Taking your dog out for a walk is often seen as a pleasant, fun activity, which of course it is - but you still need to take care.
Our own safety and well-being often takes second place to our dogs when out on walks, but while such concern is understandable, it's not always wise. There can be many potential dangers lying in wait and putting yourself first isn't being selfish but sensible – but safe. After all, if you're safe it's more likely your pet will be too. Obviously there is no way you can completely guarantee your safety but there are a number of ways in which you can certainly minimise the risks.
Dress for the occasion
No matter how keen your dog is to go for a walk, take time to kit yourself out properly before leaving, Sensible footwear is vital to help keep your balance if your dog suddenly pulls on the lead as well as when tackling loose, wet, or muddy surfaces, even if your just popping out for a short stroll you might need to run in an emergency.
Wear appropriate clothes, bearing in mind that the weather can change dramatically in some places, particularly in mountainous or moorland areas. If you are going to be out in the dark or when it is dull or misty, don't just kit your dog out in high vis gear, wear it yourself - if nothing else it will ensure that joggers using the same paths don't collide with you.
When your dog is running loose put his lead in your pocket or hold it in your hand - don't loop it around your neck where it could be grabbed by someone. Before you go get a weather report before setting out and be prepared to disappoint your dog by either turning back or taking a safe, shouter route if conditions deteriorate. When out in milder, more remote regions pack a rucksack with extra survival kit in case of an emergency. No matter where you're going always take your mobile (make sure it is fully charged) and whistle just in case you need to call for help or to alert rescuers to your position. And although it seems obvious, an often neglected precaution is simply to tell someone where you're going and how long you expect to be, even if your just planning to go around the block.
Chatting on your mobile or wearing headphones will make it easier for others to sneak up on you and your lack of concentration could even single you out as a tempting target for would-be attackers. Don't daydream - as well as watching what your dog is up to and keeping an eye out for potential problems from other walkers and dogs, try to be aware of where you're putting your feet. If you stumble down a pot hole, trip over a tree root, or miss your step on rutted ground you could twist your ankle or worse. Make sure your vision isn't impared by a hood - they are warm but restrict peripheral vision and you have to turn your whole body instead of just your head to glance behind you. If it's chilly or wet wear a separate hat instead.
Livestock and wildlife
Although walking in the countryside is statistically safer than in the city, don't be complacent in open areas. By law you must control your dog so that he doesn't scare, worry, or disturb farm animals or wildlife. On most areas of open country and common land you should keep your dog on a fixed lead no longer than 6ft long between March 1 and July 31 (the season for all ground nesting birds) and at all times of the year near livestock. Livestock can sometimes behave unpredictably, particularly cattle. Cows with calves may become aggressive if they think their young are threatened, while young cattle are often inquisitive and may gallop up to you.
Take sensible precautions; never walk between a cow and her calf, don't shout or wave sticks at them, and head for the nearest exit if you feel threatened. If necessary let your dog loose while you make your escape – the cow is likely to loose interest in you and your dog can run faster. Wildlife can equally be protective of their young; hinds can be aggressive at calving time and there has been reports of them charging dogs and walkers.
And don't forget to...
- Use up to date maps, know how to read them, and use a compass.
- Take advice or stick to marked paths in areas where there are bogs and quicksands.
- Check whether restrictions are in place before exercising your right to roam.
- Never ignore warning signs.
- Exercise care when crossing fast-flowing steams particularly after heavy rains when water levels can rise rapidly and flash floods can occur.
- Avoid dark, poorly lit alleyways and paths during early morning or late night walks. Use pavements where possible; if there isn't one, walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic, crossing to the other side on right hand bends.