My name is George and as VisitScotland’s Ambassadog, it’s my job to show everyone (dogs and humans) the great places you can visit and explore on a day out in Scotland. In this blog I investigate what being ‘Sheep Wise’ is all about.
I love going for walks in the autumn. It smells very different to other times of year and it’s really good fun playing in the fallen leaves. I’ve had my ear to the ground and hear that autumn can be a worrying time for sheep farmers, so I rounded up some experts to try and find out what it’s all about. It’s important for pups and their owners to be fully aware of the dos and don’ts when they’re outdoors in Scotland.
Firstly I met Inspector Jane Donaldson from the Scottish Police. Jane loves being in the outdoors and works with lots of farmers through the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime. She said that sadly, during November, there is a peak in incidents of sheep worrying by some dogs. This new November campaign is to make sure dog walkers know how to prevent sheep worrying at this time of year. It’s not down to us dogs – we need to let our owners know to keep us under control!
Next I met John Fyall, farmer and Chairman of the National Sheep Association Scotland. He told me that November is a busy time for sheep farmers as they prepare for winter and spring. He has a flock of about 900 sheep that are brought down from the uplands to lower fields for over wintering. Other farmers send their sheep to the rich pastures of dairy farms after the cows move inside for winter and hill sheep are brought down nearer to farms and urban areas for mating.
There is also a lot of buying and selling of sheep at this time of year, meaning that sheep are being moved around on and between farms, all across Scotland.
John explained that sheep are scared of dogs, so like all sheep farmers he wants to make sure dog walkers know not to let their dog get too close to sheep. The best thing dog walkers can do to help farmers at this time of year is to be alert to where sheep are as they may well appear in places you don’t expect them!
I then met Theresa Kewell who works for Scottish Natural Heritage. She wants people exploring Scotland to know that it is a dog owner’s duty to be aware of where sheep might be, and to make sure they keep their dog with them. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says it’s best to avoid going near sheep whenever possible. If your owner needs to take you into a field where there are sheep, they should keep you on a short lead or close at heel and well away from the sheep. Out on the open hill with sheep around, dogs still need to be at heel and kept at a distance from the sheep.
I asked Theresa what ‘close at heel’ means. She said this is when I walk alongside my owner. It can be on or off the lead, but only if I can walk calmly off lead without showing any interest in the sheep. I can sometimes get a bit excited on a walk when there are other animals around, so my owners keep me on a lead when there are sheep nearby. I don’t mind as it’s not usually for a whole walk.
Next I met Gill MacGregor, from the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s animal welfare charity. Gill said that darker evenings mean we should all look out our reflective hi-visibility gear, torches and lights! This helps make us visible to traffic on the road and to other walkers, dog walkers, joggers, cyclists and horse riders when we’re on paths away from roads. Attaching a light to us dogs really helps our owners to see where we are in the dark.
She said it’s terrible to see sheep caught in fences or with injuries caused by running away from dogs, especially when it’s totally preventable. All responsible dog owners need to take really good care of their pets outdoors. It is important to be aware that farmers are moving sheep around and to be prepared for the unexpected. Then everyone can have a great autumn walk!
Many thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage, Police Scotland, the National Sheep Association Scotland and the Scottish SPCA for their useful information. Now I’m a fully-briefed Ambassadog for good behaviour around sheep. Thanks to you all for keeping us in the picture.
You can follow my adventures as VisitScotland’s Ambassadog on their website.
And have a look at my Instagram page here.
You can also check out some of the top spots in Scotland for a walk (with your owner) here.
The link to watch the Sheep Wise video and find other seasonal advice is here.