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Walking a dog in the countryside

There’s not much better than getting out and walking a dog in the countryside, particularly during the Spring-time after a long winter. So here we’ve put together our guide to keeping safe, adhering to the countryside code and being a responsible dog-owner.

Walking a dog around lambs and livestock

In Spring, lambing season is in full flow and ewes and their lambs are a common sight in the fields.

One purpose of the countryside code is to help ensure the welfare of livestock – it’s vital that you consider the needs of livestock and keep your dogs on a lead when out walking.

Unfortunately there are sheep worrying cases each year where ewes miscarry and lambs are killed by dogs that are not under control. ‘Sheep worrying’ is considered as attacking sheep, chasing them in a way that may cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce or being at large ie. generally not on a lead or otherwise under close control, in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.

Keep your dog on a lead around livestock

Whatever the time of year, try and keep your dog on a short lead when walking around livestock.

Even if your dog is off-lead in an empty field, it should still stay on the footpath and be within your sight – you should be confident that you can call it back otherwise, it should be on the lead.

If you can’t see what’s in the next field, always put your dog on the lead, there may be livestock in the field ahead and at this time of year, farmers may be moving livestock that has been inside over winter, so even if there is a field that you regularly walk in, please be aware that the situation may have changed.

To pick it up, or not to pick it up?

While most responsible dog owners always pick up their dog mess, it’s still just as important when you’re out in the country.

Dog mess can carry risks of infection, such as worms, which can be passed on to livestock so remember to regularly worm your dog.  Make sure you dispose of your dog mess in a poo bin, or if one isn’t available take it home.

Look out for signs

Look out for signs as you walk, as dogs may be banned from some local areas to protect livestock or wildlife. 

The access rights that normally apply to open country and registered common land (known as ‘Open Access’ land) require dogs to be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July, to help protect ground nesting birds, and all year round near farm animals. 

The only exception to letting your dog off around livestock is if you are being chased by cattle or horses, in this case, it is safer for you and your dog to be off lead.

Further guidance

Guidance has been produced that promotes responsible dog ownership and aims to reduce livestock worrying:

  • There is a section for dog owners on the National Sheep Association website with lots of advice to help dog owners and their dogs have fun and safe days out without disrupting the important work of sheep farmers.
  • A video from Natural England about the Countryside Code.
  • It is a criminal offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 if a person’s dog worries livestock on agricultural land. In fact, a farmer may shoot a dog which is attacking or chasing farm animals without being liable to compensate the dog’s owner. Dog owners can find information about their legal obligations on The Kennel Club website.

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