Ness skittered past the bird feeder issuing a volley of warning barks.

A guttural belligerent string of abuse rose from behind the hedge.

As the shouting became more aggressive and frenzied the barks intensified, turning hostile and anxious.

I called at Ness out of the window to no effect. I ran down the stairs and outside commanding Ness to come immediately and saw to my horror a man hitting out at her violently with a stick whilst hollering abuse. Luckily Ness heard me and came, visibly shaken.

Calming Ness I apologised to the man, albeit rather tight lipped, and pointed out that hitting and shouting at the dog would most probably antagonises it furthur. Whereupon he turned his verbal attack on me.

We have a public footpath that runs down our lane and along the front and side of our house.

Now I’m a believer in the freedom to roam (without which our wonderful walking holidays in Scotland wouldn’t be possible) and feel privileged that I can explore new parts of glorious countryside through the footpath network. But I feel uncomfortable and intrusive if a footpath takes me alongside a dwelling that’s obviously lived in. I will give it a wide berth if I’m able, if not I try to respect people’s privacy and lives at the very least. And if there’s a dog looking after its boundary? I attempt to appear harmless, non aggressive and reassure the animal that I’m not interested in challenging it.

I’m glad people can appreciate and enjoy our beautiful farm through the footpath. The majority of folk who use it are sensitively aware they’re walking through someone’s home and a working farm. The minority unfortunately appear to be exercising their right (not their freedom) to roam and appear surly and arrogant if you come across them.

My dilemma. Ness, as I think you realise, is hardwired into feral or wild dog behaviour. She naturally reacts as a pack animal; 110% loyal and trustworthy to her pack and protective of her pack territory. She’s not tolerant of interlopers. It’s taken me three years of work to help her understand domestic dog behaviour. She’s learnt well, but in moments of stress she can revert to her instinctive nature. And her anxiety increases if she suspects the energy of the threat is negative, as in those more difficult walkers!

Now as a guard dog her  behaviour would be commended; especially if she apprehended a burglar or prevented some violent attack. She would, no doubt, be heralded a hero. But this same behaviour is deemed unacceptable in law governing public rights of way.

How, tell me, does a dog know the difference?

ness

ness