Long country walks with your dog are one of the most enjoyable aspects of dog ownership.
Training your dog to be calm and confident around livestock, wildlife, and horses can make your rural walks even more enjoyable and crucially safer for everyone.
Most dogs are naturally inclined to want to chase, or at the very least investigate, animals that they’ve not encountered before. Your dog may feel nervous, curious, or very fearful, which can all create problems when coming across other animals on your travels.
So let’s explore how you can tackle this for a lifetime of happy adventures with your dog.
Your dog and horses
If you live in a rural environment, you will really benefit from having a dog who is comfortable and reliable around horses. You will likely encounter riders from time to time, and often they can appear all of a sudden, which can evoke some panic if your dog isn’t trained to remain calm around them.
In addition, you may go for walks through fields that have horses grazing inside. Horses are powerful animals, and we really don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where they are spooked by a dog. It’s dangerous for everyone involved.
Keep your dog on a lead anywhere that you might encounter horses and remain vigilant in areas with bridleways and byways that horse riders may use.
If you visit stables with your dog, then try and introduce them from a young age so they can be well socialised to the sights and smells of the yard. Use a lead, to begin with, transition to a long line, and only move to off lead if you are confident that your dog will remain under control at all times.
Your dog and livestock
Our dog’s sense of smell and chase instinct can be easily aroused around livestock, especially if meeting them is a novel experience.
Farm animals can be easily worried by dogs, especially during calving or lambing season. Livestock is protected by law from being ‘worried’ by dogs, so you must keep your dog under control whenever you encounter cows, sheep, goats, or even chickens!
It’s a criminal offence to allow your dog to chase or attack livestock. Farmers can shoot dogs they believe are worrying livestock on their land.
According to the protection of Livestock Act 1953, worrying livestock is classed as:
- Attacking livestock
- Chasing livestock
- Not being under close control in the presence of sheep
The act classifies livestock as cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses, or poultry. This includes chickens, turkey, ducks, and geese.
You may walk in areas where there are free-roaming deer, and you should exercise the same caution here. You do not want to be in a situation where your dog is coming head-on with a herd of deer!
Keep your eyes peeled as horses and livestock will not always be immediately visible when you enter a field. It pays to remain cautious as you explore unfamiliar areas or areas where livestock rotates.
I’m sure you always pick up your dog’s poo! It can be tempting when surrounded by horse poo, cow pats, or sheep turds to stick and flick, but dog poo can spread disease to farm animals, so please do pick up after your dog every time.
Just like with horses, gradually expose your dog to livestock from a distance and reward calm behaviour with lots of treats. It’s safest to always have your dog on a lead if you’re anywhere near cattle or sheep, but it’s still worth training your dog to help them feel calm and confident in their presence.
Your dog and birds, ducks and geese
Ground nesting birds, ducks, swans, and geese are particularly exciting to many dogs, instigating a high chase instinct. Between mid-March and the end of July is the season when ducks are having babies, and it’s especially important during this season to keep your dog under control near lakes, ponds, and rivers.
It is very stressful for birds protecting their young to have dogs interfering in their space. As dog owners, we want to enjoy nature with our dogs, but we also have a duty to protect it.
A recent petition was created to ban dogs from nature reserves to protect flora and fauna by banning dogs from nature reserves. This was in response to many ground-nesting birds being killed by dogs and damage to rare flora and fauna.
The majority of dog owners are very responsible and ensure their dogs do not disturb wildlife or areas of natural habitats. We want to continue accessing these areas of outstanding natural beauty with our dogs by our sides. A walk without a dog is not half as joyful after all.
Cues to proof with your dog to help around livestock and wildlife
To ensure your dog is confident, calm, and under control, no matter what animals and wildlife you encounter, there are three cues that you can practice, proof and perfect.
Begin teaching these behaviours in areas without distractions until your dog has them mastered. You can then begin transitioning your training to incorporate longer durations of the behaviour and successful performance of them around distractions – this is called proofing.
Recall – A rapid and reliable recall is essential. If your dog has not been exposed to livestock, horses, or birds regularly, then you will need to start with a lead and a lot of distance as you progress and proof these cues.
Stay – Training a reliable stay is worth its weight in gold. Whether that’s in an emergency near traffic or a sudden unexpected encounter with another animal.
Leave – A solid ‘leave’ is incredibly useful in both urban and rural environments. Whether you want your dog to ‘leave’ that tempting chicken bone on a city street or a roaming deer on a rural adventure. Once that desire to chase has kicked in, you want your ‘leave’ cue to be bombproof.
We cover training these three foundation behaviours in all of our classes.
So you can enjoy your rural rambles together with confidence.