We've asked Kennel Club Access Advisor and Orkney resident Stephen Jenkinson to share his top tips for a happy, healthy, hassle-free visit to Orkney for you and your dog. You can also explore our links to dog-friendly accommodation providers and businesses at the bottom of the blog.
One of the things I love about Orkney is the low-key way we promote our amazing range of places to explore, wildlife to admire and local produce to enjoy. But that doesn’t always make it easy if you are a visitor with a dog to know where you can go and what you can do. And that’s especially so when you want to enjoy every minute in our islands while avoiding causing problems for other people, wildlife or farm animals.
So for the many dog owners who visit Orkney each year, here's my suggestions for exploring all Orkney has to offer with your four-legged friends.
Your dog can stay in the car on all the ferries from mainland Scotland and Shetland – you don’t have to pay for an on-board kennel or cabin. If your dog is a good traveller and has an active walk before boarding, they may be happiest in the car. The car decks are enclosed or shaded, but it’s still wise to provide some water and consider leaving the windows open a bit. Also disable your alarm as otherwise it will keep going off during the journey, annoying people and frightening pets.
If you are a foot passenger or don’t want to leave your dog, you may well have to travel on an outside deck for the whole of the journey. Some ferries now have an inside area for dogs, but not all. Take doggy snacks and poo bags just in case.
For a good walk with bins just before the two car ferries across the Pentland Firth, there’s the long beach at Sinclair’s Bay on the A99 just south of Keiss, 15 minutes from the Pentland Ferries Gills Bay terminal. If travelling with NorthLink Ferries from Scrabster, try Sibster Forest on the A9 next to Georgemas Junction railway station; it has a fenced-in area next to the main car park. In Aberdeen, the 2-mile long main beach just north of the harbour allows off-lead dogs all year.
Ask a local
Dogs are a great way to break the ice with local folk and get insider knowledge; walking on Scapa Beach close to Kirkwall is a great place to start. Smile, say ‘Hi’ and if the other person’s dog is on a lead, clip yours on too before approaching them.
The Dog Friendly Orkney Facebook page is another great source of advice about great places to walk, eat and stay even before you get here.
Where to stay and eat
While many places in Orkney do welcome dogs with well-behaved owners, it’s not always clearly stated; don’t be put off if there’s no “dogs welcome” sign – just ask someone inside. Ideally call them in advance to check about your dog and make a reservation.
Please support dog-friendly businesses by posting supportive reviews on sites like Tripadvisor and Facebook. Making sure your pet remains quiet, calm and at your side in any establishment also helps ensure you’ll be welcomed back.
Where you can go
The general right of responsible public access to most land in Scotland applies in Orkney. This simple leaflet tells you the key principles of where you can go and what you can do. There’s even more information for dog walkers in Scotland on the NatureScot website, including training tips and videos.
Like the rest of Scotland, most paths and tracks in Orkney can also be used by horse riders and cyclists; keep an eye out for riders and ensure your dog is calm and at your side until they have passed.
The most enjoyable dog walks in Orkney with off-lead opportunities are generally along our beaches and coastline, as there’s usually no farm animals present – but don’t take that for granted. You can also visit most of our historic sites with a dog for free, all year round.
Apart from searching online, local dog walkers, eateries and accommodation providers often have good ideas for walks, and here’s some suggestions from NorthLink Ferries to get you started. The 15 mile West Coast Trail from Stromness to Birsay is a dramatic route; with some planning you can use buses to walk it one way or in shorter sections. The first part from Stromness to Warbeth beach offers good off-lead opportunities and stunning views of Hoy.
It’s worthwhile buying a local tide table or using one online, as some beaches disappear at high tide, and you can get cut off. Call 999 and ask for the coastguard if you or your dog get into difficulties.
Orkney’s internal ferry services make it easy to visit many of our smaller islands where you’ll find many more quiet beaches, ancient sites, dog-friendly eateries and well-stocked village shops.
On the shorter crossings (such as to Hoy, Flotta, Shapinsay, and Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre) you can stay in the car with your dog, or take them on deck to admire the views. Inside areas are also available for foot passengers with dogs. It’s best to book in advance via the Orkney Ferries website, especially in the summer.
Well-behaved dogs are also welcome on Orkney’s publicly-run buses on the mainland that link many of our attractions, beaches and coastal walks in an environmentally-friendly way. Pick up a bus and ferry timetable at the VisitScotland Kirkwall Visitor Information centre, or download from the Orkney Islands Council website. Some islands offer community-run bus services - visitors should check with providers before travelling to ask about access for dogs.
Staying safe and enjoying your walks
It’s very rare for problems to occur when visiting Orkney, especially if you stick to places where local dog owners go. But if your pet gets lost, injured or chases farm animals or wildlife, it can be a very expensive and upsetting way to spoil your holiday, so here’s my tips on how to stay safe, two legs and four.
- Always keep your dog in sight and under control; use a lead if you don’t have a very reliable recall. Local people can advise you of the best places for off-lead exercise.
- Prevent your dog from approaching farm animals, horses, wildlife and other people uninvited.
- Take extra care and always use a lead along cliff tops; rabbits can often run out with fatal consequences.
- While many Orkney dog walks avoid fields of cows, sheep and horses, always keep your dog on a lead around livestock, as there can be holes in fences and gaps under gates. If you do encounter livestock, go around them and be prepared to release your pet if threatened by cattle.
- Keep dogs well away from seals. They can give a very nasty bite if approached in the water or on rocks and beaches where they rest and give birth. Best to keep your pet away from dead seals too, as dogs often want to roll on the remains with very stinky consequences!
- Some of our ancient sites and beaches are grazed by sheep and cows, and usually there’s no warning signs. So always have your dog on the lead until you are sure there’s no livestock about.
- While daytime temperatures rarely feel that hot due to the breeze, dogs can still die in parked cars due to heatstroke; best to never leave them alone on sunny days, even if there’s shade.
- While blood-sucking ticks that can pass on debilitating diseases are far less common in Orkney than the rest of Scotland, it’s still good to check yourself and your dog every day and learn how to remove them safely.
- Ensure your current mobile phone number is on your dog’s collar and the microchip database, such as Petlog.
Orkney has two veterinary practices, both of which offer an out of hours emergency service. Always telephone in advance to discuss where to take your pet. You can reach Flett & Carmichael on 01856 872859, and Northvet on 01856 873403.
For lost and found dogs contact Orkney Islands Council on 01856 873535. There’s also an Orkney Pets Lost and Found Facebook group.
Positive about poo
Orkney likes to make it easy for visitors to ‘bag it and bin it’ by having bins at many popular destinations like beaches; it’s fine to put bagged dog poo in general litter bins as well as dedicated dog waste bins.
Please don’t leave dog poo behind anywhere, even in bags marked as biodegradable, as it gets all dog owners a bad name and there’s a Scotland-wide dog fouling law. Plus diseases in dog poo can kill farm animals and the bags can be deadly to wildlife on land and sea.
Poo bags are for sale in shops across Orkney and there’s free emergency supplies in some ferry waiting rooms, public toilets, vets and community facilities.
Enjoy watching and protecting our wildlife
Because of Orkney’s farming methods, clean seas and lack of mammals like badgers and foxes, it’s a really special place for many rare birds and animals. You can help keep it that way and have more chance of seeing our amazing wildlife by following this advice:
- Give birds on land and beaches a wide berth all year round so they can feed, rest and nest in peace; please prevent your dog from approaching them - use a lead if you need to.
- If birds or mammals like seals and otters start looking at you and moving away, you are too close; retrace your steps or go around to give you more chances of watching them behave naturally.
- Keeping paws and feet on worn paths from April to July really helps to protect rare birds and their chicks that nest on the ground. Throwing balls and toys along paths rather than to the side can also help wildlife all year round.
Browse our listings below to discover local dog-friendly accommodation, food & drink, and craft attractions across the islands.
Dog-friendly accommodation in Orkney
From hotels to self-catering, there are plenty of dog-friendly accommodation options across Orkney.
Dog-friendly Taste of Orkney businesses
Enjoy Orkney's delicious local larder with your four-legged friend with our dog-friendly cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Dog-friendly Creative Orkney businesses
Bring your dogs to meet some of Orkney's talented makers.