Dogs in the countryside
Sophie, who is one of our consultants working in our Ferring store, has put together some handy hints and tips on how to help your countryside walks stay as safe as possible.
Many of us love a country walk and in the beautiful area in which we live. We have access to many lovely walks and views with ample footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways. In these areas, we will often come across livestock, for some dogs this will never be an issue, but for the more anxious, reactive or perhaps aggressive dogs, this will sometimes require some practice. Some breeds will also be more likely to chase, i.e. herding or hunting breeds.
Dogs need to be calm and controlled around livestock for their own safety as well as our own and the livestock in question.
IT IS NOT A MYTH THAT A FARMER CAN SHOOT A DOG WHICH IS SEEN TO BE UPSETTING, WORRYING OR EVEN ABOUT TO UPSET THEIR ANIMALS, AND IT IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE TO ALLOW YOUR DOG TO CHASE LIVESTOCK.
Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953
Countryside signs – Here’s a handy guide regarding who should be there and who shouldn’t
Foot path – Public right of way for any persons on foot. (This will be a yellow/ orange sign/ arrow)
Bridleway- Public right of way for walkers, horse riders and cyclists (This will be a blue sign/ arrow)
Restricted by-way- Public right of way for walkers, horse riders, cyclists and horse drawn vehicles. (This is a plum coloured sign / arrow)
Horses can be ridden on a footpath having gained land owners permission, however if this hasn’t been obtained, the rider is liable for any damages and is also classed as a trespasser.
- Wear bright coloured clothes more so in wooded areas than open fields, however wearing bright clothing gives the chance for other country side goers to see you from a distance and prepare themselves. This can range between you seeing another dog and their owner to seeing a horse rider who needs to slow their horse down and prepare the horse for your presence.
- If crossing a field with young… bare in mind those young animals may have protective parents so it is always best to not walk between them and take a wide birth!
- If you happen to be caught in the unfortunate circumstances of being chased bare in mind the livestock chasing you are usually very nosey and want to investigate everything. More you run more excited they will get and your unlikely to out run them! Your dog is usually more exciting to them than you, they see their farmer and many other humans very frequently so in these unusual circumstances let go of the lead and get to a safe area. Your dog will usually naturally run from the herd and in most cases will be able to out run them. This dispersal is a good confusion / distraction technique. Any aggressive animals on public rights of way can be reported to the landowner, the highway authority, The Health and Safety executive and even the police if of a very serious nature.
- Get puppies used to livestock as soon as possible, the more the ‘norm’ they are to them the better and the less likely you are to reach problems further down the line. Live stock move quickly and all will have their own unique smells which can really get your dog / puppies noses tingling and their eyes popping with excitement! Best to have some super scrummy treats to keep them distracted in times of need. For example we currently stock a great liver, heart or kidney treat from Downward dog or Natures Menu meaty treats in chicken, beef or lamb are also a winner
- Practice at home a good recall even when distracted, and this needs to be a recall where you can clip your dog onto the lead, many dogs when recalled come back close to us but then want to bowl off again or run off as soon as they see their lead is going back on.
Why is livestock running about such an issue? Its just exercise, right?… Wrong!
Most livestock naturally originate from prey animals, therefore they have a fight or flight instinct naturally ingrained into them. This means they can become aggressive as they think they’re under attack.. and remember they can’t read our or the dogs body language so they can easily misread things! Or they can choose flight, and generally when one goes they all go. Safety in numbers!
When they charge or ‘run’ away it can be categorised as ‘running blind’ this term is used as they can be quite irrational and run through or over objects varying from each other to gateways, fencing or hedgerows. Putting themselves in risk in the process. Young livestock being most at risk of acting this way. Pregnant livestock also miscarry very easily so upsetting the herd when you may not be able to tell they are carrying young can cause miscarriages which is distressing for both the farmer and the animal in question.
Most livestock will be loose in a field which you are passing through, they are the higher risks and most incising for your dog however on bridleways your also very likely to meet horse riders. This is again where your dogs recall comes into play. Call your dog and hold him or her on a safe passing point where the rider and their horse can see you. The rider should always walk past, if they do not there is no harm is calmly asking if they can do so as your dog is currently in training.
If your dog was to suddenly leap forward or bark they might frighten the horse so this practice is in the interest of both parties. Riders will always try to be in control of their horse but with the average horse being 600kg if the horse is spooked the rider can take a short while to regain control, or they are at risk of also falling off their horse, and it can be a long way down! Some horses may be young or inexperienced, just like our dogs they all have to start somewhere. So they want these routes to be as pleasant as we do!
Horses wear steel shoes often on all four feet and can kick out when frightened or angered, a lot of people may think their dog is just saying ‘hello’ to the horse but always understand just because your dog may be good with horses, that horse may not be good with dogs. So remaining a safe distance away gives all a positive experience.
- A long line lead (from 10ft to 30ft) so your dog can be away from you whilst still being under control. This way you can reel them in and reward with a high value treat.
- When you first want to teach a good recall, set your dog up for success and train them when they have already been for a road walk so their brain is more calm and focused. You want a focused brain but not a tired one! Also make sure your dog hasn’t just had their breakfast or dinner, the treats you offer will be a lot less appealing if they already have a full tummy! Start in a quiet area slowly expanding onto more busy areas with more distractions, don’t move on until you have each foundation reliable and consistent.
- We talk a lot about high reward treats, but some dogs just aren’t food orientated. Some would rather a squeaky ball or a teddy! Use whatever motivates your dog. Pate treats in a tube format can be useful for fussy dogs as something very alternative and palatable. Squeaks in a toy can also provide a useful distraction for dogs who tend to ‘zone out’.
- Whistle training, you can train your dog to come back to a whistle which will often be more dominant than your own voice. Dogs can listen more to certain family members than others, so a whistle is a perfect way to remain consistent and neutral. When initially training, blow the whistle for any exciting moment for example feed time or when your getting the lead ready for a walk. Extend this to in the living room for example blowing the whistle and as soon as your dog approaches you give lots of fuss and give the dog a reward of some treats. When your dog knows this sound you can extend to in the garden or a quiet field on a long line, blow the whistle and high reward when he/she comes to you. Don’t accelerate too fast. Wait until this stage is very reliable before moving onto dealing with distractions or taking the long line off, don’t ask too much of your dog setting them up to fail.
- If your dogs recall needs work, don’t tell them off when they finally return! This can create a negative association with being on a lead which is the opposite to what you need.
- No matter how desperate or frustrated you are keep your voice cheery and excited, our dogs are nosy and usually will wonder what we are so happy about!
Please pop into our stores in Ferring or Goring for any training tips or supplies which may help you, ranging from high reward treats to training leads.