Advice for local authorities

The Kennel Club is the leading canine authority on dog access to open spaces, in both urban and rural environments. As we run the largest national dog owners' group, KC Dog, we are the only national organisation named by the Government as a body that local authorities should consider consulting when introducing restrictions on dog walkers. 

"Where a public space protection order (PSPO) will affect dog owners or walkers e.g. by restricting access to all or certain parts of a park, the local authority should consult with them. This can be done through engaging with national organisations, such as The Kennel Club." (Defra, 'Dealing with irresponsible dog ownership Practitioner's manual', 2014.)

Our core objective

Our main aim is to protect fair access for dog walkers to public spaces, however, we are not opposed to all restrictions on dog owners and walkers. The guiding principle by which we work by is to seek the least restrictive approach to achieve the desired reduction in problems associated with dogs.

This could mean introducing restrictions which are limited to specific times of day and/or months of the year. Alternatively it may be that positively engaging with the local dog walking community might be more effective than introducing restrictions - we can help with this too.

Get in contact

The Kennel Club is always willing to discuss with local authorities potential solutions to dog-related issues they are facing. We can provide advice on public spaces protection orders, dog control orders (we strongly recommend contacting us prior to the launch of formal consultations) and other dog management approaches. We can be contacted by email or by calling 020 7518 1020.

Download our briefing report:

Dog access restrictions

The Kennel Club does not normally oppose orders to exclude dogs from playgrounds, or enclosed recreational facilities such as tennis courts or skate parks, as long as alternative provisions are made for dog walkers in the vicinity. Although an important consideration is that children and dogs should be able to socialise together quite safely under adult supervision, and having a child in the home is the biggest predictor for a family owning a dog.

The Kennel Club can support reasonable “dogs on lead” orders, which can – when used in a proportionate and evidenced-based way – include areas such as cemeteries, picnic areas, or on pavements in proximity to cars and other road traffic.

However, we will oppose PSPOs which introduce blanket restrictions on dog walkers accessing public open spaces without specific and reasonable justification. Dog owners are required to provide their dogs with appropriate daily exercise, including “regular opportunities to walk and run”, which in most cases will be off the lead while still under control.

Exclusion from playing fields

When seeking to restrict playing fields, we ask local authorities to consider whether or not it is absolutely necessary. Of course, we understand the safety reasons behind a restriction while in use. However, when they are not in use, they can be a vital resource for dog owners to ensure their dogs get their required daily exercise.

If they are deemed to be needed, we would suggest a time and/or seasonal restrictions would be more appropriate than a continuous exclusion order. 

Compliance with playing field exclusion can be difficult for a dog walker if there are no boundaries around the playing field. When exercising their dogs off lead, dogs will not recognise the difference between playing fields and other grassed areas.

Dog parks

On first sight, dog parks appear to be a positive solution for dog walkers, providing them with a dedicated space to exercise their dogs. However, there are a number of pitfalls to this approach that are often not considered. We have general reservations over the use of dog parks within the UK, as our culture of dog walking is significantly different from that in North America and Australia (where dog parks are more prevalent).

Based on the maps provided in the consultation, it is clear to see the size of the dog parks are very small in comparison to the size of the parks as a whole. We question the justification for providing such as small space for off-lead exercise. This can be particularly problematic as the concentration of dogs in a small area can lead to frequent dog-on-dog attacks and other behaviour problems to the point where books have been specifically written to help people use dog parks safely

There could be liability concerns for councils and land managers if dog-on-dog or dog-on-human attacks and injuries arise from management interventions like dog parks, that forcibly concentrate large numbers of dogs (often those that are poorly trained) in small areas.

Excluding dogs from cemeteries

While we understand the importance of ensuring dogs are under control in cemeteries we would suggest this be achieved with a dog on lead order rather than a ban. Dogs can provide essential comfort and emotional support to an individual suffering from the loss of a loved one. Therapy dogs in funeral homes are becoming increasingly popular in the UK to support the bereaved. [1] For some mourners, the walk to the cemetery with their dogs is an opportunity to give their dog the essential exercise it needs whilst being able to regularly visit their loved one.

Seasonal restrictions beginning at Easter

When considering a seasonal restriction on beaches, The Kennel Club believes that the dates should be 1 May – 30 September, which coincides with the current bathing season of 15 May to 30 September. We oppose restrictions which commence on Good Friday (or dates linked to Easter) and continue to a set date in the autumn as over the course of the next three years, Easter varies by up to 17 days, e.g. walking your dog would be perfectly legal on the beach before 19 April 2019, but would be an illegal activity, with a potential £1,000 fine, on the same date for the following two years.

We are not aware of any evidence that the Easter break is an annual trigger for ongoing anti-social behaviour, which calls into question the need for restrictions to run from Easter to a set date in the autumn. We would question whether such a range in start dates for a PSPO meets the anti-social behaviour, crime and policing act’s defined legal test.

If there is evidence of a spike in detrimental activity over the Easter weekend due to increased usage of recreation spots, then a restriction for the busy Easter period would be justified. A separate restriction could then be introduced to address the busier summer months.

Seasonal restrictions

Where a seasonal restriction has implemented, we would suggest councils consider whether a time restriction would be an appropriate addition. We have received feedback and evidence that many beaches are empty in the early mornings and late evenings, a key time for many dog owners to exercise their dogs. Beaches can be an important local resource for owners to make sure their dogs get the required daily off-lead exercise and we see no reason why it should be restricted at the times of the day when it is little used, even in the busy season.

Dogs on lead by direction

The Kennel Club strongly welcomes ‘dogs on lead by direction’ orders, as these allow responsible dog owners to exercise their dogs off lead without restriction, providing their dogs are under control, whilst allowing the local authority powers to restrict dogs not under control.

We would recommend that the authorised officer enforcing the order is familiar with dog behaviour in order to determine whether restraint is necessary. There is a danger that, through no fault of its own, a dog could be a ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’ to another person who simply does not like dogs.

We would also recommend local authorities make use of the other more flexible and targeted measures at their disposal, such as acceptable behavioural contracts and community protection notices. The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme training clubs and our accredited trainers can also help those people whose dogs run out of control due to them not having the ability to train a reliable recall.

Displacement to the countryside and farmland

A common unintended consequence of restrictions is displacement onto other pieces of land, resulting in new conflicts being created. It can be difficult to predict the effects of displacement, and so the council should consider whether alternative sites for dog walkers are suitable and can support an increase in the number of dog walkers using them.

The All-Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (AGPAW) published a report which provides guidance to local authorities considering PSPOs, highlighting the increased risk to livestock if dog walkers are displaced to farmland.

“When reviewing public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), local authorities should be careful to consider the availability of open space for use by dogs off lead. To restrict such areas or remove them via a PSPO may increase the risk to livestock in the countryside, as more owners and walkers find that location as the only alternative. APGAW believes that local authorities should carefully consider alternative locations for dog owners and walkers to take their dogs when looking at issuing PSPOs and other measures, such as introducing car parking charges and conservation grazing.

"Given that there is a dog in around a quarter of all homes, as normal good practice, local authorities should seek to ensure adequate provision of green space for dog walkers during planning applications for new developments to avoid adjacent farmland becoming in effect local public amenity areas. Good practice already exists in the provision of such green space when planning to minimise any impacts on sensitive wildlife areas adjacent to new homes arising from dog walking.” (Tackling livestock worrying and encouraging responsible dog ownership, 2017, page 6)

Guidance on PSPOs restricting access

The ability to meet this requirement of providing “regular opportunities to walk and run” is greatly affected by the amount of publicly accessible parks and other public places in their area where dogs can exercise without restrictions. This section of the Animal Welfare Act was included in the statutory guidance produced for local authorities by the Home Office on the use of PSPOs.

Accordingly, the underlying principle we seek to see applied is that dog controls should be the least restrictive to achieve a given defined and measurable outcome; this is the approach used by Natural England. In many cases, a seasonal or time of day restriction will be effective and the least restrictive approach, rather than a blanket year-round restriction. For instance, a “dogs on lead” order for a picnic area is unlikely to be necessary in mid-winter.

The Government provided clear instructions to local authorities that they must provide restriction-free sites for dog walkers to exercise their dogs. This message was contained in the guidance document for DCOs, and has been retained in both the Defra/Welsh Government and Home Office PSPO guidance documents, with the Defra guidance for PSPOs stating "local authorities should ensure there are suitable alternatives for dogs to be exercised without restrictions".

Briefings on other common PSPO proposals

Dog fouling

The Kennel Club strongly promotes responsible dog ownership, and believes that dog owners should always pick up after their dogs wherever they are, including fields and woods in the wider countryside, and especially where farm animals graze to reduce the risk of passing Neospora and Sarcocystosis to cattle and sheep respectively.

We would like to take this opportunity to encourage the local authority to employ further proactive measures to help promote responsible dog ownership throughout the local area in addition to introducing orders in this respect.

These proactive measures can include: increasing the number of bins available for dog owners to use; communicating to local dog owners that bagged dog poo can be disposed of in normal litter bins; running responsible ownership and training events; or using poster campaigns to encourage dog owners to pick up after their dog.

Having the 'means to pick up'

Whilst The Kennel Club supports proactive efforts on behalf of local authorities to encourage responsible dog ownership and to ensure that those who are not picking up after their dogs are brought to book, this has to be fair and proportionate and we would not like to see responsible dog owners penalised unfairly.

The Kennel Club has concerns over proposals to introduce an offence of not having the means to pick up. Responsible owners will usually have dog waste bags or other means to clear up after their pets but we do have some concerns, for example, if dog owners are approached at the end of a walk and have already used the bags that they have taken out for their own dog, or given a spare bag to someone who has run out, a behaviour that is encouraged by Green Dog Walker schemes.

Furthermore, it is perfectly plausible that these proposals in certain circumstances would perversely incentivise dog walkers not to pick up after their dog. Should a dog walker on witnessing their dog fouling realise they are down to their final poo bag (or other receptacles), they will be forced into a decision of whether to use the bag and risk being caught without means to pick up, or risk not picking up in order to retain a means to pick up should they be stopped later on their walk. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that a proportion of dog walkers would choose the second option if they thought this was the least likely route to being caught, especially if the penalty for not picking up was the same as not having means to pick up. Local authorities may wish to consider introducing a clause which provides an exemption for dog walkers who have run out of bags but can prove that they were in possession of and made use of bags (or other suitable receptacles) during their walk.

If such a measure is introduced, it is essential that an effective communication campaign is launched in the local area to ensure that people are aware of the plans and have an excess supply of dog waste bags with them, so that it is the right people who are getting caught. Additionally, appropriate signage should be erected to inform those who are not familiar with the local rules are not unfairly caught out.

We are also concerned how easily local authorities could enforce this law when trying to define whether or not dog owners have ‘a means’ of picking up after the dogs, without risking the expense of legal challenge. In the absence of poo bags, owners trying to flout the law could theoretically point to any number of items on their person that they intend to use, so we think that the most effective spot checks you can carry out are those that catch offenders in the act of not picking up, rather than second guessing behaviours on the basis of what they are or are not carrying with them.

Alternatively, to avoid a fine, an irresponsible owner could simply tie one bag to his or her dog’s lead or collar but never actually use it.

Cornwall Council considered introducing a means to pick up order but subsequently decided against it as they deemed it to be disproportionate and concluded that the requirement would be ‘toothless’, as it would be highly unlikely to be enforceable in a magistrates court.

If the council proceeds to introduce such a measure, it is essential it provides greater clarity to dog walkers on how to comply with the order.

Maximum number of dogs that one person can walk

The Kennel Club feel that an arbitrary maximum number of dogs a person can walk is an inappropriate approach to dog control that will often simply displace and intensify problems in other areas. The maximum number of dogs a person can walk in a controlled manner depends on a number of factors relating to the dog walker, the dogs being walked, whether leads are used and the location where the walking is taking place.

An arbitrary maximum number can also legitimise and encourage people to walk dogs up to the specified limit, even if at a given time or circumstance, they cannot control that number of dogs.

We therefore suggest that defined outcomes are used instead to influence people walking one or more dogs, be that domestically or commercially, such as dogs always being under control, or not running up to people uninvited, on lead in certain areas etc.

For example, an experienced dog walker may be able to keep a large number of dogs under control during a walk, whereas an inexperienced private dog owner may struggle to keep a single dog under control. Equally the size and training of the dogs are key factors; this is why an arbitrary maximum number is inappropriate. The Kennel Club would recommend the local authority instead uses the proposed “dogs on lead by direction” orders and targeted measures such as acceptable behaviour contracts and community protection orders to address people who don’t have control of the dogs they are walking.

A further limitation of a maximum number of dogs per person is that it does not stop people with multiple dogs walking together at a given time, while not exceeding the maximum number of dogs per person. Limits can also encourage some commercial dog walkers to leave excess dogs in their vehicles, which can give rise to welfare concerns.

If a maximum number of dogs is being considered due to issues arising from commercial dog walkers, we instead suggest councils look at accreditation schemes that have worked very successfully in places like the East Lothian council area. These can be far more effective than numerical limits, as they can promote wanted good practice, rather than just curb the excesses of just one aspect of dog walking. Accreditation can also ensure dog walkers are properly insured and act as advocates for good behaviour by other dog owners.

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