Off-lead dog walking is permitted in most parks and wooded areas of the UK, but there are some exceptions. And dogs must always stay on the lead near roads. For further details of where off-lead dog walking is and is not allowed, please see below. If you're thinking about your next holiday and enjoy off lead dog walking, there are many highly-rated dog-friendly camping and caravan sites located near miles of beach and countryside.
- Where can you walk your dog off lead?
- Where is off-lead dog walking illegal?
- Which UK laws relate to dog walking?
Where Can you Walk your Dog Off Lead?
Generally speaking, you can walk your dog off lead in most parks and wooded areas in the UK. If you don't see any signs to alert dog walkers of any restrictions, then it's probably acceptable to let your dog off lead. For instance, at a park where dogs are required to stay on lead, there should be a notification sign at the park entrance.
Where is Off-Lead Dog Walking Illegal?
Dogs are generally not allowed off lead near roads, car parks, play areas and certain ponds or streams at some times of the year. Even on lead, dogs may be forbidden from entering flower beds and some parks, beachs, pitches and children's play areas. In areas where dogs are either forbidden or only allowed on lead, there should be signage to alert dog walkers, for instance at the entrance to a park. Rules may change according to the time of year.
While dog-walking rules vary across local authorities, here are some commonly-restricted areas:
Dogs on Leads Areas: All highways, including roads, footways, footpaths, alleyways, grass verges and car parks within a borough; certain areas such as open spaces, parks, gardens, play areas, etc.; cemeteries; near certain ponds/streams (perhaps at certain times of the year, e.g., to protect nesting birds or other wildlife).
Dog Exclusion Zones: Certain children’s play areas, designated sports areas, multi-use games/recreational areas, nature conservation areas, flower beds and planted beds, sections of the beach, etc.
How to Find Off-Lead Dog Walking Near You
If you're looking for some new places to walk your dog, check out:
- National Trust: Advice is to keep your pooch in sight and use a lead if requested. Look out for local notices and use the dedicated dog bins.
- Walkiees: Within the description of each walk, you'll see a section called "Walk features" that will specify if the walk has on lead areas, off lead areas, or both. Use this information for guidance, but always look for signage yourself when you arrive at a new location to be sure of the rules.
- dogfriendlybritain.co.uk: A drop down menu lets you choose "off lead walkies!" in different regions of the UK.
Local authorities can impose a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to either exclude dogs from a certain area or require them to be on lead. A PSPO might also dictate rules for dog fouling or the maximum number of dogs that can be walked at one time by an individual—a problem for some professional dog walkers. While local authorities can establish PSPOs specific to their area, here are some UK-wide laws that impact off-lead dog walking:
- Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000: While open air rights allow the public to access land mapped as "open country" (e.g., mountain, moor, heath and down) or registered common land to walk, sightsee, bird-watch, climb and run, visitors using their open access rights must keep dogs on a short lead of no more than 2 metres between 1 March and 31 July each year and at all times near livestock. In the coastal margin, dogs must be under effective control at all times.
- The Road Traffic Act 1988: It is an offence for a dog to be on a designated road without the dog being held on a lead, where a "designated road" is a length of road specified by a relevant local authority order, for instance via a PSPO as discussed above.
- Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953: Penalty where dog worries (e.g., attacks, chases or is "at large" which means not on a lead or under close control) livestock on agricultural land. While you may just receive a fine, the repercussions of letting your dog worry livestock can be catastrophic—a farmer can kill your dog if it's worrying their livestock.
If you're looking for information regarding PSPOs in your area, perhaps the quickest way to find local dog-walking rules is to Google: "PSPO dog" and the name of your borough or local authority. For example, those living in Newham who Google, "PSPO dog Newham" would find this PSPO related to dog walking, which specifically identifies the on-lead and exclusion zones in the Newham borough.
What happens if you break dog lead laws?
If you ignore a PSPO, you can be fined £100 on the spot (a "Fixed Penalty Notice"). If you go to court for breaching a PSPO or a Dog Control Order (DCO) and you're prosecuted, you could be fined up to £1,000. Given the consequences of taking your dog off lead where it's forbidden, it's definitely worth checking signage every time you visit a new park, pitch or other area.
Also, keep in mind that if you walk your dog near a road and it is hit by a car, pet insurance may not cover the vet bills.
Finally, if you want to take your dog further afield to explore a new area, find out the rules regarding dog train travel in our article, Can I Take my Dog on a Train in the UK?