Parkrun in the UK is an organisation which administers, as far as I’m aware, the weekly 5 km job for allcomers. It happens across the UK and it is very popular. It happens near me. And it is popular with dog owners because it’s an opportunity for them to exercise their dog at the same time. In order to achieve this, they wear a waist leash (waist harness).
The Parkrun organisers have decided that dog waist leashes are dangerous. That’s because the dogs run ahead of the owner and moves from left to right and in doing so they can trip up another runner in front of the dog’s owner.
Parkrun said in a blog post:
“This can result in the dog suddenly and unexpectedly crossing in front of other participants on the course.”
This they say is because, “the nature of park running with a waist harness is such that the lead allows dogs to move from side to side in front of the participant”.
The new rule has caused consternation. For example, Kevin Ward, 46, a finance company director from Suffolk has quit his role as a director of a junior Parkrun league in protest. He’s complained that the organisers don’t listen to the participants and are making decisions in an ivory tower. He complains that it is illogical to ban dog waist leashes.
The waist dog harness fits around the waist and allows owners to jog with their pooches without the need to hold a lead. They’re going to be banned from April 2. In lieu of this method of controlling a dog they will allow a handheld non-extendable lead. Ward says that the rules are inconsistent as handheld leads are no safer than waist harnesses.
He believes that Parkrun organisers have banned the waist harness because they think it causes cheating as the dog pulls the runner along.
Ward has set up an alternative breakaway league called Barkrun. Clever. Many other dog owners have vented their disappointment, even anger on social media. They feel that they are now excluded from a weekly event which is designed to be inclusive. They feel excluded which undermines or compromises the Parkrun ethos.
It’s been argued that the handheld lead can potentially harm the dog if it’s not on properly. He claims that there have been some bad accidents with handheld leads.
The Dogs Trust largely agrees with Mr Ward. They told the BBC that there was little evidence to support the argument that waist harnesses are linked to an increase in injuries. However, they did say that running with a dog can be a potential hazard.
Parkrun argued that more than 10% of incidents at events involved dogs. They consider the matter very carefully and studied the nature of the incidents which are dog-related.
I took a look at Facebook and noticed that the Killerton Parkrun have followed suit. They say that, “We had a small child knocked over by the dog running down through the woods. This is now becoming a regular Health & Safety issue for Killerton Parkrun. They say that they don’t want to ban dogs but that something has to be done. They will allow runners with dogs to use a “short hand held lead”.
Note: This is an embedded FB post. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.
They emphasise that runners cannot use a dog harness that’s strapped to a runner. The comments to this post which you can see on this page tell me that dog owners would prefer if the organisers allowed them to start from a separate position in order to separate dog owners from non-dog owners. And/or use a different route. Once again to separate the participants.
There is a general unhappiness among the participants to the Killerton Parkrun because they enjoy both the run and taking their dogs with them. One participant said that he runs with his dog on a harness limited to 1 m. That, too, would avoid the cause of injuries as set out by the Parkrun organisers. They would be no free play in the leash to allow a dog to run in front of another runner.
My thoughts having studied this briefly is that the Parkrun organisers could have employed a different method to improve health and safety while also maintaining the inclusivity of the Parkrun by allowing dogs to run with their owners on waste harnesses but under different rules.