Dogs on farmland: right to roam and responsible dog ownership

With the better weather not too far around the corner, there is nothing better than taking time to go out for a lovely walk in the countryside with our best friend, the pet dog. British Vet Association’s Scottish Branch President, Melissa Donald, takes a look at how dog owners and farmers can work together to ensure responsible and safe dog walking on farm land for all involved.

We all know that getting outdoors and exercising is not only good for the body but for the mind as well and after the long nights of the Scottish winter, it’s great to have more daylight time. In Scotland we are very fortunate to have had the ‘Right to Roam’ over much of the land subject to specific exclusions. But with that right comes responsibilities.

Farmers who own the land care deeply about it; what is growing on it, the biodiversity within it and for sure the stock that graze it. So, when you decide to go for your walk across the farmland with your dog, make sure you respect this as you enjoy the space and tranquillity.

The thrill of the chase

First things first though, keep your dog on a lead. The dog must be under control at all times but even the best trained dog can decide to suddenly run away from you, be it as a game or from being startled.

Too often we hear the mantra ‘my dog would never do that’ but all dogs love to chase things that move, we as humans encourage that, by playing with a ball. In this sense, chasing livestock is the same to a dog as chasing a ball. What isn’t the same, however, is the potentially devastating consequences that can result from dogs chasing livestock.

It is therefore the responsibility of the person in charge of the dog to keep the dog under control. Another myth is ‘my dog is too small to cause any problems’. Believe you me, my small Border Terrier can chase sheep as well as any of our collies.

Livestock worrying – more than just an anxiety

Sometimes the term ‘livestock worrying’ doesn’t quite convey the serious impact that dog chasing can have on the health and welfare of livestock. Dogs don’t have to bite livestock for damage to occur. The stress of being chased doesn’t always appear immediately and can have physical impacts. The ewes can abort a few days later, long after you and your dog have left the area, after only a short period of your dog ‘just having a bit of fun’ so as with most things, prevention is better than cure and keep your dog on a lead at all times.

There are other things that should be done too when out in the countryside. Picking up after your dog is essential even if there is no stock in the field. Some dogs carry the parasite Neospora Caninum in their faeces. You wouldn’t always know about it as some dogs have no clinical signs. However susceptible cows that graze around the faeces are at risk of aborting their calves. It’s just not worth the risk and please take your bag of poo home with you rather than leaving it under a bush or hanging off a branch.

The take home message is clear: keep your dog under control at all times and the only way to do this is on a lead. If this is not possible for whatever reason, then keep your dog away from ground where any animal can be chased.

Working together

Finally, if you think your dog may have had an opportunity to cause harm (maybe your dog escaped from you) then reach out to your local farmer know so they can monitor their livestock.

Together, responsible owners and farmers can work collaboratively to ensure that our farmland can be enjoyed safely by all.

For more information on responsible dog ownership in public spaces, read the BVA and BSAVA position on dogs in public amenity spaces here:,_campaigns_and_policies/Policies/Companion_animals/Policy%20position%20on%20dogs%20in%20public%20amenity%20spaces.pdf

You can also read more about NFU Scotland’s Control Your Dog on Farmland campaign by visiting:

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