We need a balanced approach to dog control

I chair the panel that scrutinises the process of creating and amending Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) in North Somerset. This is a ‘close enough’ transcript of the statement I made during the council’s Executive meeting on 11th February 2021.

I wanted to pick up on a point made by Mr Ives in his written address [to the Executive]. Mr Ives references the paragraph in the officer report which suggests we may go out for consultation later in the year on introducing a dogs on leads “by default” requirement for all public areas – with a list of exempted areas where dogs can run free or be excluded. The officer report recommends we consult on this approach.

I am not normally against public consultation – quite the contrary – but I would question the value of that. I think we already know opinion is split – so we’d find ourselves back where we started, but would’ve set a hare running. This has already been picked up by some media .

Bristol does operate a similar system, but I’m not sure they have the means to enforce it… and while this might make sense in a city or urban environment, I don’t agree that this would be a sensible approach for North Somerset. If it would include locations like The Strawberry Line or public footpaths in the countryside… I can’t see how that makes sense at all.

There are issues – dog control is a difficult thing to deal with whichever route we take; dog ownership has certainly increased; there are a lot of new dog owners… and lots of people out walking. A thread of concern that surfaced through the consultation was that there are “too many uncontrolled dogs off the leads in general in public places.” As I say, there are issues – and we should certainly monitor and review.

My favoured approach would be more education, more signage, more messaging… with more enforcement (which we will have from April with a new enforcement contract). As a dog owner, I am in favour of a zero tolerance approach to dog fouling, for example; if you are challenged by someone with enforcement powers – and you cannot produce the means to pick up after your own dog – BAM! a £75 fine! That can already be issued.

Most dog owners will know to put their dog back on a lead if going through a field with livestock in there. We’re in the lambing season… ‘sheep worrying’ is a thing – there is primary legislation on this – the Dog (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

Dogs need space to run to get rid of their energy – and keeping dogs on a lead unnecessarily will cause more anxiety and behavioural problems.

An area wide dogs on leads ‘by default’ requirement for all public areas – however defined – would I think cause confusion (and some consternation). Let’s not back ourselves into a corner, please.

To be clear, while I am absolutely not in favour of a ‘dogs on leads “by default” requirement’, let me be clear that I am open to further consideration of other options. For example, Calderdale Council (to name one example) has a couple of dog control orders that we might look into adapting in North Somerset – including one which makes it “an offence not to keep a dog, under your control, on a lead… [on] roads, pavements, [and] verges…”, which I think would address some concerns.

Photo credit: Mitchell Orr

1 comment on “We need a balanced approach to dog control

  1. Hi Steve,
    is is possible to make residents aware of areas where they CAN walk their dogs off lead? It is a shame that such a great open space as Hangstones is completely closed to dogs. So far the only place I know I can go happily is Cadbury hill.
    I completely agree that owners need to be responsible and would suggest signposting residents to https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/shop/good-citizen-dog-scheme/ for guidance and expectations on all.
    Sole Road or path walking on leads is not compatible with energetic dogs who need free running exercise to fulfill their welfare needs. There is an animal welfare issue here too, which needs to be reflected. Are there any local dog trainers you can ask for guidance or support? Many owners have not engaged with sufficient training, but there needs to be support for this, signposting appropriate education and reminding people of the penalties for fouling / sheep worrying / being out of control. It is not easy for owners in a village area where parks do not allow dogs at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *