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Instinctively deer are afraid of dogs, but they can become protective and defensive of their young during the birthing season.

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Are dogs allowed off-lead in Richmond Park?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

Dog owners have a wonderful range of walking opportunities in London, but it's important to ensure that local wildlife is kept safe at all times. Here's what you need to know about walking your dog in the Royal Parks.

From Greenwich Park in the south-east to The Regent's Park in the north-west, the Royal Parks comprise some of the most beautiful green spaces across London.

They provide wonderful walking opportunities for dog owners and their four-legged friends, and they are also home to an abundance of wildlife. Richmond Park, one of the the eight Royal Parks of London, is particularly well known for the presence of free-roaming red and fallow deer. 

Why do dogs have to be kept on lead in Richmond Park? 

While deer will naturally try to move away from dogs that approach them, the deer birthing season is a particularly vulnerable time for female deer in Richmond Park. They hide their young in long grass to protect them from predators but if approached or surprised, they have been known to become very protective and defensive during this period.

Over the last few years it has become compulsory to keep dogs on lead at all times in Richmond and Bushy Parks during the birthing season, which runs from the beginning of May until the 31 July.

Simon Richards, park manager for Richmond park, explained in a statement released by the Royal Parks charity that this measure serves not only to protect the deer, but also to protect dog walkers and their dogs. Female deer have been known to chase and attack when they feel they are being threatened, which can be distressing for all concerned. 

Park police advise that you keep 50 metres away from the deer and that dogs in Richmond Park must be kept under control at all times. The on-lead regulation has dramatically reduced the number of dogs chasing deer, with only two incidents recorded compared to 25 incidents in the previous months. 

Are there many cases of dogs chasing deer in Richmond Park? 

Unfortunately there have been many incidents of dogs chasing deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks, in some cases even chasing them into areas of passing traffic. Between January and April 2022 there were 50 cases of deer being chased by dogs in Richmond Park alone. Fleeing deer can be dangerous for both the animals and park users, and it's this concern that lead to the introduction of the on-lead policy during the birthing season. 

Before the regulation came into play, the most famous case of a dog chasing deer was that of Fenton, a black Labrador who quickly became an internet sensation in 2011. Filmed by a bystander, the hilarious clip showed an overexcited Fenton chasing deer, as his owner desperately attempted to stop him. Thankfully no deer came to any harm, and the video went viral, with Fenton merchandise created for months after the event. 

Is Fenton the dog still alive? 

Following their viral video, Fenton's owner was determined to keep a low profile. Reports suggested he was so embarassed and upset by the event that at one point he contemplated changing Fenton's name. He most definitely avoided letting his mischievious pup off in any open spaces following the experience. With the video celebrating its 12th anniversary this year, we hope Fenton is enjoying his golden years to the fullest. 

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Do dogs always have to be kept on lead in the Royal Parks? 

While dogs are welcome in Royal Parks, there are certain areas they will need to be kept on lead. These are always clearly signed for dog walkers, and they are usually found in ecologically sensitive areas of the park and sites where deer could be present

Ground nesting birds and animals with young are particularly sensitive to the presence of our canine companions, but with the right precautions you and your dog should be able to enjoy the beauty of London parks, all the while respecting the wildlife that has made the space their home.

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Frequently asked questions

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