Dogs want to do the right thing, but need help, explained Dave Proctor.
“If you’ve taken your large labrador up a steep hill and then ask him to climb over a stile, he’ll probably look at you and say: ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’”
But if you and he have already practised jumping over things, he’ll be much more likely to have a go, said Dave from Boney Fido Dog Training, as his own energetic terrier underlined the point by leaping through a hoop, over several intimidating high jump poles and through a plastic tunnel.
Saturday’s ‘Take The Lead in the Peak District’ event at Longshaw’s Moorland Discovery Centre was about “celebrating responsible dog walkers in the Peak District” said organiser Katherine Clarke of the Eastern Moors Partnership.
“We know the majority of dog walkers are responsible and understand about putting your dog on a lead during the nesting and lambing season.”
Hence attracting those responsible dog owners to Longshaw to take part in agility classes, waggiest tail competitions, guided dog walks, rescue dog demonstrations and the more serious matter of meeting moorland farmers to hear first hand about what can happen when dogs get irresponsible in the lambing season.
“Between 1st March and 31st July, dogs need to be on a short lead or under very close control,” said National Trust lead ranger Rachel Bennett.
“Livestock may now be in new areas, and at this time of year ewes will be pregnant and if they’re chased by dogs they can lose or reabsorb their foetus,” she said. “So the key message to dog owners is, take a lead with you when you go out.”
“It can ruin people’s day to see their dog turn into a wolf, chasing sheep, but we’ve had no incidents this year yet, so I hope the message has been getting out,” said National Trust Peak District countryside manager Ted Talbot.
February and March is a period of readjustment for the public, Ted added, since dogs are often excited when livestock returns to the moors in the early spring - the Trust encourages cattle and sheep as grazing helps produce a variety of vegetation attractive to birds, insects and animals.
Rachel added that dog owners need to consider nesting birds too. “Curlews, lapwings and meadow pipits can be well camouflaged so if your dog is running off through the grass, you may not see anything, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.”
The declining curlew population can easily be deterred from nesting if they see a dog nearby, and the advice is to keep your dog to the paths if you want to help curlews recover on local moorlands.
The law states that dogs must be on a short lead on open access land, and from March to July, dogs must be on a two metre lead or ‘under very close control’ on moorland paths: that means, explained Rachel, that if the dog is not on a lead, the owners should have absolute confidence that the dog will stay close to you when walking and will always come back when called.
Rachel and Katherine are both dog owners themselves, and are keen to add that dog walkers are encouraged to visit the Peak District. “We want people to be out and enjoying themselves when dog walking, it’s an excellent way to connect with the natural world,” said Rachel. “We like dog owners to be our eyes and ears, and because they’re out regularly, often on the same routes, we’d like them to report to us if they see a damaged wall or gate, or fallen trees blocking the path.”
They can also report dogs on the loose to Longshaw or any of the other moorland agencies, she added, but should not approach anyone breaking the law directly.
The assembled owners and their responsible dogs watched as advisers took to the straw-covered stage. “Ladies, wave your poo bags,” one announced.
“My poo message to the public is pick it up and take it home, don’t hang it in a tree,” Rachel advised.
The dogs and owners took it all on board, which was the idea. Rather than ticking off every owner without a lead, the initiative intends to help owners see the reasons for the spring signs on moorland gates and stiles.
“It’s about asking people to take the lead and set a good example to others,” said Katherine Clarke.
More info: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/take-the-lead