Chiswick House changes rules on dog walking

Chiswick House has relaxed its instruction to visitors that dogs should be kept on a lead at all times in the House grounds. The change of heart comes after an outcry from dog walkers that their rules were unnecessarily stringent.

On Wednesday morning notices went up at the entrances to the Gardens saying: ‘Keep dogs on leads at all times’. The instruction sparked debate amongst the dog walkers who use the grounds regularly, many of whom were upset and annoyed that their pets could not be let off the leash for a good run.

The argument put forward for keeping dogs on a lead is that if they run off and interact with other people or dogs and their owners have to go and get them back, they are putting themselves in close proximity to other people.

Jan Preece, Chair of Chiswick House Dog Show organising committee told The Chiswick Calendar “Most dogs do come when called and the last time I saw a dog fight must be a year ago. In fact you take up more space if your dog is on a lead than you do if it’s running around. All dogs need to be able to have a run around”.

Having walked her dogs in Chiswick House Gardens every day for years, on Thursday she drove to Gunnersbury Park instead, where there is no such restriction. “People were either going to Gunnersbury or to Richmond Park” she told us. “Richmond Park advises that you keep your dog on a lead but they leave it up to the dog owner to decide”.

What are the rules?

The decision by Chiswick House was based on the advice of Hounslow Council and the Government, though Government advice isn’t clear.

On the Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people with animals page of the Government website there is nothing about keeping dog on leads. The advice merely says: ‘You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with walking your dog…. keep 2 metres away from other people and animals.’

On another page of the Government website, under Coronavirus – Guidance on access to green spaces, last updated 3 April, it says: ‘Please use the following guidance in order to stay safe: if walking your dog in areas used by other people, you should walk your dog on a lead to ensure you can safely keep 2 metres away from others’.

That’s the line which is taken by the Mayor of London’s office. Covid-19 Guidance for London Parks and Green Spaces says: ‘Keep your dog on a lead at all times to ensure you can safely keep 2 meters away from others.’ It is also the guidance given by Hounslow council. LB Hounslow Parks and open spaces and Covid-19 guidance: ‘Dog owners are asked to keep their dogs on a lead whilst in local parks and open spaces’.

“A reasonable compromise”

A spokesperson for Chiswick House & Gardens Trust told us:

“It is desperate times for Chiswick House & Gardens Trust, we have had to put most of the team on the furlough scheme so are down to skeleton staff and financially we have lost all of our commercial income – our primary source of income”.

They only have four gardeners and one ranger working at the moment, to try and keep the grounds open and looking good and to keep the thousands of visitors to the park safe.

“We want to assure all of our visitors and local community that we are doing our best during these trying times. We are following Government and London Borough of Hounslow guidelines which are changing daily”.

Head gardener Geraldine King met the chair of the Chiswick House Dog Show organising committee, Jan Preece, and they came to what Jan describes as a “reasonable compromise”.

Chiswick House will change its notices in the next few days to reflect a change of approach. Their guidance to park users now reads:

‘Please be kind and thoughtful as to where you take your exercise so others can do so in a safe way. We have not changed our dog control areas where dogs are prohibited or must be on leads but when the estate is busier, we respectfully ask dog walkers to walk dogs on leads to allow the maximum room for others to exercise’.

When the gardens aren’t so busy, the dogs can run free.