Long-Distance Walking with your Dog

By Nicky Jacquiery

I have several friends who own a dog, all of whom enjoy walking; I guess you wouldn’t have a dog if you didn’t! I myself don’t own a dog, and perhaps that’s why the number of people out walking with their dogs seems to me to be on the increase. One of the things I’ve noticed is that while some dog owners evidently know the dos and don’ts when walking with a dog in the countryside, others don’t. Regardless of whether or not you have a dog, I think it’s important to be aware of the Dog Walking Code and what this entails, so that you are fully prepared and can enjoy your walk in the countryside.


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. This means that dogs must always be under proper control. However, if you know that you cannot keep your dog close enough to be 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.

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.

Another reason to keep your dog on a lead is to prevent your dog straying into fields of crops or chasing and worrying livestock. It is an offence to allow a dog to be at large in a field containing sheep and 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. 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.

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.


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 and 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, which 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.

It is now required by law to have your contact details engraved on your dog’s collar and to have your dog microchipped, so that your dog can be returned to you quickly if you lose it on your walk. Also, it is advised to keep your dog’s vaccinations and worming up to date so that your dog and other animals are protected from disease.

Finally, 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 to:

  • 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.

Originally published 21/08/17

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