For those of us partial to a heart-warming re-homing story or the occasional cheeky Labrador video, the pet news is a regular coffee break go-to. Unfortunately for dog owners, it seems that dog thefts and malicious acts against our pets are constantly in the headlines at the moment.
Coupled with the time of year, many of us are still walking our dogs in the hours of darkness, making those usual strolls seem a little more secluded and lonely.
While it’s nice to think that your faithful friend will protect you if you were ever threatened, for most of us our soft, loveable pets are more likely to lick a perpetrator then growl at them. We also know that most dogs can’t resist anything edible, making recent ‘spiking’ stories (The Mirror, 28/02/16) even more worrying.
Staying safe when out and about is a matter of keeping alert, but it helps to reinforce those key safety guidelines that we often forget to put into practise when we’re going about our daily routines. Read our top tips and add your own safety advice to the comments below.
Tell somebody where you’re going
Even if the rest of the house is still sound asleep when you’re heading off into the elements, send a text or write a note letting everybody what route you’ll be taking and what time you set off. It’s also worth going on a route that you regularly take with the family so everybody has a good idea of roughly where you’ll be at what time. For more information about walking alone (or working alone if you’re a professional dog walker), The Suzy Lamplugh Trust website is full of useful advice on personal safety - http://www.suzylamplugh.org/personal-safety-tips/
It’s also worth sticking to routes where you know you’ll have phone reception if you should injure yourself on your walk or see anything which immediately causes suspicion.
Clear your head
For many, an early morning or evening walk is an ideal time to relax, but try not to listen to music at times when you need your wits about you. As well as potentially failing to hear oncoming traffic, it makes it easier for somebody to approach you from behind without your knowledge. Wearing things around your neck (such as head phones or placing a lead around your shoulders) also makes it easier for somebody to apply pressure to your throat. Wear a hat instead of a hood too – hoods restrict your peripheral vision, making it harder to see traffic and anybody else who might be around.
If you’re worried about visibility in poor light, LED dog collars and fluorescent strips are widely available from pet stores. If you can, try and spread any fluorescent clothing/lighting evenly about you and your dog – this will ensure that it’s clear you’re a dog walker (as opposed to a single person or cyclist) to oncoming traffic.
Set up a walking group
Most dog owners get to know all the local dogs – from the bulldog around the corner to the dachshund from the park. If there’s fellow dog owners you get on with, set up a walking group with set times that suit everybody. If you live in a rural area, this may be even more essential when your usual routes become increasingly isolated in the colder months.
Don’t assume a boisterous dog is safe off its lead
If your dog is unpredictable around other dogs, don’t assume an early morning jaunt is going to mean you’re the only one about. A classic long lead will allow you to give your dog some freedom and bring him in if any other dogs come in sight.
Sadly, there have been numerous news articles of late reporting ‘spiking’ in popular dog walking spots. The Mirror and the Manchester Evening News have shared news of spiked food reports at Dovestone Reservoir (North West), Wandsworth (London) and Connah’s Quay (North Wales) in recent weeks. If anything makes you suspicious, call the local police line and report what you’ve seen. If you can try to alert other dog walkers and report your findings to the RSPCA.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only pedigree dogs that get stolen for selling on. Criminals can target any pet where there’s a chance of a reward. When you’re out and about, always keep your dog in sight and train him to be obedient to your calls (easier said than done!). By simply calling him back and giving him some fuss and a small treat when he responds, you can soon train your dog to come running even when they’ve spotted something that really tempts them! It’s also worth making your garden secure from snoopers by fitting a bell or security light on your garden gate. It goes without saying that dogs should be micro-chipped, but the Blue Cross also suggest avoiding adding your pet’s name on their identification tag.