Local issues will have a great influence on the most effective management approach. It is vital to engage with dog walkers to both understand current behaviours and needs, and provide reassurance that any changes are not motivated from an “anti-dog” perspective.
Developing positive, open rapport is the first step in avoiding conflict and encouraging mutual respect; perceptions need to be managed just as much as more tangible issues. This can be achieved through:
- Encouraging staff to go out with their dogs to make contacts.
- On-site canine notice boards, offering positive messages about useful services and facilities alongside any restrictive messages.
- Being seen to understand and acknowledge the benefits of dog ownership, and undertaking work that is helpful to dog owners.
- On-site doggie “pit-stops” with petfood samples.
- Canine activity trails that promote fun, healthy exercise for dogs and owners, and develop better off-lead control.
- ‘Dog-days’ with competitions, stalls & services.
- Hosting dog-training events, classes and sports.
- Ensuring dog owners can access other events, guided walks, etc.
Contacting dog clubs and organisations can be helpful, although they may not always have detailed local knowledge or represent the full range of dog-owning site users.
Using a positive aspect of a dog’s appearance or behaviour is an excellent icebreaker: “what a well groomed dog!”. Conversely requests to change behaviour are best directed at the owner, and for the dog’s benefit: “Your dog will be safer if you...”
When approaching a dog walker, always do so from the side so you can be seen, and avoid initial direct eye contact with the dog. Stroking a dog and kneeling down helps build rapport, but always ask first; dogs may be wary due to negative past experiences with other people. Carry a few dog biscuits and poo bags too!