Sharing Good Practice – People and Dogs in the Outdoors
By Dr Elizabeth Rogers
The Outdoor Recreation Network recently delivered a seminar on the topic of “People and Dogs in the Outdoors” hosted by Forestry England and The
Kennel Club. Over the course of the two days, delegates heard from key policy makers, stakeholders, academics and practitioners about important
policy and practice matters relating to the opportunities and management of dogs in the outdoors.
The event focused particularly on practical management measures and good practice and facilitated networking opportunities. Delegates greatly appreciated the information sharing and the key learnings from the seminar are summarised below:
Dogs are part of the family
Whether it’s a trip to the local park or a family holiday, many families will want to take their canine member with them. Since 2010, dog ownership is up 10% and is now at 8.5 million dogs. 26% of homes have a dog and astonishingly over half of all outdoor visits include a dog.1
For outdoor recreation sites there are commercial benefits to welcoming dogs. These include:
- Dog owners and families with dogs are a large and growing market;
- They visit off peak and are less weather dependent;
- 7,000 assistance dogs help people in ever-more ways.2
Given the importance of dogs to families, the focus should be on managing the demand rather than suppressing it.3
Dogs keep us healthy
There are significant physical and mental health benefits from having a dog. Research recently found that dog owners are far more likely to meet weekly exercise targets of 150 minutes per week than people without dogs. In fact:
- 64% of dog owners met the physical activity guidelines through dog walking alone;
- Dog owners are 14 times more likely to walk for recreation;
- dog walking was in addition to – not instead of – other exercise.
We also know that dogs facilitate social interaction which is important for good mental health. People are more likely to stop and talk to someone walking a dog than someone on their own or with another person. With higher social capital, dog owners are more likely to chat to others and be involved in their community, know the names of neighbours, visit family and friends, and have a sense that the people that live and work in their community care about them.4
There are important public health implications. Dogs play an important role in keeping us healthy and this should be recognised and facilitated.
Happy, healthy, hassle-free dog walks
Policy making and planning on the natural and built environment should provide for the needs of dogs and plan-out conflict from the start. Dogs and their owners want to feel welcome in the outdoors, with the provision of safe, nearby, one hour, off-lead dog walks. The best management ethos now is to both reduce negative impacts and promote the benefits of having dogs on site.
Addressing problems through partnership
Dog fouling, disturbing local wildlife, livestock worrying and raiding picnics do still happen. But instead of being divisive, managing dogs in the outdoors is now seen as less binary with the outdoors considered a place for all – humans and dogs. There is a move to a more informed approach that highlights the need for interventions to be built on evidence rather than common myths.
Simply saying “no” to dog access is ineffective.5 Rather a partnership approach is recommended between responsible dog owners and landowners. For example, in terms of preventing livestock worrying dog walkers should accompany their dogs to prevent livestock attacks and landowners should ensure signs are up-to-date to indicate if livestock is in the area.
What is needed for dog walkers?
- Prevention is better than cure and highlights the importance of puppy training (e.g. sit, down, stay, recall), picking up dog poo, and ensuring dogs don’t run after wildlife/livestock.6
- Informative and clear on-site signage and instructions (e.g. where dogs are allowed on a lead, off-lead and not allowed), bypass routes available when livestock is present and designated areas for dogs (e.g. enclosed dog training areas).
- Informative and clear off-site information such as websites with information and maps of great places to walk dogs and responsible behaviour messaging.
This three-pronged approach is crucial to ensuring the outdoors is shared and enjoyed by both people and dogs. As Alison Kohler (Director of Conservation and Communities, Dartmoor National Park Authority) put it in her presentation: “We need to build understanding trust and respect (between dog walkers and landowners) – just like the relationship between dog and owner!”7
The key ORN takeaways proposed by delegates were:
- Create a common language and code of practice for managing dogs in the outdoors across stakeholder organisations.
- Advocating the proven benefits of dog companionship on people’s health and wellbeing.
- Increase awareness of the revenue generation that comes from dog owners to greenspace sites and conservation.
- Explore potential of a condensed training day for staff tasked with managing dogs in the outdoors.
- Create a “People and Dogs in the Outdoors Forum” of relevant stakeholders (landowners, recreation, health and disability etc.).
- Collate a library of good practice to guide practitioners in their day-to-day work.
Some of these takeaways will be incorporated in the next edition of the ORN journal to be published later in the year and the wider information that has emanated from the seminar, which are available to view/download from here:https://www.outdoorrecreation.org.uk/other-publications/
1 Slides for Stephen Jenkinson’s (Access Advisor, The Kennel Club) presentation on “10 Years On: Changes in Thinking, Policy and Practice
on People and Dogs in the Outdoors” are available here: https://c-js.co.uk/30heJLt
2 There are various types of assistance dogs, from guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, autism assistance dogs, medical alert dogs, to psychiatric service dogs including veteran and dementia dogs. They can help with physical disability, dementia, learning disability, and autism spectrum condition.
There are various types of assistance dogs, from guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, autism assistance dogs, medical alert dogs, to psychiatric service dogs including veteran and dementia dogs. They can help with physical disability, dementia, learning disability, and autism spectrum condition.
3 For more information on the commercial benefits of dogs, please see Josephine Lavelle’s (Head of Marketing, Brand and Communication, Forestry England) presentation:https://c-js.co.uk/2HiQeER
4 Please see recent article on Dr Carrie Westgarth’s research: https://c-js.co.uk/2Q0P30R
5 Please see Stephen Jenkinson’s (Access Advisor, The Kennel Club) presentation for more information on access planning and displacing conflict:
6 A good example of this partnership approach is the New Forest Dogs Forum which helps local organisations with an interest in dogs in the outdoors
to work together and enable a positive approach to addressing areas of common concern. More information on this group can be found here: