What Influences Dog Owners to Pick Up After Their Pets?

New research delves into the minds of dog walkers to find out why they don't pick up after their pets, and it's not because they "forgot" to bring a baggie.

If you're a dog owner, picking up after your pooch isn't the most glamorous job, but it has to be done. However, some owners neglect to pick up their dog's leavings, or bags full of their waste sit on the side of street. But why? Zazie Todd from Pacific Standard writes on a study that gets into the mind of the dog walker and the question of choice: To pick up the dog poo or not?

Researchers began their investigation by surveying several dog walking locations across the United Kingdom to see how bad the dog waste problem was. The online survey was completed with the help of 933 participants who walked popular paths to measure out how much poo was present.

In March and April of 2010, eight footpaths in Lancashire were checked for dog leavings. These paths included a mixture of urban and rural locations. They found 40 instances of dog waste in the space of 25 meters along a canal and near a reservoir, participants found 269 bagged pieces of dog poo in 1,000 meters.

The instances of bagged dog waste makes you wonder—the worst part of picking up the poo is over, why leave it on the side of the path? Is it an absence of trash cans? But researchers noted that in one path that had no bins, there was a lower level of feces present. So, perhaps the lack or presence of trash cans is not the answer to our original question. To find the answer, researchers developed an interesting questionnaire to figure out the psychology of a dog walker when it comes to picking up poo.

Todd makes a good point in her article, noting that people often put their best selves forward when they answer a survey. So, why would dog walkers divulge that they occasionally “forget” a bag or neglect to pick up their pet's waste. The researchers made the survey less about the poo and more about being a dog walker, and the results are still quite interesting. Almost all of the dog walkers agreed that people should pick up their pet's waste off the pavement and at parks. But participants didn't think they should always have to pick up their pet's poo. When it came to the countryside, 34 percent of pet owners believed they shouldn't have to pick up after their dog. When asked why they should pick up after their pet, most respondents chose because it's “the right thing to do” (reducing the spread of disease came in second).

Researchers wrote of their findings:

“The path audits suggested that visibility was a key factor in the behaviour of dog walkers with respect to dog waste and that some owners may only clean up after their dogs when obliged to (e.g. in the presence of others). It was considered that given the opportunity these dog walkers would seek to discard the bagged dog waste as quickly as possible and respondents considered that this was also an important factor influencing this behaviour.”

It would seem the pressure of being seen doing the right thing carries great weight. But there are some significant perceptions about certain locations that dictate whether it's ok to leave a pet's waste (i.e. livestock farms and the countryside). Perhaps this new study can help alter these perceptions, but it's difficult to change how people feel about actually picking it up, especially when no one's around to see you not do it.

Read more at Pacific Standard

Photo Credit: Robert F Gabriel/Flickr

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