I’ve celebrated the arrival prematurely on at least a couple of occasions before, but, finally Wandsworth’s dog control orders have come into effect.

The delays ranged from misunderstandings (many people at first thought we were banning dogs from all parks) which caused a re-consultation, to technicalities (the cold weather meant the signs we need to display wouldn’t stick). But after lots of consultation and plenty of sticky signs staying stuck the orders came into force today.

As if to celebrate one my neighbours on the Shaftesbury Park Estate appears to have used the weekend to celebrate their dog’s last days of faecal freedom on the stretch of road on which I live – although that’s not unusual as the area has long had a problem with dog fouling.

Of course, rules alone do not solve problems, otherwise there would be no crime or anti-social behaviour. However, it does give the council’s dog unit (the country’s biggest) a much bigger set of tools to deal with dog related problems.

The council’s consultation on dog control orders ends tomorrow, so the news that two other councils, Lambeth and Southwark, are seeking to emulate the Wandsworth approach to dog-chipping is timely.

The dog control order consultation was extended following some rather misleading coverage in the press –  I know of at least one campaign that was started under the misunderstanding dogs were going to be banned from Battersea Park (in fact they are just banned from children’s play areas and the sports facilities, places they wouldn’t be walked anyway).  I have stated before that while I instinctively dislike additional regulation, the actions of a minority of irresponsible dog owners have made it necessary.

A few months ago I wrote about dog fouling on the Shaftesbury Park Estate.  The council’s dog control unit patrolled the area – in and out of uniform – but unfortunately achieved little, certainly if judged by the pavements near my house this morning.  While they did speak with some dog owners, none were caught doing anything we can take action over because, bizarrely, allowing your dog to foul the gutter or around a tree base is absolutely fine.  There is no need to pick up afterwards.

Likewise (and many are surprised to hear this) they have no powers to instruct dog owners to put their dogs on a leash on the public highway.  I know many, especially those with young children, feel uneasy when they see dogs of all breeds, on the streets and not under the direct and immediate control of their owner.

The council’s proposals are, I think, a reasonable and proportionate response to the fears and issues around irresponsible dog-ownership.  If you agree, I’d encourage you to go to respond to the council’s consultation, you can find out more at the council’s dog control consultation page.

I’m going to resist using lines like “taking the next step in the dog mess issue” and instead be fairly dull and straight-forward about this one.

The council are currently consulting on introducing dog control orders to various parts of Wandsworth.  These orders will add further conditions and controls on dog ownership in the borough and give the council a little more power to deal with problem dog owners.

Many people will be surprised that the rules don’t already exist.  For example, one suggested rule is that dogs should always be on the lead on the public highway.  At the moment dogs need to be under control, but this does not necessarily mean on a leash.  Another will make it an offence for a dog to foul the road.  While it’s already an offence to let a dog foul the pavement, it’s legally (though I would say not morally) absolutely fine to drag the dog to the gutter and then just walk away once its finished.

I think it’s a shame these are necessary.  I instinctively dislike anything that introduces more regulation, and  think it’s a shame we have come to the stage that we need to introduce rules that affect all dogs owners when the vast majority have never caused a problem of any sort with their dog.

Of course you might disagree with all or some of the proposed rules and that’s the point of consultation.  The council’s website provides full details of the rules and how you can comment.  And I’d be interested in hearing your views via the comments.

It was only a matter of time before I found myself having to write about dog fouling.  It is a fact of councillor life that, eventually, it’s a complaint you receive.  Indeed, over twenty years ago I joked about one of my teachers who was standing for council in the ward I lived in and had published a leaflet in which he promised to stamp out dog poo.  I’m not sure my humour has become any more sophisticated since then.

But that makes light of what is a real quality of life issue and, quite separately, I’ve had two residents in the space of a week complaining about dog fouling on the Shaftesbury Park Estate.  And living there I know how bad it is.

The council does do a lot and will prosecute irresponsible dog owners when we can.  Wandsworth has the country’s largest dog control team and are nationally recognised as experts.  The problem, however, is that people tend to become much more responsible when being watched, so simply having dog wardens on patrol simply shifts the problem to a road with no patrollers.

Because of this we are largely reliant on education.  We will pay advisory visits to dog owners, and spend a lot of time in schools to educate youngsters about the need to clear up after dogs.

So what can you do?  Well, if you are a dog owner, be a responsible dog owner and pick up after your pet.

If you are concerned about dog fouling and have some information let the council know.  Dog control can be contacted on 020 8871 7606, or give me the information and I’ll pass it on.  If you know who is responsible the information will be dealt with in confidence and the unit will pay an advisory visit to the dog owner.  If you are prepared to make a statement we will consider prosecution.  Even if you can just give locations, times and descriptions that will help.

For the Shaftesbury Park Estate I have asked the dog control unit to do an inspection in the area and, if possible, have a word with local dog owners, but this is one of those issues where the real solution is in the hands of those few dog owners residents who don’t clean up after their dogs.