I spend so much of my time out in the great outdoors, plus for many years this has been with a dog or dogs. Fields occupied by cows therefore are something I have come across so many times. Some people have phobias of cows and sadly, there are the very rare occasions you hear of unfortunate deaths when dog walkers have passed by a field of cows.
Here I will explain how I personally deal with a situation, clear up some misconceptions I hear plus try to give advice.
It is sadly true that cows are the most deadly large animal in Britain. In the 20 years of this century, just over 80 people have died from cows, about 4 per year on average. But! We must remember that over 70% of these deaths have happened in the workplace, farmers and their staff in their line of work. That makes the odds on it being a dog walker very low indeed. If you think of the thousands and thousands of people who walk on rights of way that include groups of cows you can see the number is tiny.
What The Cow Sees and Feels
The usual image or thought of cows is of a big docile domesticated animal that wanders around the fields, chewing on grass. But they are animals still with natural instincts like any other animal. They are not usually bothered by humans at all, but say there is a field of cows and their calves, and you add a dog in the mix they may feel their children are threatened, just like all mothers would. This is usually why they come running over to you. More on what to do later.
We shouldn’t forget though, and I see it a lot on my walks. We must not mistake curiosity for animosity. I have been on many a walk where cows and calves and come over to have a closer look and to say hello. They are not necessarily stampeding, and this happens as the case more often than not.
They have peripheral vision. We see forwards at 180 degrees. Cows have eyes in the side of their heads and have 330 to 360 degree vision. That means when you think a cow hasn’t spotted you, be sure they may have. That being said, cows have blind spots, directly behind because of its body, and the spot directly in front of its nose. Have you ever fed a cow some grass through a fence? It will step forward then just before it gets to your hand you reach forward and it steps back scared. That is because it is being cautious, it lost sight of your hand.
For interest they also don’t have a good sense of depth of vision either. On a sunny day, when they come across a new shadow across the grass, maybe from a tree, it is hard for them to tell if it it a flat shadow or a 300 ft drop.
What Farmers Are Advised
Before we look at what we should do or what we should responsibly do with our dogs we must understand what the farmers do and why these animals are on public rights of way.
Farmers are advised to respect public walkers just as much as they want us to respect their livestock. They are well advised if they do have any problem cows or especially cows with calves, to put them in a field without any public thoroughfares.. Yes farmers do have some responsibility and do get liability insurance. I have noticed that where paths cross fields with livestock the path signs are often better maintained and marked well. That is the farmer helping guide us better around their cattle or sheep.
Training Your Dog
Ok, this is what is in our own hands, teaching our dogs some good manners and behaviour. If you are getting a dog or puppy and are an avid walker in the countryside like me, you should really train it to behave for your environment.
Please remember that if your dog is out of control chasing and worrying sheep and cattle the farmer is well within their rights to shoot the dog. I have sadly seen it with my own eyes, a beautiful non aggressive golden retriever was running around a field of sheep I used to live near. Naturally the dog’s owner was distraught, yes you could see the dog wasn’t even aggressive, but even just a dog playfully chasing sheep can do a lot of damage to the herd and a farmers livelihood. Worrying can really cause physical harm to livestock and even more so pregnant ones.
So, I am a hiker and I have got Malc, a border collie, a breed that is built and bred as a livestock herding machine! I have spent and am still spending hours, getting out there teaching him right from wrong around cows and sheep. Repetition, repetition, repetition, without letting him get away with it, and rewarding when good, sheep and cows are to be ignored and you focus on me. That is side by side with control both on and off lead. Collies are amazing companions and hiking dogs but I want years of stress free walks in the outdoors in future, not nervous panic on entering a field.
So I myself have now got Malc to a point that he would rather focus (herd) the ball in my hand in this situation whilst completely ignoring the cattle. After passing through the field he gets the reward he knows is coming for being good. Ball chasing and better fun 🙂
All breeds have their traits and a lot of these traits can worry sheep and cows. A little barking yap dog. A fast sighthound seeing something to chase, a guard dog that see a threat in other big animals. a playful breed that just wants to play with any animal.
All I am saying is if you channel these traits well and work long and hard on them we can all enjoy the countryside in harmony, stress free.
What to do if cows come towards you and your dog
Even as Malc gets better and better and calmer in these situations, the word I always think is respect. If I see cows in a field I am about to enter regardless whether they have calves or not, I respect the situation.
Stay calm! Most cows that are in fields with pathways are inquisitive and not aggressive. Just simply and calmly carry on walking.
One thing I would not do at all is pass between a mother and calf, that is asking for trouble. A farmer would rather you go a whole other route around than stick religiously to a path and worry them.
Never panic or do sudden movements. If they come right up to you, don’t run or turn away suddenly. That will makes them play chase themselves.
If you do feel you are getting cornered and feel at serious risk then remember this, you cannot outrun a cow yourself but your dog can. Let go of the lead. 99 per cent of the time the cows are chasing your dog and not you at all. They will follow the dog. You can then get yourself to safety and recall your dog to you.
Stress Free Walking
After all is said and done, I will say again, thousands and thousands of walkers pass through fields of cows ever year. Yet there are such a minimal amount of injuries and dangerous situations. Don’t stress, respect the surroundings, have fun, enjoy the great outdoors.