A MAJOR campaign has been launched to encourage New Forest dog owners to walk their pets responsibly.
The New Forest Dog Owners Group (NFDOG) is seeking to highlight good and safe practices following incidents of dogs chasing wildlife after being let off their leads.
It has teamed up with the verderers, Forestry England and the national park to produce guiding principles and hopes to run a seminar this year.
A leaflet will go out with tips on responsible ownership and walking, plus credit card-sized sheet of information that agisters, verderers, and Forestry England Wardens can give out to owners not controlling their dogs.
NFDOG chair Heather Gould said: “The idea is not to be confrontational but to draw the attention of owners to behaviour which is not regarded as responsible and there is room for improvement.
“It is difficult to go up to a stranger and say that you’ve seen their dog behaving badly or that they are not exerting proper control. Indeed, they might not even be aware that their behaviour is not good and could be endangering other animals or themselves.
“But being able to give them a small credit card with some suggestions such as carrying a lead, having complete recall and control, and keeping your dog a safe distance from animals is an easy way to try and improve behaviour.”
The leaflet features simple guidelines and information about NFDOG, which has 1,300 members – of which only about a fifth own dogs in the New Forest.
Ms Gould added: “Our group’s roots are in promoting open access so that as many people and particularly dog walkers as possible can enjoy the Forest. But this only works if owners behave responsibly and keep their dogs under control.
“An example which we see ignored time and again is to clean up after dogs, and take waste home at the end of a walk.
“There is no doubt the bad behaviour by a tiny minority of owners, either through ignorance or laziness, affects the reputation of every single dog owner and dog walker in the New Forest.”
Another group who will be targeted are visitors to the New Forest, particularly those who stay on campsites with their dogs.
Camping in the Forest, jointly run by Forestry England and Camping and Caravan Club, will display posters at all sites to explain the New Forest’s livestock and wild animals.
A small two-sided card promoting responsible walking and welfare for dogs in the Forest, sponsored by Grovely Pets shop in Brockenhurst, has been produced as part of this campaign.
A separate initiative hoped to take place in the autumn will invite businesses and individuals who work with dog owners to a seminar where responsible walking and high welfare standards will be discussed. Lord Manners has agreed to chair the invitation-only event.
Ms Gould said: “NFDOG and other organisations including the verderers, Forestry England, and the national park authority realised that often attempts to reach dog owners are unsuccessful.
“We want to invite those people who interface directly with dog owners such as pet shops, dog walkers, groomers, kennels, and vets and talk to them about spreading the important message of responsible ownership and keeping dogs under control.”