Part of being a responsible dog owner means understanding your rights and respecting other members of the public, so Sean Whiting, Director at outdoor and equestrian specialists Houghton Country, has put together these tips for taking your dog on a countryside walk.
Whether exploring farmland, forest, or beach, a walk in the country with your dog is good exercise and fresh air for you both and can have positive effects on your health and wellbeing.
However, it’s important for everyone to respect and look after our precious countryside. That’s why we have the Countryside Code — a list of actions for us all to bear in mind whether you own land or are just visiting for the day. Here is what the countryside code means for dog owners, and my top tips for being responsible in open-access areas.
Meeting other people
Going out into the country is a great way for your dog to meet lots of new friends, especially during summer, as there’s usually plenty of other dog walkers along the path to say hello to. When approaching other dogs, look for body language and use your judgement. If the dog is playful or relaxed and its tail is wagging, it should be fine to say hello. However, if the dog is rigid or its teeth are bared, it probably isn’t a good idea to let your dog interact with it. Don’t immediately grip the lead, as your dog might think something is wrong and respond. Instead, calmly leave the area and talk to your dog to keep it distracted.
Having the right to walk
Dogs are allowed on most public footpaths, but not all of them, so it’s best to do your research before a country walk to make sure the trail you have chosen is dog-friendly.
At certain times during the year, such as spring, dogs must be kept on leads on all open-access land to protect wildlife like nesting birds and baby lambs. Keep an eye out for signs indicating whether dogs must be kept on a lead or are only permitted at certain times.
These rules are to protect wildlife and the land owner’s property, as well as keep your dog safe from agricultural machinery and unfriendly livestock. Follow paths, especially in fields of crops or farms animals, and pop your dog onto a lead if they’re likely to stray. Hi-vis collars, leads, and harnesses can help to make sure your dog can be seen by people operating machinery like tractors and harvesters, as well as make it easy for you to keep track of their whereabouts.
Protecting the environment
Dog mess is very dangerous to the countryside and the people, animals, and wildlife that live in it. Clean up after your dog by disposing of waste in a designated bin, just as you would in the street, to prevent spreading infections. If there is no bin nearby you must double wrap the waste and take it with you.
It’s a good idea to bring toys, treats, and lots of water for dogs on long walks but wrappers and bottles shouldn’t be left behind. They’re unsightly and can take a very long time to decompose, causing issues for animals and vegetation.
Keeping your dog under control
Dogs that are allowed to run free on farmland can often cause animals to become skittish, so it’s important to have control. Sheep often move out of the way, which can make them quite tempting to chase, but there’s always the risk that your dog could run them into the way of a tractor or get overexcited and attack. Farmers have rights when it comes to dog attacks, so it’s best to avoid upsetting livestock.
Families with small children who don’t have dogs of their own can sometimes find them intimidating. Try to keep your dog at close heel in recreational areas, or on a lead if they’re a bit over-excited from all the new sights, sounds, and smells.
Finally, remember to protect your dog from the elements: you’ll need warm coats in the winter, lots of water in the summer, and a towel in the car for rainy days. Consider putting together a first aid kit for your dog with bandages and dressings for minor injuries, just in case.
With these tips, you can take your dog for trips out in the countryside and feel confident that you are being respectful of others and protecting the environment — as well as keeping yourselves safe.