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Dog Walking - What is the legal position?

Complicated! The law relating to dogs in the countryside is complex, and the table below provides a review of the relevant law, in the form of a series of Questions and Answers.

Note: The contents of this section are for guidance only and do not constitute a definitive statement or interpretation of the law. Anyone seeking to rely on the relevant legislation should seek independent legal advice.

Can a dog be guilty of trespass?
No – but the dog’s owner can.

Are dogs allowed on a public right of way?
Dogs are regarded as a ‘usual accompaniment’ to anyone using a public right of way. Dogs and their owners are, however, meant to stay on the line of the route and not to stray from it (unless allowed to through other arrangements)

Do dogs have to be kept on a lead on a public right of way?
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 s1(2)(c) makes it an offence for a dog to be at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep but under close control is not defined.

It is possible for the local highway authority to make an order under Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 requiring dogs to be kept on leads on specific public rights of way, although these require approval of the police and are rarely used.

Can dog walkers be stopped from using a public right of way?
One leading expert suggests that a Traffic Regulation Order could be used to prohibit use of a public right of way by anyone accompanied by a dog. However, this may not be possible now given the exceptions provided for use of Dog Control Orders.

Can a farmer legally shoot a dog?
Section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 provides that the owner of livestock, the landowner or anyone acting on their behalf, is entitled to shoot any dog if they believe it is the only reasonable way of stopping it worrying livestock. Such action must be reported to the local police within 48 hours.

What about dogs on CRoW access land? (Note: these restrictions do not apply to Section 15 land, which may be subject to other forms of restriction, or to public rights of way)
There are several provisions:

What about dogs elsewhere?
Local byelaws may impose restrictions over land owned or managed by bodies with byelaw-making powers, such as local authorities, National Trust and MoD. Byelaws are usually posted on signs at key entry points. Byelaws can be made to regulate behaviour associated with dogs in four ways:

What about farm dogs that appear to be threatening?
Farm dogs must also be kept under control. Allowing farm dogs loose to behave aggressively in a farm yard through which a public right of way runs, is not desirable – especially if the dog (or dogs) have a record of aggressive behaviour, as this could constitute an obstruction of the highway under s137 of the Highways Act 1980. It may also put the public at risk and so could constitute a common law nuisance.

Is failing to clear up dog mess an offence and is it acceptable to pick up mess in a plastic bag and throw away the bag?
The legal position is that:

Who is responsible for clearing up dog mess?
The Litter (Animal Droppings) Order 1991 made under Section 86 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on local authorities to keep the following areas clear of dog faeces:

The requirement does not apply to woodland, heath or land used for the grazing of animals.

What are Dog Control Orders?
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and associated regulations (Dog Control Orders (Prescribed Offences and Penalties, etc.) Regulations 2006 and the Dog Control Orders (Procedures) Regulations 2006) allow local authorities, parish councils and some other bodies to introduce Dog Control Orders. There are regulations provide for five offences to be prescribed in a dog control order:

A Dog Control Order can be made in respect of any land which is open to the air and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access (with or without payment). As for the provisions on litter, land which is covered is treated as land ‘open to the air’ if it is open to the air on at least one side. Exceptions to this are Forestry Commission land and roads (defined as ‘any length of highway or of any other road to which the public has access, and includes bridges over which a road passes.’)

It should be noted that Defra’s advice to Order-making authorities is that Dog Control Orders should be used only where necessary and offer a proportionate response that balances the interests of those in charge of dogs against the interests of those affected by the activities of dogs.

Are dogs required to have a collar and identity disc?
Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires that every dog, whilst on a highway (note that public rights of way are highways) or in a public place, must be wearing a collar with the name and address of its owner on the collar itself or on a plate, disc or some other device attached to it. There are exceptions to the general rule for working or assistance dogs. Anyone failing to comply is guilty of an offence under the Animal Health Act 1981.

Is it an offence to allow a dog to chase or disturb wildlife?
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 28 (as amended by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) is relevant here. Where land has been notified as a SSSI under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, trespass may constitute a criminal offence under Section 28P if a person, without reasonable excuse, intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora or fauna or geological or physiographical features by reason of which the land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly disturbs fauna, and the person knew what he had destroyed, damaged or disturbed was within an SSSI.

Can dogs be controlled for health and safety reasons?
There may be grounds, either under Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and associated regulations, or under Occupiers’ Liability Acts, for a landowner to seek to introduce measures to reduce significant risks. However, these requirements are site specific and may impact more on the land manager than a dog owner.
Powers exist for Defra or the National Assembly of Wales to bring in restrictions to help control certain diseases and these might affect dog walkers, although they rarely used.

Do the public’s dogs affect a farmer’s assured status?
This depends on the details of the protocols of the scheme to which the farmer seeks to comply. For example, the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Dairy Scheme requires that dogs and cats (where practical) must be wormed regularly (see: )

It is open to interpretation as to whether it is practical for a farmer to require visitors' dogs to be wormed regularly.

Participation in farm assured schemes is voluntary, although breach of scheme rules can have significant effects on the saleability of the farmer’s produce.

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