Walkies!! – Dogs in the Countryside.

Dogs have been man’s best friend for millennia and working in the countryside for nearly as long. But in the last 50 years a lot has changed; far fewer people and dogs visiting the countryside are there to work, and this can also mean that they are less knowledgeable about how the countryside works, and the rules that apply.

We know that taking your dog for a walk in the great outdoors is both fun and healthy, but think about it the same way as you would if you took a young child.

The first thing is of course that you would never let a young child jump out of a car by a road, or go wandering off on their own out of your sight, particularly in a wood, or somewhere else they could be hard to find. Yet this is exactly what some people do. They let their dogs jump out of the car without a lead with the risk of a car coming down the road. They then let the dog run off into the wood and have no idea where it is or what it is doing.

We were once called out to help find a dog that was eventually found about 4 miles away, we often have dogs run past us in the wood, and can hear their owner calling from a long way away. Just think what trouble the dog could be getting into! Firstly there is a grave risk to the dog. A doe with a fawn will defend its baby and there was a case not too far away where a German Shepherd dog was killed by a fallow doe in just that situation. Where trees are being felled or machinery used, the dog can run into danger there too, and the person working may be totally unable to do anything to prevent an accident. It is also dangerous for the workman too, as the last thing you want as you are felling a tree, or driving a combine harvester is to be distracted by a dog.

As the old country saying goes any dog is only 2 good meals away from a wolf. You may think that your dog would never chase deer, sheep or other animals, but you don’t know that until it actually happens. Apart from the risk to the dog, sheep and other animal worrying is a serious business and can result in some horrific injuries to the animal being chased, even death. As an aside, while no land owner likes doing it, they are entitled to kill a dog worrying sheep or deer. If more than two dogs are chasing wildlife, it is also an offence under the Hunting with Dogs Act, even if the dogs are just out of control rather than being used specifically to hunt. The only way to prevent danger to the dog, and to stop it being a danger to other animals and people working is to keep it on a lead or to train it to stop and come immediately you call, regardless of what it is doing.

Dogs like all animals, not unnaturally need to defecate. Dogs mess lying on a path or track is unpleasant for everyone, and just flicking it into the bushes isn’t much better. Even if your dog is vaccinated it can pass on disease to other animals such as badgers and foxes. It is also a risk to those of us who work in the country side, whether we are working on hedges, felling, or using a brushcutter. Sadly every year a number of countryside workers lose there sight due to contact with dog mess.

Putting the mess into a bag is fine as long as you take it home. Hanging it in a bush, or leaving it by the edge of the path is worse in some ways than leaving it where it is, as the bag can also be a hazard to all sorts of animals, it looks awful, and the mess decays inside a bag which can last for years. If there is a dog bin, use that, but remember that everyone is paying for the local authority to provide and empty these. Where there is no dog bin, particularly on private land, think about the land owner. They may be on a low income, and even if they are not, if they let you onto their land, is it reasonable to expect ‘them’ to pay to provide a bin, and have it emptied as a thank you?

I know that most of you are responsible dog owners, keep your dogs under control and take their ‘leavings’ away with you. You also can provide a very useful reporting system for anything that is amiss in the countryside, and you are the ones we who work there value. Please keep an eye out for the less responsible dog owners, and by subtle pressure, get them to behave as well as you. The countryside, the animals and plants that live there, and those of us that work there will thank you for it.

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