeding season for many of our native animals.
As a dog walker you can be responsible by abiding by the following:
- Do not let your dog dig up trees or plants.
- Do not allow your dog to chase other animals.
- Always clean up after your dog when possible. Canine faeces can harm plants and flowers including bluebells.
- Keep your dog away from wild bird nesting sites. It is an offence to injure or kill any wild bird in Britain, and in some cases it is offence to disturb their nesting sites. Such sites as usually signposted.
Dog walkers need to be especially careful around farmland, as dogs can easily cause distress to livestock. Because of this, you should never walk your dog in a field where there are baby animals such as lambs and calves. It is also important to keep your dog on a lead when walking through farmland. The occupier of the land has the legal right to shoot your dog if it is off the lead and severely worrying their animals, so caution is especially recommended here.
Dogs and cattle in particular do not mix well, with cattle often finding dogs confusing or even threatening. While this is not always the case, it is best to keep as far away from the animals as possible, with your dog on a short lead. If in the unlikely event that the cattle begin to act aggressively and/or move towards you, keep calm, let your dog off the lead, and take the shortest, safest route out of the field. Letting your dog off the lead is the safest option in this instance, as it allows you and the dog to each focus on your individual safety.
Remember, these tips are offered as guidance only. It is important to respect any signs that you see, follow the country code, and air on the side of caution if something concerns you. You should also ensure you take with you some waste bags, perhaps some treats, and a water bottle for your dog if the weather is hot.