Six things to consider before planning a route on the fells with your dog

Posted by Caroline Johnson on 24/06/2022
Photo: Oak Tree Animals

One of the biggest draws to dog owners in the UK is the chance to explore and discover the beautiful surroundings we have in our upland areas. It is important that you don’t just consider yourselves but also your dogs’ abilities when it comes to heading out fell walking with your pooch. Here's six things crucial bits to consider when route planning a hike with your dog.

The idyllic image in our heads of our dog, sat posing for a perfect photo on top of a high fell, surrounded by clear blue skies, green grass or even snow, resonates with a lot of people. The reality of such photos is a little more work than just imagining them, but a top day out with your dog in the mountains is a possibility with the correct preparations, considerations and knowledge.

Consider Their Breed

Considering your dogs’ abilities when it comes to fell walking is vital. This tends to be much more complicated than ‘he’s a Border collie, he will be fine’ or ‘she is a Dachshund, it will never work!’ Although breeding genetics can play a role in the health of your dog, what matters is that they are healthy and their unique requirements such as their breed are taken into consideration. Certain breed characteristics can affect fitness for walking, such as brachycephalic (short-nose) breeds which can have issues breathing, therefore it may not be the best idea to consider walking your French bulldog for a day up Helvellyn! Yet a walk on an old railway route may be perfect for them!

READ MORE: Doggie do's and don'ts in the countryside and at the crag

Their Health

Further health considerations not linked to breed should also be considered. Is your dog under or overweight for example? An overweight dog will be putting far more pressure and strain on their joints. Increasing exercise levels slowly using gentle walks and swimming can help your dog drop weight, allowing the walks to have less impact on the joints. Furthering walking options, remember it is better to take it slow and steady, than to push too hard and injure your dog.

WATCH: High Street - one of the finest dog walks in the Lake District with Mary-Ann Ochota on BMC TV

What's in an age?

Age plays a huge part in your dog’s capabilities in fell walking. It can take anywhere from 6 to 24 months for a dog’s skeleton and joints to fully develop. Walking puppies too far can cause serious damage, this is an even higher risk if the terrain is difficult. Likewise, older dogs often develop muscle wastage and joint ailments such as arthritis. Over exercise can cause pain, stiffness and further damage, which with a bit of consideration can easily be avoided.

Understand their limit

By researching your route thoroughly and understanding both yours and your dog’s limits, you can start by going on walks you can both manage. Understanding the potential limits of yourself and your four-legged friend is key. The term ‘limit’ does not always mean an impossible boundary. Often a limit to fitness for example, can be pushed and worked on over time, allowing for progression. If you over exercise your dog, you can not only cause discomfort but also irreparable damage to your dog’s skeleton and joints. It is always going to be beneficial to start off nice and easy with walks to test your dog’s abilities and build them up over time; much like us, you wouldn’t sign up to a marathon without any training!

READ MORE: Taking care around cows

Which season are you walking in?

When planning your walk, it is always worth being aware that things can go wrong and occasionally, they will go wrong. With correct planning and consideration however, these situations can be minimised. Prior to your walk, you should consider the season you are walking in. It is no secret that the terrain, features, pathways, weather conditions and potential risks can all differ drastically from season to season. Bodies of water can be a fine example of this seasonal difference, bodies of water change throughout the year; via depth, current flow, temperature and even the presence of blue green algae. In the span of a year, a lake can go from a tranquil calm dip and drinking spot for your dog, to a risk of toxicity and death (blue green algae) in summer, to a deeper flooded area in autumn, then to having ice over it in winter.

Lead Abilities

Whilst considering the season, you should be aware that the fells can be populated with livestock. Depending on the time of year, livestock can be in places they aren’t during other times of the year, along with young. Knowing this and understanding your dog’s recall ability and character, can help you make safer, educated guesses on where to let your dog off the lead for a run and sniff. A good tip is to only do so when you have a clear view of your area and make sure you keep an eye out for any signs. Likewise, when walking the fells in spring and summer.

Following the correct planning and consideration, there is no reason why you cannot both have a lovely time up in the fells. Take your time, let your dog sniff everything they show an interest in, enjoy the scenery and take plenty of treats for you both, whether a thermos of hot tea or a bit of boiled chicken for training, and don’t forget water for your dog.   

READ MORE: How to take your dog walking in the hills

Dogs and Open Access Land

There is a general right of access on foot to land mapped as open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (the CROW Act). However, if you are walking with your dog, from 1 March to 31 July any dog on open access land must be on a short lead of fixed length, which must be no more than 2 metres; and at any time of year when a dog is in the vicinity of livestock.

Some landowners may also have applied to restrict or exclude dogs for environmental reasons or because of safety or management issues (e.g.; moors managed for the breeding and shooting of grouse) – please respect any local signs.

Dogs on Coastal Access Land

When walking with a dog along land designated as coastal access land, they must also be under “effective control” (either on a lead, or, within the sight of the owner, if you are confident that the dog will return “reliably and promptly” on command).

About the author and Oak Tree Animals

Caroline Johnson works for Oak Tree Animal Charity in Keswick and gives an annual dog first aid on the fells workshop in the BMC Mountain Skills Tent at Keswick Mountain Festival. 

Oak Tree Animals’ Charity, established in 1909, cares for and helps hundreds of domestic pets each year, mainly dogs, cats and horses. They find dogs, cats and horses loving new homes, rescuing and rehabilitating them to give them the best chance of a bright future. 

In 2021, Oak Tree helped 2,615 animals in their region. With no government funding, the charity relies on the support of the local community to meet its need for support.

To find out more about Oak Tree’s work, please visit www.oaktreeanimals.org.uk, email info@oaktreeanimals.org.uk or phone 01228 560082


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Anonymous User
24/06/2022
Some great advice on taking your dog into the hills there. I would add that it is worth remembering about wear and tear on their feet. I have a pretty fit labrador who loves walking in the mountains, but after three quite big days in the Torridons the pads on her feet had had enough. She was still fit and strong but most of her regular exercise had been on grass and tracks and her feet could not manage rock and scree too often. So bear that in mind when you are off to the mountains.
Anonymous User
25/06/2022
Don't forget ground nesting bird season March to August. Birds are much less obvious than livestock but even more vulnerable to impact from free running dogs.
Anonymous User
05/07/2022
Consider that there are a lot of people who dont like dogs and the now the sheer numbers are spoiling the enjoyment of others, pushing people out of shelters and bothies. Excrement, urine and the disturbance to both stock and wild life, tripping people and so on are significant problems. Please think about leaving your dog at home.

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