Hey City Dogs, Are You Ready for the Country?
Two years ago, I uprooted my entire family (my entire family being a Staff-cross and me), and moved us from Central London to the middle-of-nowhere-shire. Although the decision was tough, it was without doubt the right move: My journey to work now involves braking for pheasants, not for erratic taxi drivers, and I’m woken up by the pleasant sound of cows, instead of my neighbours screaming at each other or coming in at 4 a.m. every day.
However, the other half of my little family didn’t take it so well. Stan, my dog, was a Londoner born and bred, and grew up pounding pavements and sleeping on my bed –- a world away from my countryside friends’ dogs, who work for their keep and live in kennels. Stan had never seen cows, sheep, or tractors –- let alone the miles and miles of fields and forests. In fact, the closest experience he had to anything countryside was the giant police horses in Hyde Park, and the small, shabby parks on our daily walk. Some training was in order to correct his behavior.
It has taken us a while, but Stan has finally stopped dropping to the ground every time a cow approaches us, and he has run off (and gotten lost, and given me numerous heart attacks) in the forests enough to know he has to COME BACK when I call. He has lost his London snobbery, and the both of us wake up to the smell of manure every morning -- and the promise of an uninterrupted walk through acres of farmland.
I hope that my experience with Stan can help any other owners considering a move to the countryside, a weekend away, or just a fun day out, to not completely alienate yourself from the locals and give your dog a safe, enjoyable experience.
If you’ve got a dog and live in a town or city, taking the dog out into the country for a day can be a great experience, for you and the dog. However, you need to be sure that your dog will behave when it’s out.
Fields and wide expanses
Depending on where you go, some fields will be open for dogs to roam about in, although make sure you abide by any notices on fences: If a farmer or landowner doesn’t want a dog in his or her field, there's a good reason behind it. Dogs can really let loose, chase rabbits and squirrels, play in long grass, or just mooch around, sniffing the hundreds of new smells that a new location will bring. During some seasons, such as when ground-birds are nesting, dogs must always be kept on a lead.
However, if you can’t call your dog back, you might have a not-so-nice afternoon ahead of you. The last thing you want to do is lose your dog in an area he doesn't know, so take his lead off only if you know he’ll come back to you without hesitation. If not –- there’s nothing wrong with putting a stretchy lead on and letting your dog have a bit of a wonder, without worrying about his safety and whether you’ll be sprinting around farmland all day trying to catch him.
If your dog has grown up in a town or city environment, introducing him to countryside animals can bring about a huge number of reactions -- wholly depending on how you do it and what your dog’s personality is like. Ensure that he’s on a lead whenever presented with farm animals: They’re a farmer’s livelihood, and should your dog think it’s fun to chase them or try to attack, you have a huge problem. Similarly, you wouldn’t want your dog to get chased and kicked, so make sure you and the pooch are one side of the fence, and the animals are on the other!
Let your dog suss the situation out. Some might not pay attention to a field full of sheep, but some might think the critters are a nightmare reincarnated. Don’t rush it, and if you’re worried, reroute, and leave the bigger animals for another day.
It’s against the law to have a dog off the lead, terrorising farm animals and horses, and farmers can shoot a dog chasing their animals.
Other countryside users
If it’s a sunny day, you probably won’t be the only ones out enjoying the weather. Not only will you have the normal sights, such as other dog walkers, joggers, and cyclists, you’ll be faced with horse-riders and maybe a couple of tractors. Unless you’re positive that your dog will remain by your heel as a horse goes past, put a lead on. The risk isn’t worth it, for you and the rider. A dog, regardless of its intentions, can be a scary thing for a horse, and you don’t know whether any horse fears dogs, whether it has been attacked, or whether it’s young and inexperienced. Allowing your dog to run between its legs, or around it, could result in a nasty accident.
If a horse strikes out or moves quickly, your dog could get kicked or trampled, both of which can be fatal. Always err on the side of caution, and give horses and riders enough space. If your dog has never seen a horse before, take some time to stand quietly and let him take it in -– they’re (usually!) big animals and can be quite intimidating, especially to a nervous or young dog.
As heavy farm machinery might be in abundance on the roads and fields, keep an eye on your dog if you hear it rumbling toward you, especially with countryside lanes being so narrow!
Here are a couple of pointers to keep you in farmers’ good-books, if you’re not familiar with countryside lore:
- Always -- always -- close any gates that you open!
- Never let your dog chase animals.
- Stay away from animals that have babies.
- Stick to footpaths, and when in fields, don’t walk through the crop, even if it’s short.
- If you have to climb a gate, climb at the hinge end.
- As always, pick up anything your dog leaves behind!
This post was written by David Lewzey of helpucover, who provide insurance for dogs, cats and rabbits in the UK, including lifetime dog insurance. helpucover is a trading style of Pinnacle Insurance plc.