Walking with dogs

Dog

Dog lovers like nothing more than taking their faithful canine for a stroll, be it in a local park or in our wonderful countryside. Most dog walkers are mindful of their dog’s presence, but there are things to consider when walking in the countryside to ensure you, your dog and other countryside users can all enjoy the countryside safely and responsibly.

Walking your dog

The Ramblers has worked alongside Natural England, the Kennel Club, National Farmers’ Union and others create a new Dog Walking Code.

The Dog Walking Code is a simple, ten-point guide which aims to ensure safe and happy walks with your dog, and to avoid causing problems for others.

The Countryside Code, which applies in England and Wales, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code also include helpful information for dog walkers.

Both the Countryside Code and Scottish Outdoor Access Code advocate keeping dogs under 'effective' or 'proper' control – where they stay close by and you are confident they will respond to your command – but there are certain situations, and times of year, when specific rules apply that require dogs to be kept on a lead.

If you find yourself being threatened by cattle – which can become unsettled by the presence of a dog – while out walking it’s always best to release your dog from its lead. The dog will be able to run away and the cattle’s interest will be diverted from you to the dog.

Extra care should also be taken on bridleways and byways where dogs could frighten horses or be at risk of vehicle traffic, where there are ground nesting birds, near reservoirs and streams used for public water and by the coast. There may also be local restrictions banning dogs from areas that people use.

Special rules apply when taking your dog on access land – mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath, downland and registered common land. You should keep your dog on a lead no more than 2m long between 1 March and 31 July (the main breeding period for ground-nesting birds) and at any time of year near livestock.

In some places specific local restrictions may also be in place, such as banning dogs from grouse moors. Look out for local signs and check access maps for information on restrictions.

Encountering dogs while walking

Many dogs will be friendly towards unfamiliar people they meet and won’t show any signs of aggression when approached, but there may be some who will behave aggressively if approached too closely.

The RSPCA has produced a helpful leaflet on what you do when you meet an unfamiliar dog. In particular, the RSPCA advises that you should do the following if faced by an aggressive dog:

  • Stay calm
  • Talk to the dog calmly in a pleasant tone of voice
  • Get something as solid as possible between you and the dog
  • Watch the dog – but do not stare into his/her face
  • You may need to move, either behind something or to get away from the dog
  • Do not make sudden movements or run, just walk slowly away from the dog

In the event of an attack the RSPCA advises you should:

  • Fend the dog off rather than try to fight back
  • Do not scream or yell
  • Continue to walk slowly away, backwards or sideways

If you're bitten or intimidated by a dog when you using a public right of way always report the problem to both the police and to the local highway authority.

The expert view: Animals and rights of way

Find out more about animals and rights of way including what the law is and how to deal with problem animals.