I feel the need to vent in a big way! As a professional dog behaviourist and trainer it has been my passion to help dog owners to live with the best dogs possible. Dogs don’t want to be naughty, bad or aggressive. They want to be loved, just like we do. I have spent a small fortune on my education and have worked hard to develop solutions for owners of aggressive and/or out of control dogs.
When dogs misbehave there is a reason for this. The government, with their dangerous dogs act, wants to punish dog owners for having dogs that are out of control or aggressive, yet they have done nothing to help to prevent this from happening in the first place. I want to be able to educate dog owners so that their dogs need not become a challenge. I want to be able to provide a safe space which simulates the real world so that dogs can learn how to behave both indoors and outdoors.
For the last 8 years I have helped owners of aggressive dogs to rehabilitate their dogs by working with them in a large secure field, in the presence of other dogs and under careful supervision. This has been very effective. However, we lost the green belt field that we were using as it is to be developed as a luxury housing estate. As a result, I have been looking for a field. I have almost bought several, only to find at the last moment the landowner decided to sell to a neighbour.
My plans for a field include helping young pupies to habituate to livestock, learning to come when called in a large open space with some distractions in the local environment, to learn to feel safe around other dogs and not to show aggression towards them and to have as a place where clients can exercise their dogs without fear of meeting other dogs/people until they have been rehabilitated.
The changes to the law in May 2014 made it even more difficult for owners as their dogs cannot show aggression anywhere at any time or they can be breaking the law. Yes, even in your own garden and to a large extent inside your own home. The only exception is if your dog shows aggression to a burglar. So, now aggressive dogs cannot even be left to exercise in their own garden as, if a postal worker comes in unexpectedly and your dog bites him, you will be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act, a CRIMINAL act.
To an extent I do agree with this. We cannot allow dogs to bite people and we should not allow them to bite other dogs. Exercise is important in reducing stress and anger in dogs and can help rehabilitation. This is where my idea came in. To use a large safe field with access only to those who are booked to use it. This means dogs can be exercised safely and owners can have some peace of mind whilst rehabilitating them. As a dog behaviourist, it is now difficult to work with owners of aggressive dogs in the public space. If they act “in a manner considered dangerously out of control” (i.e. lunge out at someone or another dog) whilst in training with me in a public space, I could be prosecuted and, or sued.In law I can be considered the Keeper of the Dog as the dog is under my care as a trainer. This is a vulnerable position to be in as at this stage I have not been able to train a client how to have good control over their aggressive dog. There is no case law to give guidance on this.
So, when I found a piece of land, not near to dwellings, on which I plan not to do ANY development other than to put down gravel/surface for parking, I contacted East Dorset District Council and had a pre planning consultation. I was advised that my plans were considered acceptable in the Green Belt and THEY suggested that I created a gravel car park for ten cars. The planner consulted with a supervisor before giving me this opinion. I, therefore, put an offer on the field based on this meeting and submitted my planning application for change of use along with a fee of £385.00.
Surprisingly, and disappointingly, the council, even though there were no legitimate objections (one objected because they thought I was going to build a house on the land-which I am not) changed their mind. They refused change of use based on “undesirable intensification of the green belt”. My MAXIMUM use of the field as I stated in my proposal was for up to four classes per week which would comprise of up to 40 cars for the whole week and to use the field four days a week for people to exercise their dogs. In the winter months, 5 cars a day and in the summer up to 11 cars a day.
I find this astounding that the council can reject my application for change of use after they initially suggested it was an acceptable use under the green belt policy. It is disappointing that there is so little desire to prevent the issue of aggressive and out of control dogs making public parks safer. The government just wants to punish not prevent! How can the council say this is "undesirable intensification of the green belt" when they have given permission for the building of luxury dwellings at a LISTED site (Stapehill Abbey) so that the green belt field we had been using for years is no longer available? Surely this represents over intensification on a grand scale? The council, I understand, have also secured some of this land to use as allotments which they will presumably rent out for an income. Shame on you East Dorset District Council. I feel robbed!
I am aware that I could have just done this and then applied for change of use retrospectively. But the purchase of two acres plus the appropriate fencing does not come cheap and I could not afford to take the risk of being unsuccessful. Plus, I am a rule follower. I believe in doing the right thing.