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  • Julie Muller


A dog running towards you on a sandy beach with the waves washing over his paws. A castle in the background in the afternoon light
A happy Bruno paddling in the sea

Springtime is here, and summertime is just around the corner. Our humans are getting out their walking boots and preparing to embrace the great outdoors and Shep and I, along with over ten million others, are ready for our summer adventures.

We dogs have simple needs – food, a warm bed and as much exercise as our humans can give us. However, with so many dogs living on such a small island, it is important that we all get along with each other, with other humans – particularly little humans, and with all of the other creatures with which we share our planet.

Over the next few months, Shep and I, like so many other canine friends, will be driven out to beaches, woods, meadows, moors, and mountains. It will be amazing to feel the warmth of the sun bathing our bodies, and the wind rippling through our coats.

However, these special places are not empty spaces – there is wildlife everywhere and we have to rely on our humans to make sure that we don’t disturb the local residents.

There are some places where we can run free – but there are others when we need to be under much more control.

Obviously, most of our humans understand that we need to be kept on leads when we are walking through fields of sheep – especially at lambing time. Shep particularly loves to watch the young lambs gambolling and skipping across the fields. The ewes are pregnant for over five months and if, during that time, they get stressed – for example by uncontrolled dogs, they could easily miscarry their lambs.

Usually, it is obvious where the sheep are – but up on the moorlands they can be anywhere, so our humans have to be especially vigilant.

However, there is a lot of other wildlife whose lives can be inadvertently and irreversibly affected by our behaviour.

Many humans imagine that most birds nest in tree but, actually more than 50% of the most threatened breeding birds make their nests on or near the ground, and every single natural habitat is potentially a bird’s home. You can find curlews and lapwings nesting on the moors, nightjar and woodcock living on the heathlands, skylark and meadow pipit nesting in the grasslands and golden plover and little tern using the shingle on the beach as their preferred nursery.

Birds that nest on the ground are very vulnerable to foot and paw fall – the tiny eggs and chicks are very well camouflaged to avoid predation. In fact sky lark eggs measure less than 2 cm .

But treading on the eggs is not the only problem – because if we are allowed to run free, we can accidentally separate a parent from its chicks. If this happened, any parent would raise the alarm call, but these frantic cries are all that a watching predator needs in order to locate the chicks and snaffle an easy meal.

This is such a common occurrence on the beach because our humans believe that the beach is the perfect place for us to let off steam – and it is – as long as our humans are careful where they set us free!!

Where we live in Northumberland there are signs to help our humans know where about on the beach that the birds are nesting, but our humans need to be mindful wherever we go especially as some of the beach-nesting birds, such as the golden plover, are migrants and have travelled many thousands of miles to nest here.

Of course, birds are not the only wildlife that are susceptible to us and to our human families.

Our humans get so excited seeing seals, basking on the rocks, and there is always the temptation to move closer and get a better look at them, but they should be left well alone. Seals see both us and our humans as potential predators and should never be approached no matter how cuddly they may look. They are legally protected, and it is an offence to touch them.

Below the surface of any body of water, there is a wealth of hidden wildlife – all living together as harmoniously as nature will allow.

I admit that both Shep and I love jumping in the water and I am sure that Shep was a hippo in a former life because he adores wallowing in any still area of water that he can find. He is a bit scared of the waves though.

Once again, we need to be careful not to disturb the locals. Between March and June certain amphibians, such as great crested newts perform elaborate courtship displays in order to attract the females. If we jump in and muddy the water, their display is futile. The females just can’t see it!! it is all about timing – Observing the seasons and therefore predicting what might be going on is crucial to looking after any wildlife.

It is also worth knowing that allowing us to jump into each and every water course is not such a good idea because we can inadvertently introduce harmful bugs into the water. Our humans just need to take extra care – washing and drying us in-between such visits would definitely help!

Our planet is very vulnerable. Huge factors like climate change and loss of habitat often seem beyond our personal control but walking sensitively in the ‘great outdoors’ is something that we can all do.

By taking care about how you handle us dogs when we are ‘out and about’, we can all play our part in safeguarding our wonderful natural world.

Two dogs on their leads walk down on to the beach through the sand dunes with the sea glinting on the water and Dunstanburgh Castle in the background in late afternoon sunshine.
Taking the lead - so that the dogs can be let off their leads 'safely'

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