Five top tips to make the most of your dog walk, plus five incredible National Trust spots to explore off-lead

With National Dog Walking Day just in the rearview, we've pulled together some top tips to make that time with your fluffy best friend as good as it can possibly be, as well as some of England's most beautiful walks.

My parents like to believe that I make the journey from bustling Brixton to deepest darkest Berkshire once every couple of weeks to see their smiling faces. While they’re not entirely wrong (my mother reads everything I put online, so this caveat must be included to avoid familial discord) I have an ulterior motive. It’s to walk my dog.

Rosie the labrador, walking along the Thames in Berkshire.

Rosie the labrador, walking along the Thames in Berkshire.

Rosie is a yellow labrador with a little fox red in her bloodline. She’s sporty, slinky, loves a good swim and is quite possibly the least intellectual animal on the face of this earth.

What she lacks in intellect she makes up for in personality – she’s affectionate to a fault and sulks in the most visible way when anyone leaves the home carrying a bag. With five grown up children, one sister-in-law and one baby in and out of the house constantly you can hardly blame her – as soon as one bag hits the hallway floor, another is whisked away. A hard life for a dog with a dear heart that stretches from her snout to her tail.

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Walking Rosie is a special time. We head down a woodland path that runs along the Thames; in summer she shows off by leaping off the end of a pier to fetch sticks from the river. She’ll do it in January too, if you show the slightest sign of picking up a branch, but you’ll have to leg it back home through fear of her freezing.

Rosie the labrador, walking along the Thames in Berkshire.

Wet hair, don’t care.

It’s great thinking time, great exercise and undeniably bonding – s/he who walks Rosie earns her undivided affection for the next 24 hours. With the help of The National Trust and makers of natural dog food Forthglade, we’ve pulled together some tips to make the most of your time with your pet, as well as a list some of the best walks around for human and canine both.

Make it a group affair

Science shows that we’re less likely to back down on our promises if others know we’ve committed (this is certainly true of my mother, who is perpetually terrified of flaking on a friend with who she’s planned a walk). Having an ‘accountability buddy’ or finding a local dog walking group is a great way to stay active on a regular basis.

Bedlington terriers

Bedlington terrier puppies grow out of their brown fur and turn into little lambs when they’re older. Find out more about the breed by clicking here. 

A little goes a long way

Don’t let feeling unwell, running late, or a surprise meeting mean you lose one of your walks in the week. Forthglade and The National Trust suggest splitting a walk time rather than cancelling it all together – head out for a quite ten minutes and top it up at the end of the day.

Plan your walks ahead of time

Although it’s good to be flexible, it can be worth setting walkie reminders in your phone, too. But be realistic – if you’re not a morning person; don’t plan your walks for an early 6am start – the duvet will win. Consider potential pitfalls; if you know that nothing gets done when the kids get home from school, don’t tell yourself it’s going to be your walk time.

Gordon Setters

Jean Collins-Pitman’s gorgeous Gordon Setters. Find out more about the breed here. Photograph: Sarah Farnsworth/Country Life Picture Library

Use your time in nature to be mindful

This is something I’m consistently guilty of, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break. Put your phone in your pocket, along with your headphones, and really appreciate the time outside with your dog. Take some deep breaths, enjoy your surroundings and a little bit of ‘me’ time.

Explore new places

Although I do the same walk every single time (creature of habit, what can I say), it can get a little boring if you’re doing it day-in, day-out. The National Trust’s ‘Best places for dog walking’ is packed with inspiration and ideas – here are some of our favourite off-lead spots.

  • Sheffield Park, Haywards Heath – recommended by our Digital Editor, this spot has gardens, grounds and woodland, restaurants if you’re peckish and dog bins when needed.
  • Erddig country house, Wales – Much like Sheffield, Erddig is full of places to explore with your pooch off-lead.
Glorious autumn colour tints leaves at Sheffield Park Gardens near Haywards Heath, East Sussex.

Glorious autumn colour tints leaves at Sheffield Park Gardens near Haywards Heath, East Sussex.

  • Lyme Park, Cheshire – Lyme is a lovely spot for a walk, with those all important bins at the ready.
  • Croome Court, Worcestershire – Croome is a stunning property, with dog-friendly maps, dog bowls and bins at the ready to help you and your pup experience the best walk possible.
The imposing Lyveden house in Northamptonshire.

The imposing Lyveden house in Northamptonshire.

  • Lyveden New Bield, East Northamptonshire – An unfinished Elizabethan summer house, Lyveden is certainly one to explore. With plenty of woodland to sink your teeth into, the half-done lodge and moated garden are bound to be as exciting for you as for your pup.