How to keep your dog safe around livestock

Heading out on an adventure in the countryside is one of the joys of being a dog owner but when you’re enjoying the great outdoors with your pooch it’s important to consider all that you might come across on your walk. From wildlife to sheep, cows and other farm animals, your pet might meet animals it’s not quite used to seeing.

Here are our top tips for helping keep your dog and livestock safe while out and about. 

Dogs and the countryside code

The Countryside Code offers advice on how you can enjoy your visit to the countryside great outdoors with your dog and how to protect your surroundings and your pet by acting responsibly. The code explains that it’s important to keep your dog under control and where you can see them when exploring the countryside, parks and endless coastline.

The code says to:

  • Always keep your dog on a lead or in sight where you can see them
  • Be confident your dog will return on command
  • Make sure your dog does not stray from the path
  • Always check local signs
  • Check for local restrictions on dogs (they might be banned completely)

Remember: never deviate from any paths or rights of way.

Why do dogs chase other animals?

Some dogs have an overwhelming desire to chase things, such as other canines, small animals, cars, bikes, scooters and tennis balls. If it moves, they’ll want to run after it. It’s normal predatory behaviour leftover from their wolf ancestors with some breeds having a higher drive than others, especially working, hunting or herding dogs.

This behaviour can be fun when they’re fetching a ball but can be dangerous for your dog and others around them if their drive is too high and not safely controlled. It’s important to remember some dogs will have never seen livestock, such as sheep, horses or cows before and they will react with a mixture of fear, curiosity or nervousness, which could all result in aggression or chasing.

a person walking their dog through a field of sheep on a lead

The harm that dogs can do

Dogs don’t need to catch sheep to cause serious damage to them, the worrying alone can cause sheep to die while pregnant ewes (female sheep) can miscarry their lambs after being chased. Sheep fleeing from dogs will often panic, damaging fences and field boundaries in their attempts to escape.

NFU Mutual data shows that the claims costs of dog attacks on farm animals rose to more than £1.5 million in 2021 but it’s about much more than just money to the farmers who spend so much of their time raising these animals.

If a dog worries livestock or causes injury, suffering or financial loss to their owner, you may be found guilty of an offence and could face a fine of up to £1,000.

What to do while walking your dog near cattle

Even while keeping your dog on a lead, walking near cattle can be especially daunting, particularly during spring when they’re rearing any young. Here’s some advice on what to do when walking near cows or bulls or both!

Do

  • Stop, look and listen when you enter a field
    • Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving
  • Close all gates you might walk through to prevent escapes
  • Try and avoid fields with calves in, even if you’re following a footpath
  • Be prepared for cattle to react to you and your dog’s presence
  • Move quickly and quietly while trying to avoid the herd
  • Keep your dog close, on a short lead and under control
  • Report any chasing or attacks to the landowner and appropriate authorities

Don’t

  • Hang onto your dog if you’re seriously threatened by cattle
    • Letting go of their lead is safer for you and your dog
    • But be aware of the risks of your dog worrying livestock once let off
  • Walk too close to cattle as this could put you and your dog at risk
  • Panic or run
    • Keep calm and walk quickly and quietly
  • Get between cows and their calves

What to do before you go

There are a few things you can do before heading on a countryside walk to help prepare for anything you might come across while out and about.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead can help your walk go as smoothly as possible. Packing tasty treats with you can serve as a handy distraction if your dog becomes interested in livestock. Be sure to take dog poo bags with you, too, as well as fresh water and a collapsible bowl so that they have something clean water to drink when they’re thirsty.

Keep training

No matter how well trained you think your dog might be, it won’t hurt to keep practising for a solid recall so you can call your dog back to you when you need to. A good sit and stay will also benefit you and your pooch so you can keep them still and calm around other animals when needed.

Be aware of changes

Your dog might be calm at home or on walks around their local area, but they can still become distressed and distracted or start to behave differently when in a new and rural environment as their senses might become overstimulated.

Expose your dog to livestock

Get puppies and older dogs used to livestock as soon as you get them to make things easier if you’re likely to come across farm animals regularly. This should be done slowly and safely by gradually exposing your new pet to livestock from a distance and always be sure to reward calm behaviour with treats and praise.

Picking up poo in the countryside

It’s not just attacks that can hurt livestock, leaving your dog’s poo in a field where livestock live can spread diseases to the animals that eat the grass in the area. The bagged poo sometimes left hanging on trees or in a field also poses a risk to any grazers who may be tempted to eat the whole thing.

Always bag your dog’s poo and keep onto it until you find an appropriate bin. There are specially designed containers you can buy to make bags of dog poo easier to carry in the meantime.

Don’t let these rules, regulations and guidance put you off going on a walk in the countryside with your dog. Being properly prepared can help keep you, your pooch and the animals you might meet safe and sound. If you think we’ve missed any top tips for dog owners heading out on rural adventures let us know on our Facebook page.

 

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