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.
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?