The number of roaming dogs in Hastings needs to come down, says Hastings District Council community safety manager John Payne.

Complaints about dogs roaming are up 20 per cent and roaming dogs are not only a potential risk to other animals and people but to themselves, Mr Payne says.

"We have seen in [the] media that two dogs returned home with shotgun injuries in the last fortnight and there are often cases of dogs being hit by cars while running loose.

"While council does not condone deliberately injuring dogs, under the law a dog can be destroyed or seized if it is attacking a person or stock or protected wildlife. The best way to keep your dog safe is to keep it home."

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There is also the potential for a roaming dog to injure people or pets.

"Nobody wants to believe that their animal will hurt anyone or anything, but it does happen. The outcome of that is, in most cases, the owner is prosecuted and the courts order the animal to be destroyed."

In the 12 months to June 30, the council received 1793 complaints about dogs loose in public places and 1082 dogs were impounded for roaming.

Council policy is that if a dog is registered and it is the first time it has been caught roaming, it is not the subject of recent complaints or classified dangerous or menacing, it will be returned to its home address.

Acting mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the council's focus was firmly on public safety.

"Most of our dog owners are very responsible but we need to ensure all our dog owners take the same care; especially around keeping their dogs at home.

"Council has always been proactive when it comes to educating people on the obligations of dog ownership. We must ensure that our residents can safely walk our streets without having to deal with uncontrolled dogs."

One of the real problems is that the more a dog roams the more it expands its territory, which increases the desire to roam, says the council's animal control manager, Lisa Hudson.

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While out on the loose dogs can toilet in inappropriate places, tear open rubbish bags, worry other people's pets and stock, fight with other dogs and chase cars and bikes.
That behaviour creates more public outcry about dogs, which leads to tighter laws and higher dog licence fees to pay for increased dog patrolling.

Allowing dogs to roam also increases the chances of them being stolen.

"All shapes and sizes of dogs are reported missing every day. Roaming dogs are an easy target and can be stolen and used in dog fights. Even non-fighting breeds can be used for practice," said Ms Hudson.

The main things that will discourage a dog from wandering are neutering (or spaying for bitches), regular feeding, good fencing, and lots of play and interaction with the family so it does not get bored. However, given the opportunity, dogs will still roam as it is in their nature.

Neutering works best at a young age as once roaming becomes a habit it is difficult to break. The dog may not go off looking for a mate but will continue to want to explore what it believes is its territory.