Providing a safe place where a dog can play outdoors has become a good business. This has happened because sometimes local authorities set down restrictions which demand that people keep their dog on a lead. And when dogs walk in the countryside they can harass livestock. In addition there is a surge in thefts of dogs in the UK. There is a need to find safe places where dogs can enjoy the outdoors. These factors have come together in the minds of some farmers who themselves have dogs and have questioned how they can allow their dogs to enjoy the outside safely. This has led some to diversify their businesses into providing dog services including opening up a field or fields to dog walkers where they can allow their dogs to run around off the lead in privacy and safety.
They have open websites to allow customers to book slots and the numbers are growing. There is no doubt that there is a demand for this sort of business. That’s why growing numbers of farmers are realising that what was once a potentially fractious relationship with dog walkers, because the dogs harassed their livestock, can be an amicable one when they convert their fields to dog playgrounds.
One couple who have done this are Catherine and David Cross as reported in The Times newspaper. They opened up a field as a dog playground and they asked a dog owning neighbour in Wymondham, Norfolk, if they knew anybody who would use it. They had hoped to attract some customers, perhaps about 10 dog owners per week. After six years they are fully booked “dawn until dusk”.
They opened a website and it has become way more successful than they had thought. They now have hundreds of dogs a week using their private playground.
“It has surprised us – it was like, who is going to pay to walk their dog but it is unbelievable what demand there is.” – Catherine Cross
Because of the demand for their dog playground which is a large, walled field, they have expanded their business with a dog-friendly café and a dog grooming salon together with an agility course.
Over the past three years other farmers have seen the advantages of this sort of business and have followed suit. Last year saw a particularly fast uptake. It is suggested that the success of the business is due to the problems of finding somewhere to let animals off the leash. Although there are no blanket laws requiring dogs to be kept on a lead many local authorities are introducing public spaces protection orders requiring dogs to be on a lead at all times.
And as mentioned there are problems in the countryside too with livestock being attacked and chased. A designated field where dog owners and dog can enjoy the space privately and safely is the answer for many.
In Norfolk, where Catherine and David live, there were three or four others in this sort of business but the numbers have doubled. One just opened about 2 miles away from them but it did not diminish the demand for their facilities, proving that the demand is high.
In Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, in 2018, Katie Guastapaglia opened Dogwood Adventure Play (featured in photos on this page). Her inspiration at least partly came from requiring a safe space to exercise her rescue dog, Lao. Having started the business she received many queries about it and started a consultancy. Once again an expansion on the basic concept. She gets about 10 enquiries a week from people wanting to open facilities: “It tends to be either farmers’ wives or people who are moving away from equestrian facilities”.
Most of the enquiries are from people who want to diversify and expand their businesses. A website listing these facilities called Dog Walking Fields, lists more than 450 such operations. Another is Cullingworth Pooches Playground, in Oakworth, West Yorkshire, owned and run by Chris Atkinson and his wife Nikki. They provide day care services and rental of a secure field.
The RSPCA companion animals apartment is pleased by the development because they improve dog welfare especially for those dogs who are fearful of other dogs and those undergoing recall training. The dogs can be off the lead legally in the outdoors where they can run around freely. The increase in dog theft during the pandemic has also made these places more attractive.
Councils are finally getting their heads around this kind of business and granting planning permission. For farmers who open this sort of business it benefits them too because local dog owners can walk in a protected space provided by them which in turn protects their livestock from being harassed. It’s a win-win situation.