There has been a meteoric rise in the number of professional dog walkers operating in the spa town, recruited by owners working longer hours who are unable to take their pets for their daily exercise.
But there has also been a spiralling number of complaints about people taking up to 10 dogs at a time, and being unable to keep them under control or clean up their mess, as they walk through Harrogate’s parks and gardens.
Now Harrogate Council has drawn up a code of conduct for professional dog walkers which includes the stipulation they can only walk six at any time, and threatens enforcement action unless the problem is brought under control.
Ian Clayton, 37, who left his job working for a water company to join the growing army of professional dog walkers a year ago, said the problem is caused by a small minority and he would be signing up to the new voluntary code of conduct.
“There is a temptation for people to take more dogs because then you make more money”, he said.
“But I am only insured up to five dogs anyway and most of the time I take them in twos and threes.
“I can see how it could be intimidating if you are out with your dog and a professional walker comes with five dogs.
“You can see the point of view from the public. I try to keep away from the general public as far as I can.
“There is a growing demand for dog walkers. I’m surprised at the amount of people doing it in Harrogate. There is a big market and people can make a very good living out of it.
“I’m one of the cheaper ones in Harrogate and I charge £8.50 per dog for 50 minutes, and £4.50 for 25 minutes.”
Among the new code of conduct, is not to walk the dogs off the lead without written permission from owners, to ensure every dog wears a collar with its owner’s name and address inscribed on it, and to clean up all mess at all times.
The code states no more than six dogs should be walked at any one time and recommends only four or less should be “normal practise”.
Most professional walkers also operate their own vans to transport dogs, and the new code states they should be properly kept inside and provided with adequate ventilation and water.
Coun Les Ellington, Cabinet member for public protection and rural affairs and the incoming Mayor of Harrogate, said: “This type of dog walking is growing very quickly, especially in a place like Harrogate. This is a voluntary code worked out between the professional dog walkers and the council.
“I was surprised to see the report, is not something reported on very often.
“I’m hopeful that it will work, my only comment on it was that I would like to have seen it limited to four dogs. The professionals themselves want to be seen as responsible people which is good and we are glad to support that. But if they are not going to abide by our agreement then we will not give our support to them.
“We could take steps further and make it compulsory. The next stage is looking towards enforcement action.
“I will keep a close eye on this.”
The code of conduct will be reviewed by the council to see if it is working after 12 months.
The decision by Harrogate Council follows action taken by Leeds Council earlier this year when it announced it was restricting the number of dogs which can be walked by a single person at the same time to four.
It has also excluded dogs from children’s play areas in some parks and given council staff the power to force owners to put their dog on a lead if it is causing a nuisance or annoyance.
The council has made it a criminal offence to breach the new orders – threatening people with convictions which can result in a fine of up to £1,000.