DOG OWNERS across Scotland are being encouraged to ‘take the pledge’ to be responsible when walking their pets on farmland.

From Thursday til Sunday this week, thousands of people will descend on the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, outside Edinburgh, and the National Farmers Union Scotland will be waiting for them, hoping to engage with as many pet owners as possible by handing out free poo bags and posters – and asking them to sign a pledge board committing to be responsible when walking their dogs on farmland.

As part of its year-long 'Control Your Dog on Farmland' campaign, the union hopes to get its message onto urbanites' social media feeds by offering selfies with its 'Ambassa-dog', and enrolling the public in a competition to win prizes throughout the show's four days.

The campaign's central plea is for dog owners to find out and remember their responsibilities under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, plan ahead when they venture out, particularly if their route will take them past livestock, and ensure that they always have poo bags and a lead, which the dog should be on whenever livestock are near.

With particular regard to those poo bags, the union is also asking that dog-walkers get into the habit of finding a suitable bin, rather than leaving them lying around or hanging from bushes.

Late last year, NFUS surveyed farmers, crofters and landowners about the issues they have with irresponsible countryside access, either through livestock worrying by dogs, or the impacts of owners failing to pick up after their pets on or near farmland. The survey had more than 340 responses, which showed that:

• 72% of respondents had an issue with livestock worrying on their land;

• 100% of survey respondents had an issue with dog fouling on their land, including plastic bag pollution as well as instances where livestock have contracted diseases from eating dog poo and plastic bags.

Union president Andrew McCornick commented: “Many people underestimate the damage dogs can do – whether that is attacking livestock when being off a lead or causing them to contract dangerous diseases through their poo – we need dog owners to take responsibility for controlling their dogs.

“By taking the pledge, dog owners can show their support to our campaign and help us spread the word about taking responsibility to control their dog when walking on farmland – whether they live, work or visit the countryside throughout the year.

“Attacks on livestock are happening all too often and we need the support of local dog owners to help prevent this," said Mr McCornick. "You think your dog is ‘just playing’ with the sheep but that could change in an instant and you will have no way to stop the dog when it starts to attack.

“Please come by NFU Scotland’s stand 169 at Avenue 7, opposite the main ring, at the Royal Highland Show to sign the board and promote this on social media. By taking this pledge you can help us to reduce the blight that irresponsible dog owners are having on Scotland’s countryside.”