Dogs in the Countryside: The Right to Roam?

Friday, 7 June, 2019

Commodity Watch by UFU Legislation & Rural Affairs Policy Officer Lorraine McKnight

With the Summer holiday season almost upon us and the long Summer evenings drawing near it is understandable that many dog owners enjoy nothing more than a long walk in the countryside with their four legged best friend better known as their pet dog. It is a well-known fact that engaging in exercise is not only good for the health and wellbeing of any dog owner but also that of their beloved pooch. With many dog owners selecting the Countryside as the ideal location to engage in such activities dog owners are reminded that they do have a role to play in ensuring that their dog behaves in an responsible manner at all times whilst visiting the Countryside.

All dog owners should remember that all farmers are custodians of the land they farm on a daily basis and care deeply for the land and the livestock that graze on it. Farmers do not view the need to ensure that all dogs are kept on a lead whilst visiting the Countryside as unreasonable and dogs must be kept under control. Even the most obedient dog can decide to run away from its owner especially if the dog is startled or is participating in a game. It has again become apparent that all dog owners share the sentiment that ‘my dog would never do that’ but dogs enjoy chasing other animals or objects that move and by playing an innocent game of catch in effect the dog views chasing livestock in the same light as chasing a ball during a game. It is however worth noting that the likelihood of potentially devastating consequences when chasing livestock is increased vastly and dog owners need to ensure that their pets do not engage in such activities. Those owners of smaller dogs such as Border terrier type dogs believe that their tiny dog is too small to create any significant damage however small dogs can chase and kill sheep just as well as any large dog.

The stress of the chase alone is enough for a ewe to abort a lamb days later after the dog has left the countryside. Of course, the impact of the damage created by a dog bite on the health and welfare of any ewe cannot be forgotten and with prevention always proving better than cure the need to keep a dog on a lead at all times when visiting the countryside is not unreasonable. If farmers and dog owners can work collaboratively this will help to ensure that everyone can enjoy our Countryside safely. Examples of collaborative working between dog owners and farmers would include dog owners making contact with farmers to inform them that their dog has escaped from their home. This would allow farmers to monitor their livestock much more closely. Dog owners should remember that farmers can legally shoot a dog that is worrying their livestock in order to protect their flock and may submit a claim for compensation from the dog owner.