Walkers with dogs: new approaches to better management
Do you have “issues” with dog owners? Are the same old signs and leaflets not improving things? If so – you are not alone! And better still, the advice and support you need is out there, if you really want to improve things.
Thanks to a mixture of academic research and practical management over the last 6 years, access managers in the public, voluntary and private sectors are benefiting from new approaches to managing dog owners.
With around 6 million dogs in the UK and 15 million people involved in their care and exercise, dog owners are one of the biggest, daily, year-round users of public access to the countryside and urban greenspace.
As access managers know all too
well, the behaviour of some owners is a frequent cause of complaint from
landowners and other access users. But dog ownership also helps to deliver many Government targets: taking regular exercise; active social networks;
fewer visits to the doctor; deterring and reporting rural crime.
Traditionally, we’ve largely relied on reactive and restrictive approaches, although in reality these often just displace unwanted activity elsewhere. This might solve an individual site manager’s issues, but it does little to proactively manage where pet dogs go and what they do, that can in turn reduce conflict for all and secure their owners’ political support as a significant consumer of our services.
Research commissioned by bodies including the Forestry Commission, Hampshire County Council, the Kennel Club and Natural England, highlights the daily demand for off-lead exercise, close to home and away from traffic, and how we as access managers share responsibility for perpetuating needless conflict. For example, lambing and nesting birds signs left up all year; conflicting information from different departments; poor liaison with dog owners’ networks like vets and training clubs.Enlightened access managers across the UK are now benefiting from staff training and online resources, to develop a more proactive approach; and this isn’t about being soft on the “puppy huggers”! It’s simply about applying sound principles of visitor management.
Firstly, it’s about facing up to the reality that vast numbers of dogs will be exercised every day, and exploring how that can best be accommodated. Secondly, it’s about delivering accessible and relevant information that’s clear, credible and consistent, offering explanations and alternatives when restrictions apply.