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Walkers must keep dogs on leads on open access land between March 1 and July 31 so when else does a dog need a lead by law?





Dog owners are being reminded to keep their pets on leads when walking close to sheep this Easter.

Flocks have reportedly faced an increase in incidents of 'sheep worrying' since the pandemic when more households took on a four-legged family member.

The National Sheep Associations says Easter brings more people into the countryside. Image: iStock.
The National Sheep Associations says Easter brings more people into the countryside. Image: iStock.

The National Sheep Association also says its livestock are more vulnerable than ever at the start of spring as visitors to the countryside increase just as ewes are giving birth.

Katie James from the NSA said: "With lengthening daylight hours and a bank holiday weekend just around the corner many people will want to get out and about to enjoy the beautiful British countryside, they may even look forward to viewing spring lambs in the fields. But many will not realise the threat to sheep flocks from dogs walking off the lead.

"Even the most highly trained pet dog can follow its instincts and chase livestock. To some this may appear like play but to a prey animal such as a sheep it is highly stressful and can have a devastating effect. With fields now full of young lambs and heavily pregnant ewes there is a heightened risk of mismothering and miscarriage due to stress, as well as from any physical injuries encountered."

Dogs must be on leads on open access land between March and July, says the government. Image: iStock.
Dogs must be on leads on open access land between March and July, says the government. Image: iStock.

While there is no blanket law requiring dogs to be kept on a lead in all public spaces, there are a series of orders and regulations that govern dog owners, who must use some form of leash in certain places or at certain times of the year.

Parks, beaches, children's play areas, sports pitches and even the countryside are all subject to various rules and regulations and here's a guide as to what they are:

There is no blanket law that requires dog owners to keep their animals on leads. Image: Stock photo.
There is no blanket law that requires dog owners to keep their animals on leads. Image: Stock photo.

What does the law say about dogs and leads?

In England and Wales there are restrictions and rules in place which can govern where your dog can go and whether it requires a leash.

It is also worth noting though, that under the Control of Dogs Order 1992, all dogs on the highway (with some exceptions for those serving as guide or police dogs) must wear a collar with their owner's name and contact details whether they are using a lead or not. There is also a legal requirement to microchip your dog.

It is also against the law to let your dog be dangerously out of control anywhere - which encompasses both public places and private areas such as someone's home or garden.

Dogs must remain under control at all times, says the law. Image: Stock image.
Dogs must remain under control at all times, says the law. Image: Stock image.

Out of control dogs

By law, owners are obliged to keep their animals 'under control'.

A dog that is out of control, details the PDSA, could include it chasing a person or another animal through to physically harming them. It can also extend to someone being made to feel at risk of being injured by a dog as a result of its behaviour.

For the occasions when your dog is not on its lead, it has to remain under your control in some other way, such as being well trained enough to pay close attention to your voice commands.

Owners who fail to comply can face anything from an unlimited fine to a prison sentence under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

At certain times of the year councils may make the beaches out of bounds to pets. Image: iStock.
At certain times of the year councils may make the beaches out of bounds to pets. Image: iStock.

Public Spaces Protection Orders

While there may be no country-wide law that forces you to put your dog on a lead when out and about, many public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders.

These were previously called Dog Control Orders.

In public areas with a PSPO, says the government, you must keep your dog on a lead.

You must also put your dog on a lead if told to by a police office, PCSO or someone from the council and you may also have to stop your dog from entering certain places such as a children's playground.

There can also sometimes be a limit on the number of dogs you have with you - regardless of whether they have leads or not - and this applies to professional dog walkers too.

There are areas of the countryside where owners will be asked to keep dogs on leads
There are areas of the countryside where owners will be asked to keep dogs on leads

Local councils are responsible for letting dog walkers know what areas are covered by PSPOs through signs and notices, which should be obeyed at all times.

For a example if a dog is not allowed within a park, or it requires a lead to enter parkland, there must be clear signs on entrances and pathways to make that obvious to owners.

Dog owners caught ignoring a PSPO can be fined £100 on the spot via a fixed penalty notice or face a larger £1,000 fine if the issue is taken to court.

Dogs and roads

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is a criminal offence for a dog to be on a ‘designated road’ without being held on a lead.

This often little known law means that pets should be on a lead while they're crossing a road and while walking on pavements close to busy roads where they could dart out among the traffic.

The rules come under the same legislation that can also fine you if your dog isn't secured properly in the car - particularly if that results in an accident.

Owners can face a fine of up to £20,000 and six months in prison if their failure to obey these road traffic laws.

The National Sheep Association is reminding owners of the importance of keeping dogs on leads over lambing season
The National Sheep Association is reminding owners of the importance of keeping dogs on leads over lambing season

Dogs, livestock and Open Access land

The Countryside Code, issued by Natural England, acts as guidance for people wishing to enjoy parks, waterways, the coast and countryside.

It asks dog walkers to keep animals away from wildlife, livestock, horses and other people 'unless invited'. Those walking in the countryside must also check local signs as there may be places and areas where dogs aren't permitted or need to be on a lead for all or part of the year.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 also details the responsibilities dog owners have around sheep and other livestock, especially during breeding seasons.

Dogs on open access land and at the coast should be on a 'short' lead around livestock, which is defined as a leash no more than two metres long.

And between March 1 and July 31 this becomes a legal requirement - even if no livestock can be spotted on the land.

Open Access land is defined as land - that under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 - the public has a right to access if it is mapped as ‘open country’ such as mountain, moor, heath and down or registered common land.

The government website makes the rules around dogs clear.

It reads: "On Open Access land and at the coast, you must put your dog on a lead around livestock. Between 1 March and 31 July, you must have your dog on a lead on Open Access land, even if there is no livestock on the land.

"These are legal requirements."

Dog owners caught not following the rules can face a fine under the Act, while a farmer, confirms the GOV.uk website can shoot a dog that is attacking or chasing livestock and they may not be liable to compensate the dog’s owner.



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