Walking in the countryside with our dogs is not only enjoyable but great for our health. We are very lucky to have trails and footpaths to walk with our pets and even areas where our dogs can run free however it is very important to be respectful of the countryside environment and the people that live and work there. Here are a few things to remember when out and about:
Many dogs are perfectly safe off lead and most will follow commands but it is always best to put your dog on a lead when passing livestock and under control, also other dogs or people may not take kindly to a dog running off lead. Be aware of the animal in question, give plenty space if passing through and if this means leaving the path to avoid stress to the animal then do so if appropriate. Avoid entering a field with livestock altogether if possible, ensure your route is not prohibited.
Cattle are naturally curious however they will usually keep their distance. If they become aggressive (most common with their young) move quickly but calmly and leave the field as soon as possible, be prepared to let go of your dog and let it run away should you need to escape more urgently. Your dog can move quicker than you!
Sheep will keep their distance; keep dogs on the lead and under control to avoid them chasing the sheep. Stressing a ewe can cause miscarriage or separation of the lambs causing rejection. Remember a farmer can take actions to protect his livestock if he believes the dog is out of control and the livestock are in danger!
Dogs and horses
Most people are unaware that many horses can be frightened by dogs, especially on the loose or barking. This can result in injuries for the rider if they fall or the horse to take flight. Keep your dog on a lead an under control.
Many people stand behind objects or standing or around bushes thinking the dog is out of the way but this can make the horse jump, especially if it has not seen you up ahead. Make yourself visible to the horse and rider, if you dog will not sit still and wait for the rider to pass, keep a calm walk with the dog to the outside of the path or road and give plenty of space. Remember you can also call to the rider and ask what they feel is best for that particular horse; they will be more than happy you are thinking about their safety.
Many dogs will naturally chase prey animals so it is important to be aware of your surrounding and keep your dog under control to avoid such situations. Many people will try and get close to deer in country parks mistaking them for domestic animals; they are wild animals and will react as such. Get too close and they will run or defend themselves which can result in serious injury, keep dogs on leads and never approach.
The countryside is used by many people all year round so please be responsible, clear up its mess and dispose of it in a dog bin. If there isn’t a bin nearby, please don’t leave it behind on the path or hang it on a tree in a bag. Instead, dispose of it safely at home. If you do not want to carry while walking and will return the same way, bag any mess and leave in a memorable spot to pick up on the way past.
Foot paths, farmland and other people.
Your dog should always be kept in sight and under control; you should always keep to public rights of way and stick to the paths provided. Straying of these paths onto private property, or worrying of livestock is a serious offence and landowners can take direct action.
Research your intended route before you head out, some trails also have special rules on the land to protect the wildlife surrounding them.
Be considerate of other people, their dogs and family. Not all dogs are friendly or socially sound. For example a nervous dog, having another charge towards it can be terrifying and can snap in defence; this in turn can cause a fight even between the nicest of dogs. Keep your dog close and even on a lead until you have past especially if the other owner has done so, this is usually an indication they are not comfortable with your dog or their own is not safe around others.
Close the gate! Leaving gates open can cause livestock to escape or other dogs if in a park area.
Please be respectful of the environment and its residents so that we are all able to enjoy the countryside and encourage more people to visit.