PROFESSIONAL dog walkers are to be targeted under ground-breaking new controls aimed at regulating the growing industry.
Edinburgh will become the first Scottish authority to standardise commercial dog walking by forcing all firms to sign a code of conduct and hold insurance in return for a permit to work at council-owned parks.
Enforced by environmental wardens, paid dog walkers who fall foul of the guidelines or fail to produce a permit can be evicted from the park. Persistent offenders will see their licence revoked.
The move comes after six swans were savaged and a lawyer attacked in separate incidents by out-of-control dogs being walked by “professionals” over the last three years.
Bruce Thomson, spokesman for the Professional Dog Walkers’ Association, was among those to devise the eight-point code of conduct to establish best practice in Edinburgh.
He said: “I think this is a positive thing because it helps give a bit of clarity to the industry.
“The council will have a register of who is operating and if there are any problems it will be much easier to deal with.”
Mr Thomson said the beefing up of dog walking rules is tied to changes in park management which now requires firms to seek permission if making money on council land.
He said: “This has been worked on for around 18 months and while there hasn’t been a large number of incidents that’s not to say this isn’t necessary and will help determine how many incidents there are.”
There are thought to be around 50 professional dog walking firms in the Capital who must now apply for a permit by sending their contact details and consent to abide by the code to City Chambers.
Born in America, the craze of professional dog walking swept into the UK several years ago and has since become a growth industry with some practitioners reportedly earning more than £40,000 a year.
The first man in Edinburgh to move into the trade, Brian Armstrong, started his company after he saw dog walking featured on a programme set in New York. At the time he was facing losing his job as a delivery driver.
The elderly or infirm are understood to be the biggest users of dog walking services but longer working hours among young professionals has also helped boost its popularity.
Environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Requiring professional dog walkers to register with us shouldn’t cause any major issues to the majority of professionals who already practice in a safe and responsible manner.
“By subscribing to the code, they can minimise their impact on the parks and other users, set a positive example to other dog walkers and deliver a quality service for their clients.”
Richard Thompson, 43, who has run Edinburgh Dog Walkers since 2006, said a more standardised industry was a “sensible option”.
“Anyone walking more than six dogs is probably breaching their insurance,” he said.
“There can be freak accidents but the council has been taking the right steps of late to regulate it better.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to do much more than we have already unless there are other major incidents in future.”
What you’ll need to get your permit
1. Dog walkers must clean up after those animals for which they are responsible.
2. Dogs must be kept “under proper control” – in line with the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act
3. Commercial walkers should use quiet parks, or less-populated areas, to exercise multiple dogs and minimise their impact on other park users.
4. All dogs should be leashed when walking to and from a vehicle.
5. There must be public liability insurance cover for their service.
6. It is recommended that a maximum of six to eight dogs are walked at any one time.
7. Practitioners should have a “good knowledge” of dog behaviour and reliable skills in training and handling dogs.
8. They should be aware of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and council park management rules.
It’s a mutt-have
INSURANCE expert Charles Foster, a director at Cliverton – one of the UK’s leading animal-related insurers – said a standard premium for a dog walker would cost a total of £110 per year.
“That’s broadly competitive with other insurers,” he said. “Public liabilty relates to any compensation that has to be paid to a member of the public who suffers loss or injury as a result of their actions. In dog walking, the most common complaint is the dog biting a person or another dog.
“There is often a claim for a doctors or vets visit and that can be claimed on this policy. An alternative example is that a dog gets off
the lead, runs across a road and causes motor accidents.”