Poo-in-the-hedge: why dog walkers chuck bags of poo into bushes

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

At this time of year the leaves begin to flutter from the hedgerows as the winter draws on. We countryside managers are about to discover just where the summer’s clutch of dog-poo bags have been hidden this year. It’s something that The Ranger has considered before, and he is delighted to discover that a very comprehensive new bit of research on this topic has just been published, carried out just over the water in Hampshire – and at some of the sites he used to work on no less.

Understanding the Psychology of Walkers with Dogs

So, what’s the answer? The research included in-depth focus group discussions with many dog walkers, and part of the results were as follows:

…it was often commented that some members of the’out-group’ would bag their dog’s mess, but then fling it into a nearby bush or tree once out of sight of other people. Such walkers appear to be conforming to the subjective norms of the community of dog walkers (the’in-group’) in order to be accepted by that group and/or not reported by their peers to a site warden. Once out of sight, their own beliefs and attitudes concerning how to deal with their dog’s mess prevail. The fact that the’bag it and fling it’ dog walkers want at least to be seen to be part of the’in-group’ suggests that there is scope for promoting groups and group norms. It also substantiates the need for agreement on what is acceptable behaviour amongst the group and the extent to which deviant behaviour should be tolerated in’exceptional’ circumstances or exposed as not conforming to the group norm. For example, at one site, a participant had independently erected simple notices to the effect that’bag it and fling it’ behaviour was not acceptable to other dog walkers, with some noticeable improvement in reducing the activity as a result.

So, they do it because they think they can get away with it, and if they thought they’d be caught they wouldn’t do it. Perhaps that wasn’t too hard to predict. It is noticeable that the Warden is an important element in this process, too. Perhaps more helpfully, the research does include many suggestions for constructive ways forward on the dog mess and many other issues. It’s well worth a read for that alone. For example:

It is possible to use group cohesion and peer pressure to encourage people to behave in a desirable manner. However, messages need to be constructed in a way that reinforces group norms. For example, on the issue of dog mess, norms might be communicated via appropriate signage, such as: “All of our responsible dog walkers pick up after their dogs, please join in”, or, together with picture of someone walking away from dogs mess: “What makes you special? Please pick up after your dog

The entire document is most illuminating and positive, and gives The Ranger plenty of ideas to try out. Have a read. What do you think?

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

9 thoughts on “Poo-in-the-hedge: why dog walkers chuck bags of poo into bushes

  • 10th February, 2016 at 8:09 pm
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    It’s quite simple really – people are encouraged not to throw litter but put it in the bin. If you want dog walkers to pick up after their pets – PROVIDE BINS! DO NOT expect people to lug bags of dog toilet for miles. Providing bins is a reasonable and sensible way to compromise. You cannot change the rules of dog ownership without compromise. I’ve had my dogs for 12 years. This rule did not exist when i got my dogs. I do pick up – but only where there are bins to dispose of it. NO bin – no pick up. Simples!

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  • 16th May, 2012 at 1:31 pm
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    The way I see it is if you have a dog you accept that you have to pick up the poo wherever you may be. I live in a city and pick up my dog’s poo! I also enjoy regular trips to the peak district where I also pick up his poo and if there are no bins, I double bag it and carry it in the netted side pocket of my rucksack until I come across a bin – simples!

    It is not acceptable to leave dog poo in the countryside even if it is off the main path. Dog poo adds nutrients to the soil which in large amounts could damage our semi-natural habitats, many of which rely on poor nutrient status. Similarly, to categorise dogs as equals to our wild mammals is just a poor excuse for not wanting to pick up and carry your dog poo for a few miles. Dogs are domesticated animals that would not be in the countryside if it weren’t for their owners taking them there in the first place!

    I know this is unhelpful in terms of what to do about the ‘bag it and fling it’ imbeciles, but I just wanted my two-penneths worth!!! :o)

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I wasn’t aware that only herbivores poulated our countrysides!!

    I would posit that one of the main reasons people chuck the bags in bushes is due to the complete lack of bins in which to put the bags afterwards. I’ve walked miles with a bag of poo before, which is not pleasant.

    As supportive evidence, look at Kingley Vale, a popular walking spot, they have a sign up about picking up dog mess but no bin, thus next to the sign by the car park is a grand pile of bags of poo. Would a bin be too much to ask?

    I’ve noticed that at some popular walkplaces they have a fenced area to walk your dog in where they can go to toilet before the walk & it can be left there. Although I’m not sure how viable that is considering the many places people walk their dogs!

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    dog faeces should not be equated with herbivore faeces. As a farmer friend put it to me once w.r.t behaviour of dog owners on farmland. How would you like someone to defaecate on your breakfast!

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    However, it would be helpful if there would be some BINS to put the bags in after cleaning up.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Having just come back from a walk in the Lake District, I can vouch for the many little red plastic bags left by dog walkers. Is the problem that ‘town’ behaviour of picking up dog dirt is wrongly being applied to the countryside? Many animals (sheep, foxes, badgers, hunting dogs etc) leave their poo and it quickly disintegrates. Surely, there’s no harm leaving dog poo to naturally vanish instead of leaving plastic bags that stay around for years. Just ask dog owners to make sure their pet poohs away from paths. And for goodnesss sake always keep them on a lead! Town dogs and sheep do not mix.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    You’re not wrong – any ranger can vouch for the bald patch that surrounds that first tree/post/sign beyond the car park. But what can you do?

    See here for a post which obliquely refers to this problem from the human, rather than canine, perspective.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    While this is useful in a poo (#2) context, I feel the greater threat is pee(#1.)

    Environmentally, #2, given enough time, actually greens its deposit area on my lawn, whereas #1 will actually kill the grass.

    Sadly, the distinction seems to offer no novel solutions beyond peer pressure and raising awareness, so I think you for calling global attention to this critical issue.

    Reply
    • 3rd June, 2020 at 12:35 pm
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      What’s the point of bagging dog poo and then littering the surroundings with a poo in a plastic bag???? Surely, it’s lesser evil to just let the poo rot in the grass. In a plastic bag it has zero chance of doing so. Hello, that plastic eventually gets into our streams and oceans. Well done, ‘responsible’ dog owners. If you want a dog in the society, you must obey the law. Otherwise, pay a fine.
      Carry the responsibility (and poo) home if you must!
      But, hey ho, people can’t even dispose of their mattresses (outside their homes) and empty fried chicken boxes (on transport).
      What hope is there for ‘civilisation’?
      We can’t and won’t live like a civilised respectful society. No hope.
      Irresponsible dog ‘owners’ (I really feel sorry for you and your dogs!)
      I DESPISE YOU.
      There, I’ve said it.

      Reply

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