The RSPCA wants more legislation for 'unregulated' professional dog walkers

by Hayley O'Keeffe

Ever see dog walkers with six, eight or even 10 dogs in tow?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

New legislation is on the way which not only protects dogs from walkers who don’t understand dog welfare, but also lays out what dogs really need to have a happy life.

RSPCA dog welfare specialist Sam Gaines spoke about her concerns around dog walking, on a recent episode of dog guru Anna Webb’s A Dog's Life podcast.

The broadcaster and dog behaviour expert’s weekly podcast explores all aspects of modern dog ownership. Talking to scientists and experts, Anna unravels why every dog is extraordinary.

Not afraid of being slightly subversive, in episode 21 she discusses why dog walkers and doggy daycare could be a cause of many behavioural and lifestyle issues.

The dog walking industry is unregulated

Gaines explained how the 2006 Animal Welfare Act helped the RSPCA greatly, as, for the first time, it allowed the charity to intervene before cruelty has occurred.

But the charity’s head of companion animal science and policy also said that new rules are desperately needed, as the dog walking industry is currently unregulated, and is enjoying a boom.

Supporting news that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to review the rules next year, Gaines said, “We are concerned about the lack of regulation around dog walking. In October 2018 there were new regulations that were introduced and they cover a number of different activities that involve animals in England for example dog breeding, dog boarding, dog home care etc, but unfortunately dog walkers were not included.

"But we want to see this profession regulated. In some areas, local authorities licence dog walkers, but it's a real postcode lottery and sadly there are commercial dog walkers out there who are very prepared to exploit the need for dog walking services.

"We have seen an explosion in it in recent years and more and more people are using those sorts of services.

"But you do see people who are offering to exercise too many dogs, and in conditions which don't provide for dog's welfare needs in general.

"The RSPCA is very much of the view that we need to see regulation around this part of the industry, not only to protect dog welfare, but also to give the owners the assurance that their dog is being well looked after.

"In some cases people think they are doing right by their dog, but in fact they are paying money to someone who doesn't understand dog welfare."

'Dogs adapt - but it doesn't mean they're happy'

Gaines also said that, since the pandemic the charity has been busier than ever, with many turning to a furry friend for comfort during the uncertain and lonely lockdown period.

But she also said that the sharp increase in dog ownership, and demand it creates, has led to problems which in the short and long term will impact on quality of life for the animals.

"It does worry me the number of friends that I have who have just gone out and got a dog and not necessarily thought about it, or thought about how best to get a dog," Gaines commented.

"It makes quite a few of my friendships very strained. It's very easy for people to get dogs, to bring them into their life and dogs are so adaptable that they will just get on with what's going on in their life, but it doesn't mean that they are happy.

"People really do know that dogs need exercise, but whether that translates into their behaviour is a very different thing.

"Dogs see their world through their nose, and what we do has a massive impact when it comes to walking."