Dog walking at lambing time 

By Vet Graham Lewis

The first signs of spring are appearing, raising our spirits and bringing the promise of nice days ahead.

It’s the time when many start getting out into the countryside more and making trips further afield for walks with our dogs.

As many of you will know I am a big advocate for the benefits of exercise with our dogs. Regular walks help build our fitness and make for happier canines and humans too. 

However, it’s really important we understand our responsibilities around livestock and wildlife.

Spring is lambing time and more livestock is appearing in the fields and on the hills from this time.

Every year sheep and lambs are killed and injured by dogs. Chasing can also cause miscarriages and mismothering of lambs.  

Farmers are extra concerned this year. The National Farmers Union is reporting increasing numbers of dog attacks on sheep including in Cumbria, possibly because of the surge in dog ownership during the pandemic lockdowns.

As a dog owner it’s important to know that livestock worrying, which includes barking, chasing, biting and killing, is a criminal offence. By law, dogs must be on a lead from March to July on open access land such as fells, to protect ground nesting birds. Dogs must be on a lead around livestock all year round. 

It is essential your dog is not a nuisance to any livestock, horses or wildlife. Dogs do not have to be on a lead on public paths as long as they are under close control. But if you cannot completely rely on your dog’s obedience then it’s best to keep them on the lead.

Often owners are caught out because their dog behaves well at home or in the park. But all dogs can suddenly give chase when they encounter livestock, or when an animal appears unexpectedly or startles and runs.

I often walk my own dogs in fields and open ground on the fells. Coming across sheep where you least expect to see them is common up on the fells. There are also a lot of ground nesting birds during the spring in the hills. Dogs do not need to be actually chasing them, or deliberately bothering them, for them to startle, and it is the same with sheep. 

Keeping your dog under close control and ideally on a lead at this time of year is respectful to our local farmers, and to the wildlife that helps make Cumbria special.

With a little care we can enjoy trouble free walks in the countryside with our dogs.