Would “In-Your-Face” Signs Make Dog Owners Think Twice About Leaving Poo Behind?

Ronan Gallagher said he doesn’t always notice the signs around Clontarf, where he lives, that tell people to pick up their dog poo.

And he’s not the only one he thinks looks past them, he says. “Obviously people aren’t paying attention to them based on the amount of dog poo that’s on the streets.”

Usually, they say something like “Glan suas é – bin the poo” or “On the spot fine – €150”. There’s sometimes a cartoon of a cute dog doing its business, slashed through with a red line.

But “it needs to be more in-your-face. More upfront”, he says.

There’s been an uptick in dog poo issues in the area, says Gallagher, and Clontarf Tidy Towns are planning their own signage to try and draw dog walkers’ attention to the impact of their mess, but they want more to be done by the council too.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says it has installed “hundreds” of signs around the city, and installs them in response to complaints.

In-Your-Face

Dog poo is a big problem in Stoneybatter too, says Louisa Moss, a local resident.

And the signage could be improved, she says. “Something a bit more in-your-face. You’re talking about poo, you know.”

Signs need to be more direct, she says. “No one’s going to pick it up for you.”

Gallagher says he thinks the Dublin City Council signs are too cartoon-y. “I wonder, would more eye-catching signs do the trick?”

There needs to be a catchy tagline and an image from CCTV footage of the offending act, that people can recognize their own actions in, Gallagher says. “It needs to be dramatic. Or maybe something humorous.”

Moss mentions an anti-dog-poo sign that went viral online recently. So does Gallagher. The sign says it is from Papaki Park in New Zealand.

“Why are you not picking up your dog shit?” the sign reads. “I’m a jerk. I don’t care about this area or the community. I’m lazy. Mummy still cleans up after me.”

“Don’t be a tosser,” it continues. “Pick up your dog shit.”

Expletives and the direct tone appeal to Gallagher, he says.

In York in the United Kingdom, the city council also based a campaign around the call “don’t be a tosser”.

It was to catch people’s attention, said Keith Aspden, a Liberal Democrats councillor and council leader with responsibility for policy, strategy and partnerships.

“We were brave and used the T-word,” he said. “We were careful to nuance the language so as not to cause offence.”

Photo of a sign in Durham courtesy of John D Clare.

It’s hard to say whether having funnier signs had more impact as there seems to be little data around it.

Wide sharing of the signs on social media were taken by the York council to be a positive response, Aspden said. It meant everyone wanted the city to look attractive.

“We all want to enjoy the city but we don’t want people to be ‘tossers’: take your litter back home and don’t leave a dangerous eyesore for others to clean up,” he said.

The Papaki Park sign, which was widely shared online, was not created by the Rangitikei District Council in New Zealand. The council doesn’t know who created it.

“We had designed something similar and the concept was used by someone in relation to dog waste,” said Carol Gordon, a group manager for the council.

“We would not normally use the word shit in any of our signage,” said Gordon. The actual sign they used had the phrase, ‘Don’t be a tosser.’”

They’d gotten queries from all over the world about the sign, says Gordon, which showed that the humour had an impact.

But since it’s not their own sign, they don’t have figures on whether it prevented people leaving dog poo behind, she says.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it did use funny and humorous signs in the past. “But as dog fouling is such a serious issue, [the council has] reverted to using serious signage.”

The anti-dog-waste signage it currently puts up includes a welcome to the area and the message “Bag it and Bin it”, said the council spokesperson.

Dublin City Council didn’t have figures for whether anti-dog poo-signs are effective, or how different messaging may have worked in the past.

When the council analysed whether audio devices worked to deter illegal dumping, it did find there was at least an 82 percent reduction in illegal dumping in places they installed them, they said.

Socially Unacceptable

Last week, Dublin City Council started trialling Dog Waste Watch, a new method of calling out dog walkers for leaving waste behind.

In Mount Bernard Park in Cabra, a large screen displays footage from 11 March 2020, of local dog owners letting their dogs relieve themselves, and then leaving it on the ground.

The campaign is there “to remind irresponsible dog owners that their community is watching them”.

“This is pretty good,” said Moss, the Stoneybatter resident. “We definitely need to be raising people’s awareness and increasing education around it.”

Labour Councillor Mary Freehill says she thinks more “draconian” measures are needed at this stage, like heavy fines. “There should be serious consequences if people don’t clean up after them.”

“Dog poo has increased, and we have to find ways of dealing with it. We need more inspectors,” she said. “Signage doesn’t seem to be doing it very much.”

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne says he thinks it needs to be seen as socially unacceptable to leave dog poo behind you. “An awful lot of [offenders] still don’t get that.”

“No one would attempt to have a cigarette indoors in a public building. That’s not really because of the law, it’s because it’s seen as socially unacceptable.” He says leaving dog poo should be treated with the same attitude.

The message needs to be drummed in via every possible media, Dunne says. “You can have as much legislation as you like. The public basically has to take a position.”

Gallagher says he hasn’t yet seen someone in the act of leaving their dog’s waste behind. But if he saw it happening, he’d be happy to say something.

“Someone I know said they said it to someone. They just ignored them, and carried on,” he says.

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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