Am I breaking any laws if my dog chases rabbits?

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Do you walk your dog in a field full of wildlife, such as rabbits, and are worried you could be breaking the law if your dog chases and catches them? Here's our advice...

Q) I have two rescue Lurchers and a Greyhound who I walk regularly on a country estate. The land is a haven for rabbits, and I’m afraid my sight hounds are all keen hunters, with the result that they have caught a few (mainly with myxomatosis).

The estate is the most beautiful place to walk, but I wonder if there are any legal implications or if I am breaking any laws if my dogs chase and catch the rabbits. I never encourage them, but this behaviour is hard-wired, and sometimes I am just not quick enough to get them back on the lead.

While there are many different laws relevant to your dogs chasing, catching, and potentially killing rabbits, my biggest concern would be that they are out in public, off-lead, and not under control (as you can’t call them back), which gets you into some serious legal difficulties and puts your dogs at risk.

An out of control dog is a danger to itself and other people. What if the rabbits ran across a road, or through a field of sheep? The legislation around this issue is extensive and complex. The rules and penalties vary depending on many factors, such as the animal being chased, the number of dogs involved, if the land is designated to protect wildlife, and if you have the permission of the landowner.

In short, letting your dog chase any animal when out for a walk is never a good thing and makes your dog ever harder to control.

The good news is there are lots of other ways to give your dogs a happy, active life by focusing their natural instincts in different ways; doing so will also help reinforce their bond with you, which can be especially helpful with rescues. Check out advice from trainers in Your Dog, online, and from sight hound clubs.

Did you know?

Sight hounds are dogs that have been bred for speed and to hunt independently by sight. They include Greyhounds, Whippets, Lurchers, Borzoi, and Salukis.

Advice given by access adviser Stephen Jenkinson.