One of the best things about having a dog is going on countryside walks together: it’s an activity that’s satisfying in all seasons – whether it’s a gorgeous Summer’s day or a colourful Autumnal stroll through the leaves. Followed by a pint or a pub lunch of course. No matter where you are going, here are some tips to make sure it’s a peaceful, enjoyable experience for both of you.
PREPARATION BEFORE YOU GO
Plan before you go to ensure it’s a public route that’s a suitable length for your dog’s age and fitness and has parking and/or amenities available if you need them. Also check the weather forecast on the day and pack accordingly. If it’s a hot day make sure there’s shade along the way, and if it’s going to rain don’t forget to pack a towel or two.
Your dog should be wearing their collar with your information on the tag and their microchip information should be correct and up to date, so in the (unlikely) event you and your dog get separated, you can be reunited more easily. It’s also worth making sure their insurance is up to date and covers third party liability.
MAKE SURE THEY HYDRATE
Take a travel water bowl and dedicated bottle of water. If the route you’re walking is sizable, and especially if it’s a hot day, make sure you’re giving your dog plenty of chances to drink. A collapsible travel bowl is a must to bring with you and fill up for them along the journey.
AVOID USING YOUR PHONE
Remember the walk is for both of you; spending time in nature is not only excellent for physical health, but mental health too, so be sure to take deep breaths and appreciate your surroundings as well as tending to the needs of your dog.
It’s worth taking your phone in case of emergencies but try to ensure it stays in your pocket for the whole walk. Not only will this allow you to be in the moment and walk using all of your senses, but you’ll be more in tune with your dog and able to connect with other walkers and dogs along the way.
BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS
You’ll still need to clean up after your dog – even if you are in the depths of the countryside – so don’t forget to bring plenty of waste bags. This is not just for the sake of other people; dog poo can cause infections for other dogs and even diseases for farm animals. Make sure you keep to a responsible worming schedule with your dog as well.
If your dog can be a little boisterous or over-friendly, take care they’re not putting other dogs, owners or children under stress. Be mindful of other dogs and ask permission from the owners before you engage with them, just in case. Watch out for early signs of stress or anxiety in both dogs before things escalate - shivering, a low tail, puffed cheeks, pinned back ears or barking can be signs your dog isn’t happy.
LETTING YOUR DOG OFF THE LEAD
Recall is extremely important; you must have rock solid confidence in your dog’s training to return to you when you call them, to keep them safe if they are going to be set free to roam. This training must start at home – a walk in the countryside is not the place! Pack some high value treats to reward your dog for returning and for other good behaviour.
There’s no specific law stating your dog needs to be kept on a lead on a public right of way, however on certain paths it can be made a requirement (under the Road Traffic Act, 1988), so keep an eye out for signs and stick to the main footpaths to be on the safe side.
It’s also a good idea to keep your dog on a lead if there are sharp drops or cliff edges that might put them at risk of falling, especially if the route is unfamiliar.
It’s your responsibility to control your dog around any farm animals and wildlife. If your dog does pose a threat to any livestock, like chasing or attacking, then the farmer is within their rights to shoot them, which would be devastating for all involved. Always check if there are any animals in upcoming fields, even if you know the route well, farmers might be rotating animals and moving them around. The most fail-safe way to control your dog is to keep them on a lead around other animals.
It’s not just farming livestock to look out for on a walk, but local wildlife in woodland and countryside too. Be careful not to disturb other wildlife, such as ground nesting birds, when you’re on your walk.
HOW TO APPROACH A FIELD OF COWS
Cows are likely to notice you and react in some form – especially if you’re walking with a dog. Farmers are advised to display yellow triangular signs to alert walkers of the presence of a bull or calves in a field, so keep an eye out for those and if you see them, turn back or avoid the field altogether.
Make sure your dog is on a short lead and under control. If you can, walk quickly and calmly around the herd, giving them as wide a berth as possible. Avoid running or panicking – and stay calm, the likelihood is they’re just interested.
If they come towards you, turn around and walk away slowly. If the cows do become threatening, release your dog from its lead so you can both get away more easily separately – and because the cows will then chase your dog and not you.
A MIND AND BODY WORKOUT
Sniffing around is great mental stimulation for dogs, especially if it’s a brand-new walking route. Allow them some time to explore – on or off the lead. You could even break the walk into sections using cues to allow them to go and smell, then another to get walking again. A balance of both is much more likely to leave your dog tired and satisfied than just a physical workout.
CHECK FOR TICKS
In Spring and Summer in particular, ticks may be hiding in the countryside’s long grass. Inspect your dog for ticks after the walk and if you find any, remove them with care, or take them to the vets for them to do so.
For more information about walking safely and respectfully in the countryside, check out the countryside code here.