Too many dogs spoil the…

by David Feather

Recently, a commercial dog-walker in Surrey was killed by the dogs she was walking. According to The Times, she had eight dogs, including a Leonberger (a large and heavy breed originating from Germany). The story appears to be that one of the large dogs attacked another walker’s small dog. The lady owner picked her dog up and was bitten by the attacker. It looks as though the dog walker tried to control the situation but the large dog went for her and then the other dogs joined in. The details are still emerging.

The police will identify the dogs involved in the attack and presumably they will be destroyed. Can you imagine the distress of the owners, their dogs behaving in such a way and having them put down after what should have been a lovely exercise for their dog? It would have been very traumatic too for the lady whose dog was attacked and for other onlookers.

So, was it a responsible action to take eight dogs for a walk when other dogs are likely to be met? How many dogs can a single person control, particularly if they are off the lead? Should dog owners trust dog walkers who take so many dogs out at once?

Colin Tennant, the director of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training and the Chairman of the Canine and feline Behaviour Association describes, in an article in the Sunday Times, the pack mentality that can take over dogs if they are not under control.  His rule is that you can walk only the number of dogs that you can physically control in any emergency. In his view the maximum number generally is two.

Professional dog walkers regularly visit the reserve with large groups of dogs. We know there have been complaints about this in the past but little seems to have been done. In view of the tragic death of a young woman, and with the expert backing of Colin Tenant, is it now time for Wiltshire Council to consider limiting the number of dogs a single person can bring to the reserve?

16 thoughts on “

  1. These are difficult questions raising difficult issues. I expect there will be a lot of comments for and against.

  2. What a knee jerk reaction, such a shame the park is getting unfriendly to dogs and there owners, I walk there often and have had nothing but positive encounters with dogs and their owners, don’t let a very rare occurrence affect thinking, The vast majority of dogs and their owners are very nice, it’s usually the person’s phobia that makes an issue seem worse than it is.

    1. I agree, a potential knee jerk reaction. There are so many variables as to how many dogs a person can control, so to specify a number is inappropriate. And…who is going to police this? We often walk our multiple dogs at Southwick and try to respect other people by giving distance and controlling our dogs accordingly, but there are others(with 1 dog) who dont. Again, it comes back to responsible dog ownership, just like poop picking

      1. I don’t think that David’s piece, written a week after the event and backed up by the opinion of the Chairman of the Canine Behaviour Association, can be called a knee jerk reaction. We do get many complaints about professional dog walkers in the reserve.

        1. I think the only knee jerk reaction here is dog owners leaping to to the defence of their pooches. There are too many dogs and not enough places to exercise them in.

  3. Whilst this particular incident is shocking and awful isn’t it an isolated incident? As a daily user of the park, I walk one dog and I have to say constantly dog walkers whether that is.professional or general public seem to be constantly complained about. Whilst there is dog walkers and dog walkers and I have seen some people I wouldn’t trust with my own dog using the park they aren’t a constant threat are they? I think dog owners and walkers put up with alot of negativity from the publicity the dog related complaints get. Ultimately the land the reserve is on was actually left to the dog walkers. Its a shame that lately all I see is measures to deter dog walkers and make us feel like we aren’t welcome in the park. You raise the question about limiting the number of dogs that can be walked or professional dog walkers using the park.. good luck policing that. Please remember dog walkers are the people using the park daily and reporting to you anything that is dangerous or out of the ordinary if you deter us we won’t bother and that would be a real shame.

    1. Heavens, I don’t think David was suggesting that commercial dogwalkers are a constant threat. And while we have asked people to keep their dogs out of the new wetland scrapes, we have also put in a doggy dip just for their enjoyment: no measures to deter dog walkers at all. You and your well-behaved dog are welcome to our nature reserve but we are not so sure we should be as welcoming to a dogwalker with eight dogs, all off-lead.
      We are grateful for the feedback we get from visitors and, you are right, it would be a shame to lose it.

  4. I’ve come across dog “walkers “, not all , who don’t seem to engage with the dogs under their care. Some on their phones. I assume anyone who walks dogs for payment has a first aid certificate, and do they need a license, i don’t know? But I do think more than 3/4 dogs is too many for a person to handle if something does go wrong, and to try and get them all back on a lead would be a nightmare if the worst incident was to occur. Don’t get me wrong paid dog walkers have their uses , but they do need to be aware of other people and their dogs, and be in full control of the dogs under their care. Yes some dog owners are timid, i always put my dog on his lead until we have walked past, so grey feel comfortable. I wouldn’t call the article a knee jerk at all.

    1. I have wondered about a licence too. How come a dog walker is allowed to run their business from council land without a permit/licence.

  5. As per a previous post, can we have it confirmed that the land the reserve is on is specifically there for dog walkers? And can we also have it confirmed please that dog walkers can legally let their dogs run around off the lead out of sight and out of control of their owners?

    1. There does seem to be a notion going round that the land was left to the village but, as far as I can find out, that is not so. The land was bought by West Wilts District Council in the 1980s to be developed as a golf course but the ground was too wet and the financing more than a bit iffy and the thing got shelved. There is some legal device in place that prevents it being sold on for development but I don’t think it is anything that could be called a covenant and it certainly can’t be interpreted as the land being “actually left to the dog walkers”.
      The law doesn’t require dogs to be leashed in public spaces (unless there are local restrictions) but it is always against the law for your dog to be dangerously out of control.

  6. Thank you for addressing my first question. We have established that the reserve is not there specifically for dog walkers. It would make sense that it’s there for all of the public to enjoy given that the council own the land. Let us also not forget that the council were involved with the land becoming a Nature Reserve. Would they have got involved if it really was there only for dog walkers? It would seem somewhat counter intuitive (from the landowner’s perspective) to get involved with trying to improve an area for the benefit of wildlife if were indeed there specifically for dog walkers.

    With regards to my second question, I feel some points were missed. To quote directly from the Countryside Code:

    • Always keep dogs under control and in sight.
    • Care for nature – do not cause damage or disturbance.

    This brings me back to the original post. Whilst thankfully there has been no one killed or injured by a pack of out-of-control dogs, I have seen dog walkers (maybe they were professional, I can’t tell) with multiple dogs, all of which have been off the lead and often out of sight of the owner. Out of sight means the dog is not in control. Out of sight means that person does not know what the dog is doing and where it’s pooping.

    The second point – care for nature, I think there are a fair few dog owners that don’t care for nature. That much is evident from watching dogs run through the set asides and wooded areas.

    To the person that says all they see are measures to deter dog walkers, what measures exactly? As yet, nothing has been done to deter dog walkers. You essentially have a place to walk your dog where even the Countryside Code can be ignored – in a Nature Reserve of all places!

    This is just healthy discussion on a website. I think what this post is implying is that there should be some control over what happens in the park. And what is wrong with that?

    As I have said before, the place is big enough for everyone and it’s about time something was done to strike a balance so that it can be enjoyed by everyone. And let us not forget that first and foremost, this place is a Nature Reserve. It should be a place where:

    • The wildlife is protected and can flourish – pretty much the definition of a Nature Reserve.
    • People can go to quietly relax and enjoy nature in peace – areas without dogs.
    • People can walk their dogs – in some areas on the lead, in some areas off the lead.

    I would like to know what dog owners think of my last three points.

  7. It looks as though I sparked an interesting discussion. I wonder if any professional dog walkers are reading this. I wonder what they might say and whether they have a policy on numbers. And mentioning policy, what sort of insurance do they have? I believe that any event held in the reserve has to have public liability cover. Is dog walking for money an “event”?

    1. Thank you for raising the issue, David; discussion is good and hopefully will show the way forward. As wildphotogsimon says, there should be room for everybody: our beleaguered wildlife, walkers with children, walkers with dogs, wildlife photographers, volunteers, lovers, poets and parkrunners.

    2. I would imagine all professional dog walkers would have public lability insurance, it’s a fine line between walking some dogs for your friends and family to being a paid dog walker

  8. Southwick Country Park: out of the many thousands of dogs that walk and enjoy the park and the facilities ( can’t beat a coffee and cake at the cafe ) a very small percentage of dogs and their owners will spoil it for others, that gets more mentions than the large percentage of well behaved dogs and their owners who respect and treat the park well

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