Five questions about cattle, dogs, and safety answered in depth

Five questions about cattle, dogs, and safety answered in depth

If you walk your dog in the countryside (or plan to do so) there’s a good chance you’re going to pass through or at least, pass by cattle at some stage. Cattle can be dangerous to both people and dogs alike, and while as long as you stick to places you’re allowed to go and keep your dog under proper control, you should be safe, this is not guaranteed.

It is really important to learn how to behave around cattle and how to keep yourself and your dog safe around cattle before you head out to a spot where you might need to put this knowledge into action, and we’ve covered this in detail in a separate article.

But in this article, we’ll answer five related questions about the dangers cattle can pose to dogs and dog walkers. Read on to learn more.

How dangerous are cattle to dogs and dog walkers?

Cattle are a lot of things, and some of the more negative of these include unpredictable, hard to read if you don’t know how (as their behaviour, likely actions, and body language is not considered to be intuitive to humans, rather, people have to learn it), potentially aggressive, and put simply – big and dangerous, even if they don’t mean to be.

When we think of danger from cattle most of us think of a massive, angry bull, but a herd or individual cow can be just as dangerous, and aggression is not always involved in this.

A startled or frightened herd might stampede en masse, and will trample and potentially kill any person and/or dog in their way; this is one of the most common forms of cattle-related fatalities.

Individual cows/bulls and groups can all be deliberately aggressive too, generally if they feel threatened. This can result in deliberate trampling or knocking people down/attacking dogs.

Even a cow that is trying to be gentle can easily knock someone over or trample a dog.

Is it the person or the dog that is the most likely target for cattle?

As a rule, dogs are in more danger from cattle than people are, for a number of reasons. Cattle see dogs as an innate threat in most cases; dogs are more likely to get closer to cattle, even run at them, and trigger a defensive response (particularly if there are calves) or a stampede away.

In many cases, even if a dog that chases a cow or herd or inadvertently gets too close but then turns tail and runs when the cows turn on them, the cows will pursue the dog and potentially catch up to it and trample or gore it.

Any people in the way are apt to get seriously injured too; and when it comes to dog owners, they are at higher risk because they are often apt to try to carry the dog to safety, defend the dog, or run with the dog.

Can I avoid cattle if my dog and I stay off farmland?

When walking your dog in the countryside, you shouldn’t go onto or across farmland other than via designated rights of way. However, you might wonder if avoiding farmland entirely means also avoiding running into cattle; but that is not always the case.

Cattle can legally be grazed on various types of open access land, although there are restrictions on this as well as a responsibility held by the cattle’s owner for the safety of others permitted to use the land. Unfortunately, you cannot litigate animal behaviour; and so this is not fool proof.

What should I do if I become concerned when walking my dog around cattle?

Many dog walkers and their dogs cross cattle fields every day without incident, and feel totally comfortable doing so. This can lead to something of a sense of safety in the dog walker that can make them less likely to pick up a potential threat, which can of course be dangerous.

Stay alert, and if you do feel wary or feel like something doesn’t quite feel right, try to move slowly and calmly away with your dog; talk to your dog and keep them calm too, as barking or erratic behaviour might trigger a problem.

Once you’ve put some distance between you, cows will almost always lose interest, as long as you keep your calm. It is never a good move to shout, wave your arms, or otherwise try to intimidate cows; if they do already feel threatened, this is apt to trigger their fight or flight response, and a potentially highly defensive aggressive reaction.

What should I do if I’ve had a near miss or dangerous experience around cattle?

Even if you and your dog were ultimately unharmed, if you feel that your safety or that of your dog were endangered by the behaviour of cattle, this should always be reported to ensure someone else doesn’t suffer the same experience, or worse.

The first port of call to report problems with dangerous cattle is the countryside access team at your local council, which may come under the remit of the environmental department; full details will be on the council’s website, or a directory in person at a council facility.

If you run into problems in any way or wish to escalate matters because of acute concerns over safety or because there is a time-sensitive aspect to things, contact the Health and Safety Executive.

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