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Scottish Outdoor Access Code : How It Applies To Your Dog

Scotland: Home of the Free. That's what Braveheart would have said, anyway - and lots of people would agree, due to the fact that there is no law of trespass in Scotland. If you're one of these people, you'll be pleased to know that you're mainly correct - you can walk pretty much anywhere in Scotland, as there are statutory rights of public access which apply over most areas of land in the country. Furthermore, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is another document which emphasises this freedom. Great news, you might be thinking - especially if you and your dog enjoy getting out and exploring! Well yes, but as a dog owner, it is a little more complicated than that. To ensure that you and your dog enjoy the freedom you deserve, you need to have an awareness of how the Scottish Outdoor Access Code applies to you. Read on for a summary of the SOAC and how this relates to your dog.

First of all, what is this Scottish Outdoor Access Code?

Well, it's a document written to remind everyone of how to enjoy the great Scottish outdoors. It has three main aims at heart; it wants us to 1) take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, 2) respect the interests of other people, and 3) ensure that we care for the environment. Needless to say, all these things need to be considered when we take our dogs out - it's crucial, therefore, that all dog owners understand what they can and can't do, to make sure that we use our 'right to roam' responsibly.

Why is it important for dog owners to understand this?

The main reason is that dogs which aren't kept under proper control can be a menace to some people who have an interest in the countryside around them. Dogs can worry animals such as sheep or cows and they can have a negative effect on the health of other animals in the countryside, especially farm livestock. Furthermore, dogs can cause lambs to be separated from their mothers, and can also cause some pregnant animals (such as ewes) to miscarry. It is vital, therefore, that dog owners keep close control of their animals in five key areas.


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What are these key areas?

  • Dogs must be kept under close control or on a short lead when in any fields containing cows or horses. A boisterous dog (or even a quiet one) can cause cows and horses to take fright, which may make them aggressive towards you or your dog. It is probably advisable not to walk through these fields at all - but if it is necessary, keep your dog close to you, and stay as far away from the animals as possible.
  • Dogs must be kept under close control or on a short lead when in any field containing sheep. Sheep, of course, are often kept under control by a sheepdog - and the appearance of another dog may cause them total confusion or panic. Again, you should try to stay away from these fields altogether - but, if it necessary to cross through them, keep as far away from the sheep as you can, and try to prevent your dog from barking at them.
  • Keep your dog under close control when you are in areas where ground-nesting birds are breeding or rearing their young. This is especially important between the months of April and July (breeding season), and includes areas such as moorland, grassland, forests and the seashore.
  • Reservoirs and stream intakes are also areas where your dog must be kept under close control, as some of these watery havens are used for the supply of public water. Do not allow your dog to enter waters such as these.
  • Recreational areas and other public spaces are also areas where your dog must be kept under close control. Although this is written in black and white in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, it is a good rule of thumb for when in any country! You should not allow your dog to run onto playing fields, parks or sports pitches - and common sense tells us that this is especially true if there are young children around.

Let's talk definitions...

There is no specific definition of what 'under close control' means. However, it is expected that, if your dog is under close control, he will be able to respond to and obey your commands immediately. If you are not confident that your dog will, for example, sit or lie down on command, you should keep your dog on a short lead. A 'short lead', for the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, is defined as 2m or less. These are available at all good pet shops - and anything longer than this causes significant problems in urban areas too! A lead of 2m or less is therefore a good investment for any dog owner, whether or not they intend to walk their dog in Scotland.

Is there anything else that dog owners need to remember?

Dog owners should avoid fields containing fruit and vegetables, unless they are able to follow a dedicated path. This is mainly due to the health risks that a dog's faeces might carry. And, of course, dog owners should always act responsibly if their dog fouls in any area - it's always safest to carry a few 'doggie bags'.

And what happens if I don't follow this code?

It is worth remembering that, under the Scottish Animals Act of 1987, a farmer could have the right to shoot your dog if it is attacking his animals. But we know that no responsible dog owner would want to deliberately flout the rules of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code -it's written not to deliberately hamper the enjoyment of dog owners, but simply to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the great Scottish outdoors!


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