Autumn walks, as the weather changes and trees turn from green to brown, traditionally provide some of the most beautiful days out in the year. What better way is there to take advantage of the UK's glorious countryside than a relaxing autumnal stroll with our dogs? Before you set out, here are ten top tips to ensure that you get the most from the day and avoid the hazards that autumn brings.
Check that everything still works. Check that your dog's collar and lead (or harness) still fit and that nothing is frayed or broken. Has your dog's identity disc become illegible, or has it mysteriously disappeared?
Autumn walks soon start to involve fading light. If you are taking a torch, check the battery. Check your mobile phone is fully charged. Ensure your veterinary surgery telephone number is stored in your mobile phone.
Remember that our beautiful countryside is still a working environment. Scottish dog owners enjoy the 'right to roam'; however, many moors and wide open spaces in the UK are privately owned and not all farmers and landowners appreciate dogs running free on their land. Check the area for public footpaths before you set off. There are a number of online sources of information such as www.footpathmaps.com that can help you to do this.
Pay attention to livestock and to wildlife as you walk. Every farmer will expect you to keep control of your dog, especially if livestock are present. An over-enthusiastic dog can easily harass farm animals.
Keeping control of your dog is a clear safety consideration. Any livestock are a possible threat to your own safety and that of your dog.
Needless to say, sheep worrying or any harrassment of livestock is an offence and farmers have the right to shoot dogs that they consider are threatening their stock.
During your autumn walks you may be fortunate to see some of Britains indigenous species of wildlife: deer, foxes, hares, squirrels, pine martens or even elusive badgers. Many native species are endangered and protected. However, our dogs don't know that and the hunting instinct remains just below the surface in most of our four-legged friends. If recall isn't your dog's best attribute, using a long or retractable lead might save the day!
While we all delight in seeing an elusive animal, during your autumnal stroll you may just find yourself face to face with a more surprising resident among the ferns and bracken. Hunting wild boar to extinction happened in Britain around 400 years ago but in the 1990s, farmers reintroduced them to this country. Many 'escapees' have established themselves in a few forests around the country.
Sightings of wild boar occur in South Wales and in parts of Scotland. People look for this tourist attraction in parts of England, particularly in Dorset, Kent/Sussex, Hampshire, Devon and the Forest of Dean. If you do find yourself up close and personal with wild boar, do not try to get past, but get your dog under control and make a quiet retreat.
All through the lockdown period, many of us have found that we have mysteriously added a few pounds in weight! And something similar has happened to the nation's dogs too! Build up gradually to longer distances before setting off on what might now appear to be a marathon to your dog!
Similarly, vigorous exercise immediately after a large meal can be dangerous for our dogs and feeding a smaller meal an hour before setting off will help our dogs to avoid serious complications.
Autumn is the season when many veterinary surgeries report various poisonings. These range from rat poison to antifreeze, and from a number of plants and fungi that dogs encounter such as acorns, conkers, toadstools and mistletoe - all of which can be dangerous if ingested. If you do see your dog licking or eating something during autumn walks that you don't recognise, take a photograph of it just in case. If your dog becomes unwell, it will be hugely helpful to your vet to know what may have caused the problem.
Covid-19 restrictions raised some doubt about whether the shooting season would go ahead. However, in England, activities exempted from the government's coronavirus restrictions include grouse shooting and hunting with guns. Open Seasons for shooting gamebird and waterfowl, deer and ground game - such as rabbit and hare - vary. Differences exist between England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. And, variously, apply between the 1st July and the end of January. The open season in England and Wales for deer shooting continues until the end of April.
Leave the area for your own safety if you find yourself anywhere where you can hear shooting. You can find specific online information at www.gwct.org.uk.
Hunting foxes with a pack of dogs is illegal. But simulating hunting, for example ‘drag’ or ‘trail’ hunting happens with dogs. Again, if you hear a hunt approaching, make sure that your dog is under control. Then find the shelter of a wall (or trees) and keep out of the way until the pack has passed.
During lockdown, most veterinary surgeries were unable to keep up to date with their normal schedule of vaccinations. As a result, a large number of dogs have fallen outside the period of protection against certain diseases. Check your dog's vaccinations are up to date to ensure proper protection against diseases such as leptospirosis. Don't forget other conditions that are transmitted by internal and external parasites.
Climate change is progressively introducing new challenges in the form of parasites and infectious disease but making sure that our dogs' preventative care is up to date is the only way to achieve peace of mind.
Autumn walks soon herald shorter days and changeable weather, so, above all, safety for ourselves and our dogs is essential.
Many wonderful dog walks feature a stretch of road to complete the circuit or join up two sections of a long walk. Make sure that both you and your dog wear something bright and reflective. Motorists, who may not expect to find you walking on an unlit country road, must be able to see you.
If you would like more information on Leading the Way Pet Care franchise, please contact us via email or phone us on 0800 027 9845.