Long-Distance Walking with your Dog

by Nicky Jacquiery

I myself don’t own a dog, and perhaps that’s why the number of people out walking the trails with their dogs stands out to me as on the increase. As more dogs join us in the countryside, it’s more important than ever for everyone, dog-walker or dog-free, to be aware of the rules laid out to help us coexist on the trails: the Dog Walking Code.

A woman walks her golden retriever without a lead but under cloe control, as laid out in the dog walking code

What is the Dog Walking Code?

The Dog Walking Code is a simple guide developed by several organisations, including the Ramblers Association and the National Trust. Essentially, it is the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure their dog doesn’t cause problems for other walkers or livestock.

Is a lead required?

This means that dogs must always be under proper control. If you know your dog won’t close enough to remain in sight, or you are not confident they will respond to your command, you should keep your dog on a flexible lead. The advantage of a flexible lead is that it gives dogs the freedom to explore, but puts you in control, allowing the lead to be shortened to bring your dog back to you when needed.


There are further important caveats:

  • You don’t have to keep your dog on a lead on a public right of way, but a local authority can make it a requirement on certain paths.
  • On open access land in England and Wales, dogs are required by law to be kept on a lead at certain times of the year. Open access land includes mapped areas of mountain, moorland, heath and some lowland areas, so it’s advisable to check before you set out on your walk.
  • Dogs are required to be kept on a lead up to 2 metres in length between March 1st and July 31st, which is the main breeding period for ground-nesting birds. Dogs can scare birds away from their young during this time, so it’s important to keep your dog on designated paths as well.
  • Local restrictions may also be enforced to protect certain areas. For example, dogs are banned from the grouse moors where I live and signs are erected detailing exactly where and when the moors are open to walkers and their dogs.

Dogs and livestock

Another reason to keep your dog on a lead is to prevent your dog straying into fields of crops or chasing and worrying livestock.

Sheep and lambs

It is an offence to allow a dog to be at large in a field containing sheep.

A farmer is allowed to shoot your dog if it is worrying or about to worry livestock.

So, for the safety of you, your dog and the livestock, it is advisable to minimise the disturbance and the threat to livestock as much as possible.

Sheep crowd a field along a long-distance walk.

Minimise the danger to animals

Whilst sheep and lambs will normally run away form a dog, other livestock, such as cows, can become aggressive.

On entering a field with livestock, the advice is to:

  • Stop and check if any animals are present
  • Always keep your dog on a short lead to prevent any problems
  • Take the safest route around animals and give them plenty of space, especially if there are calves or bullocks in the field
  • Use rights of way where possible to avoid causing any damage
  • If you are threatened by cattle, release your dog, remain calm and get to a place of safety as quickly as possible.

Be conscientious of others

When on footpaths and rights of way, be aware of other people and other people’s dogs. Your dog can startle horse riders, cyclists, runners and walkers, and even other dogs can be caught unawares!


Some people are uncomfortable around dogs or even allergic to dogs, so don’t let your dog approach other people unless they are invited to do so.

Bear in mind that dogs are banned from some areas that people use, such as certain beaches in the summer months, so again it’s advisable to check for any local restrictions.

Bag and bin it


Always clean up your dog’s mess wherever you are, especially in areas where people walk. Make sure you place it in a designated waste bin, public bin or your bin at home.

Never leave bags of dog waste lying on the ground or tied to a tree. It’s amazing how many bags of dog waste I come across when I’m out walking. They were obviously left by dog owners who intended to pick them up later, but never did!

Clean up your dog’s mess in farmland too, as these areas are used for growing food for people and livestock.

Identification for your dog

It is now required by law to have your contact details engraved on your dog’s collar.

It’s also a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped.

These requirements are very much for your dog’s benefit. A huge amount of stress can be avoided if your contact details are present and up to date so that whoever finds your dog can contact you directly, and the microchip provides a valuable backup if your dog slips their collar.

Canine vaccinations

It is advised to keep your dog’s vaccinations and worming up to date. Not only will this help to protect your dog from disease, it will look after the other animals around you on your walk.

Dealing with aggressive dogs

It is worth mentioning what to do when faced with an aggressive dog, because although the majority of dogs are friendly, you may come across a dog on your walk that, through no fault of your own, behaves aggressively.

The RSPCA’s advice for dealing with an aggressive dog is straightforward.

  • Stay calm and don’t shout at the dog.
  • Watch the dog, but don’t stare into their face.
  • Move if necessary, but don’t make sudden movements or run: walk slowly away from the dog.

If you are attacked:

  • Fend the dog off and don’t try to fight back.
  • Don’t scream or shout.
  • Walk away slowly, backwards or sideways.

If you’re out walking and you come across a dog that is intimidating, or worse, you’re bitten by a dog, you should always report it to the police and to the local highway authority.

Ready to bring your dog on a walk?

Find your ideal self-guided dog-friendly walking holiday on our full list of dog-friendly trails, complete with an informative video about what to expect.

Originally published 21/08/17

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