Taking the lead managing walkers with dogs on your site
In 2005 Hampshire County Council, the Kennel Club and the Countryside Agency (now Natural England) formed a partnership to explore new approaches to the management of walkers with dogs in the countryside.
Several research reports and pilot projects later and a lot has been learnt. This guidance aims to bring together the key findings of our research and present a few of the projects that Hampshire County Council has implemented by harnessing this new knowledge and understanding.
Who is it for?
This good practice guide is aimed at land managers in the public sector who have to balance the need to feed livestock, conserve and enhance habitats whilst enabling the public to explore and enjoy the countryside. It aims to provide you with some thoughts and ideas that you might like to try on your own sites.
Download Section 1 128kb pdf
Walkers with dogs uncovered
Dog walking is a very popular activity with approximately one third of all visitors to the countryside accompanied by a dog. Dog ownership encourages people to exercise and explore the outdoors and provides social and psychological benefits. It is important to remember that dog walkers are not all the same and have different needs and attitudes as well as different relationships with dogs (they may not be a dog owner but care for one or walk with other people that have dogs).
Key facts about walkers with dogs
- Walkers with dogs are very regular, intensive users of the countryside with three quarters walking their dog more than once a day.
- Walkers with dogs visit countryside sites on average 4 times more than other users.
- Dog walkers come from a wide spectrum of society and from all socio-economic backgrounds.
- For many people their dog is a member of the family, for some owning a dog is a serious hobby and for others caring, walking or owning a dog may be a way of earning a living.
Download Section 2 173kb pdf
Why do walkers with dogs do the things they do?
This section will take a look at the behaviour exhibited by dog walkers and examine some of the reasons or beliefs that may lead walkers with dogs to act a certain way.
Most dog walkers want to have an enjoyable visit to the countryside and do not seek conflict. Those that wish to behave responsibly can find themselves uncertain over what this actually means and how this applies to the area they are visiting.
Thinking like a dog walker
The University of Portsmouth research revealed that dog walkers are influenced by attitudes and beliefs relating to their relationships with their dog, other dog walkers and non dog walkers and with land/site managers.
‘I love my dog’
Dog owners and walkers get great pleasure, as well as social, physical and psychological benefits, from their dog so it is no wonder that this is the main factor to influence behaviour.
What does this mean for you?
Traffic free areas where dogs are allowed off lead are likely to be popular with dog walkers and, if provided in a positive way, can encourage people into less sensitive areas of the site. Communication with dog walkers will be to be more effective if it relates to their dog in some way, particularly their safety and wellbeing.
‘People like us’
Many dog walkers choose to walk where there are other walkers with dogs, partly as they believe that their dog enjoys socialising with other dogs, but also as it provides opportunities to interact with other dog walkers.
What does this mean for you?
Influencing the behaviour of some dog walkers may have a positive impact on other dog walkers. There might be the potential to create an informal club or sense of belonging that will help to encourage dog walkers to feel part of a community and make it easier to get across key messages about site management. Responsible dog ownership can be promoted by giving discounts to those that have good citizenship awards.
There is evidence of conflict between walkers with dogs and other users including walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
What does this mean for you?
All users of the site need to be aware of the type of behaviour they are likely to come across when they are visiting the site to help avoid confrontation. For example if there are areas where dogs are allowed off lead other people will need to know their location so that they can avoid these areas if they wish.
Anecdotally the relationship between dog walkers and site staff, such as rangers, and dog walkers is positive. On sites where people are likely to come across staff whether on the entrance gate or in the park/site the degree of welcome felt by walkers with dogs is higher than on other sites or rights of way where they are unlikely to meet officers.
What does this mean for you?
There may be more opportunities to meet face to face with dog walkers even on sites without staff by organising events or guided walks targeted at dog walkers. Many dog walkers are very appreciative of the places where they can walk their dog and could be willing to get more involved in site management by volunteering. At Danebury Hill Fort nearly a third of those that came to the Danebury Dog Day expressed a willingness to volunteer in some capacity.
Download Section 3 142kb pdf
Why do you do the things you do?
This section will take a brief look at your role, in particular the actions some of them take when managing land that has public access, and why this might not be helping you to influence behaviour.
Whether you are managing country parks, nature reserves, shoots or farm land with rights of way, you will have different constraints to work with. But will generally be providing access for the public which certainly means that you are managing walkers with dogs.
Your job is to balance the requirement to grow crops, keep livestock, conserve and enhance habitats, for wildlife or game, whilst enabling the public to explore and enjoy the countryside, connect with nature and exercise outdoors. Often this has to be achieved with a very small complement of staff and meagre funding.
You will have an idea about the behaviour you desire from people visiting your site or using the paths across your land however communicating this desired behaviour effectively might be a different matter.
The frequently used phrase to instruct people about controlling their dog is ‘please keep your dog under close control’ but what does this actually mean and do your visitors have the same interpretation as you?
In some places the behaviour is expected with absolutely no communication and others have been known to resort to threats. In the case of no information, dog walkers are likely to use other clues to indicate what they are supposed to do:
‘The country park hasn’t got many bins. I think because they don’t expect you to pick up everywhere. They say on the paths and the open spaces but in the woods, they don’t expect you to.’
In this case this dog walker was right but not because there was any information saying that it was ok not to pick up in the woods. There are signs that say dogs on lead but very rarely signs that indicate when and where dogs can be off lead. Signs are sometimes left up long after there has ever been sheep or cattle in the field which reduces their efficacy and people start to ignore them.
So, if what you are doing now is not working…….. change it! In Section 4 we consider how.
Download Section 4 235kb pdf
Eight steps to change
This section outlines a series of steps and questions that might be useful when considering changing the approach to managing sites/land for walkers with dogs.
Step I – What is the problem?
- Is there really a problem?
- How big an issue is it?
- Why is it happening?
- Is it happening everywhere?
Step II – What do you want to happen?
- What results would you like to see e.g. reduction in dog poo left on site?
- Can these be measured and evaluated?
Step III – How would you like walkers with dogs to behave?
- Are there good reasons behind wanting this behaviour?
- Is this realistic?
- Do you want different behaviours in different areas?
- Is it going to be easy to comply with?
Step IV – Do you need to change site management?
- Do you need to introduce grazing? If so refer to Stock Grazing Information Sheet
- Can areas be provided where dogs could be allowed off lead?
- Are the bins in the right place?
Could the car parks be better located?
- What other facilities might help e.g. dog hitching posts?
Step V – What is the best way to communicate?
- Is the language used clear, unambiguous and positive?
- Have you considered a range of ways to engage with walkers with dogs and other users?
Step VI – What are the consequences of implementing change?
- What might happen elsewhere on site or on nearby sites?
- What will other users think?
Step VII – Has it worked?
- Can you measure/evaluate whether the results have been achieved?
- What will you do if people still not complying?
- How can it be kept fresh and up to date?
Download Section 5 582kb pdf
These case studies provide a summary of the projects and work that Hampshire County Council have carried out on a range of sites. Work is continuing so these case studies will be added to.
- Case Study 1 – Traffic light system – Danebury Hill Fort
- Case Study 2 – Paws on the Common – Yateley Country Park
- Case Study 3 – You and your dog, Welcome to Manor Farm Country Park