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Help! My dog is out of control in the countryside!

My dog Spot is a reasonably obedient terrier, never moving more than twenty yards away from me when out on walks in the countryside. I keep an eye out for potential hazards, such as people on horseback or groups of people with dogs, and when I call him, he reliably comes straight back to me, as long as he's not distracted by something unusual.

On this occasion, I was engrossed in a conversation with a friend, and I didn't notice Spot's ears perk up as we moved along the path. It was only when I saw the sheep ahead of us that I recognised the hazard, and by then it was almost too late: Spot had them firmly in his sights, and he had started trotting towards them. A bellow from me, and he stopped, thought twice about it, then came back to me. But it could have gone badly wrong.

Many of you will have seen the infamous Youtube video of "Fenton" from last year: the large black dog had charged off in full chase of deer in London's Richmond Park, with his owner running after him, shouting his name in vain. The video made many people laugh,  perhaps sometimes because they had suffered a similar distressing experience themselves, with an out-of-control dog ignoring all pleas from his or her owner. In reality, it's a frighteningly serious situation:  sheep can be physically injured or killed by marauding dogs, and as a reaction, dogs can be legally shot dead by furious farmers.

Walking the dog in the British countryside can be one of life's great pleasures, but there are responsibilities that cannot be forgotten. Dogs need to be kept under close control to ensure they do not worry livestock or stray onto neighbouring land. It is a criminal offence to allow a dog to chase or attack livestock on agricultural land and the dog only needs to be in a field with sheep to legally constitute an offence of worrying. By law, farmers are permitted to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals: prevention is the key to ensure that both dogs and sheep remain safe.

The following tips, courtesy of Dogs Trust, should be printed out and stuck on the back of the door beside the dog leashes, to be read before every dog walk in the countryside:

  • Always keep your dog on a lead and away from livestock
  • Take extra care during pregnancy/ lambing/ calving seasons (from December to April) to minimize the risk of disturbing farm animals
  • Make sure your home and garden is secure at all times when your dog is unsupervised so that he does not stray and worry neighbouring livestock
  • Make sure your dog is well trained and obedient to your commands
  • As a general rule, keep your dog on a lead on public paths if you cannot rely on its obedience.
  • By law, you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals. You must keep your dog on a short lead (extendible leads are not ideal) in most areas of open country and common land between 1 March and 31 July and at all times near farm animals on agricultural land.
  • Be careful of situations where you may unintentionally be 'herding' cattle or sheep into a confined space where their only means of escape is to charge towards you
  • Leave all gates as you found them - open or closed.
  • If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead – the dog is likely to out run you to safety so don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.
  • Do not pass between a cow or sheep and its young as they may act more aggressively whilst protecting their young

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Think before you throw… The trauma of canine stick injuries…..

Who "wood" have thought that playing with a simple tree branch or stick could result in such life threatening injuries? With such a vast selection of toys available today for our canine companions it is a wonder why the simple tree branch / stick is still so widely used as an interactive "toy" for dogs to chase , catch and retrieve. Often so freely available after a windy winters day the selection of the most suitable stick can be so tempting, often dogs will help themselves with an overzealous approach attempting to carry a tree branch much larger than their own body length or owners simply pick up a small stick that would be much easier to throw, fly through the air further and with the added advantage to float in water too! But do you ever stop and think of the implications of throwing a stick? And the serious life threatening injuries that can result? Dogs are natural athletes often with a desire to do everything with such speed and with an abundance of enthusiasm during play. Mid-air acrobatics during stick catching is often considered part of the “fun” but severe trauma can result ; I have even nursed a dog that have caught the stick and then ran into a tree resulting in a cervical fracture in the neck! The hidden “minor” injuries that occur through playing with sticks can often go unnoticed for a period of days, often lacerations occur under the tongue, in the laryngeal area, or stick fragments become lodged in the roof of the mouth which cannot be seen. Often symptoms of excessive salivation and reduction of appetite might be the only indication of oral damage. In the throes of the game, dogs have unfortunately become impaled upon branches and sticks, with severe injuries to the thoracic and/ or abdominal cavity resulting in life threatening situations. The one that I will always remember was of a dog that had run after a tree branch (of considerable length) and ran straight into the branch with her mouth wide open! The branch entered her mouth, travelled down the side of her trachea, caused a tear in her oesophagus, and then entered her chest. The resulting damage was a collapsed lung and life threatening injuries to her soft tissues and blood loss… She underwent hours of surgery to save her life, intensive care and intravenous feeding as her upper gastrointestinal required time to heal before allowing her to eat any oral food. After weeks of veterinary care she made a full recovery …. The cost implications of such complicated veterinary treatment are considerable, resulting in the tree branch literally being worth its weight in gold! So, when the temptation arises to pick up a stick, look down into you hand and realise that you are holding a very dangerous weapon and one wrong throw can mean playing Russian roulette with you best friend.

Equine Education (Part 2 – Vet Students)

Have you ever wondered who the young person trailing behind your vet is? They appear, at best they're introduced as "so-and-so, who's seeing practice with us", and then they disappear, never to be seen again... Well, the odds are they're vet students who are "seeing practice" with your vet. Training as a vet is a long process - vet students spend 5 or 6 years at university doing lectures, practicals and clinical work. However, in that space of time, they also have to do the equivalent of an extra year of "EMS" (Extra-Mural Studies, generally known as "seeing practice"). This is their chance to get out of the lecture theatre, away from the ivory towers and out into the real world of practice! As vets in practice, our job is to take these students and teach them the nuts and bolts of veterinary practice. They'll learn the science, and all the theory, at vet school; however, there is also an art to veterinary practice, and that's our responsibility. For example, if the client can't afford the best treatment, how do you proceed? Or if a client refuses consent for a surgical procedure, what other options can be explored? At the vet schools, students tend to learn a lot about the more esoteric and uncommon diseases, operations and procedures - this is because they operate referral hospitals (although Nottingham uses an expanded version of the EMS system for virtually all their clinical tuition). Although they do have first opinion practices, in all seven schools the teaching tends to be biased towards the rare and exotic. Out in general practice, however, the axiom "Common things are common" applies - for every septic pedal joint, there are dozens of simple hoof abscesses! It can also be useful to us having students along (opening gates, for example - sounds silly, but when you have yards with five or six sets of gates, it gets very time consuming stopping to open and close each set!). In addition, though, they will often have learnt new approaches, new solutions to problems, that we can use. For example, I once had a student along with me when I was dealing with a stallion with an injury in a VERY sensitive area. To examine it properly, I would need to nerve block the whole area - time consuming and potentially dangerous. However, my student at the time had learnt in her pharmacology lectures that it had recently been discovered that one of the local anaesthetic agents I was carrying was effective through the thickness of the skin. We therefore applied it with gloves - and managed to numb the area enough to examine him properly. In one practice where I worked, I did an awful lot of equine dental work. In some situations, we used a powered dremel; however, we didn't routinely carry it, so if there was an intermediate case, we'd usually try and complete the work by hand, rather than come back later. Now, I can assure you that rasping down large hooks and ridges is physically very hard work! Having a student to alternate with makes it go much faster and more efficiently - which often means less time and sedation. The big problem vet students have, however, is getting enough clinical experience in practice. Some clients are, sadly, unwilling to allow a student to carry out even simple procedures (like giving injections, or drawing blood samples). If you think you might be in that situation, I'd like you to consider three things...
  1. The vet will be closely supervising, and will be in a position to step in at any point if they aren't happy.
  2. We wouldn't ask the student to do it if we thought they'd make a hash of it.
  3. Most importantly of all, if they don't get a chance to practice as students, they won't develop the skills they need as graduates. That means they won't get the experience they need if they're going to grow into good horse vets - because they didn't get the practice they needed as a student under controlled conditions.
So, for the sake of your horses in the future: please allow the student to carry out any procedures that your vet thinks they're ready for!
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