Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Please, Because and Or Else!

Of all the things we have done over the years getting rid of dog shit has probably been our greatest success. The reasons, are simple:

It is universally hated, so unifying.
We have succeeded where many others fail.
It stops people doing good things like walking to school.

One of our projects at Nick Meech Design was an improvement scheme in Newport, a district of Barnstaple in North Devon. The Life and Cycle project wanted to encourage more people to walk to school enjoying the green areas on the way. It was funded by Sustrans and Devon County Council and finished a couple of years ago.
I was out with friends the other evening and was introduced to someone from Barnstaple. When I mentioned I had worked on the Newport path, she exclaimed 'the dog shits gone!' so two years on it's still worthy of comment and of all the interesting things we did there, more of which in later blogs, it turns out to be the most enduring and important. So what can be learnt from revisiting this project?:
  • Ask people what they want, but only if your prepared to listen.
  • Only promise what you are willing and able to deliver.
  • Get as many people as possible pulling in the same direction or all that energy will be wasted.
It's only now that we can see how important getting rid of the dog mess was, and how successful the solution has been.

So what shall we do with this valuable experience?
  • Tell anyone who has the same problem how we did it. Ah, did I mention its really difficult?
  • Help to ask communities if they want you to get rid of the dog shit from their space.
  • Contract individual elements that people may not be able to deliver. 
  • Provide help if there are others that need persuading. Especially if there are officials who could stop it being successful. 
  • Carry out the whole process with a community, while teaching a manager or team how to replicate it elsewhere.
The last four points are me selling you stuff but I urge you to take the first free information and make it work yourself.

How to get rid of dog mess from your paths and open spaces with:
 PleaseBecause and Or Else!


Build a consensus. Dog mess unifies people so it's easy to get agreement across a community and lots of organisations. If you do this step first, during the next step of asking for help and action you can point to the support you already have. This is particularly relavent when dealing with politicians and officials.

Get agreement across local service providers like council departments, institutions and land owners that support is available and there is the political will to solve the existing problem. Try to get written support from managers and those who will help deliver the campaign. If local people want to change things for the better but officials and politicians are not bothered then it may be your job to highlight the problem and insist something is done. It often saves money for the council so they will be keen to stop it in your area. Its cheaper to stop the problem long term than to keep clearing it up or trying to stop people with an over stretched dog warden.

Define the geographic area, a length of path or park boundary is ideal. The important thing is that you are able to deliver within it so avoid an area for example where yourself or partners don't have control over the dog bins.

Sites for displaying posters should be identified and agreed with partners, additional temporary sites may be required. These can be fences, dog bins, existing noticeboards and lamp post signs. 

Set dates for the 6 week campaign split into three two week sections ensuring all partners are available while paying particular attention to schools at the start, police and dog wardens at the end and press and publicity throughout.

The key to the campaign is the three stages. The traffic light colours make sense to people but it will not work if you start with zero tolerance. There is method and experience behind this and it does work.
  • Please: Pick it up, bin it, keep our space safe and other polite slogans. 
  • Because: It can make me ill, I don't think its fair you are spoiling it for everyone and other hard hitting reasons. 
  • Or Else!: You will be caught and prosecuted, will get fined £200 and other zero tolerance threats. 
Explain what is happening in the area, this needs to be done on site with posters, in the community in public meetings and by using local media including papers, radio and TV to publicise and support the campaign.

Poster designs
If there is a school nearby ask if you can work with them to design the posters. 
Ideally you would go in and set the design brief yourself so the whole issue can be discussed and the school can become your ally. Being mentioned in assembly can be useful even if only one class is directly involved. 

The brief should be tight and well considered and aim to be popular with teachers and students. It should include the three phases Please, Because and Or ElseCare should be taken to be factual and eye catching. Explain not all posters will be used and be guided by the school if it should be in the form of a competition. 
If there is no classroom time ask if a breakfast or after school club can help as they are often more flexible and have mixed age groups which results in a more cooperative approach.  
Take materials you would like used like thick pens in green, amber and red so you don't end up with little pencil sketches that are not usable.

Posters should be laminated, cutting off the corners first so drawing pins don't let in water.

The work in schools will also help by students telling parents and others about the campaign and start to build the peer pressure.

Deep clean

After the project has been explained the whole area needs to be thoroughly cleaned. All traces of dog mess need to be removed and if possible a synchronised clean up of litter should be done. The objective is to get everyone regularly using the area to appreciate the difference and to join in the commitment to keep it looking good.
The staff whether direct council labour, contractors or volunteers should all have necessary training and equipment to do the job safely. 
Once the area is clean, regular patrols need to be started to identify and mark all new fouling. The frequency of these patrols will depend on the extent of the problem and amount of usage. But a minimum of once a day is required at the start. Each time new fouling is found it needs recording, this can be done simply with map and note pad or by using smart phones or other GPS technology. The objective is to highlight repeat offenders. I like to use spray marker to mark each location changing colour every day to show it has been noticed. People will notice a series of different colours in the same place and realise you are on to them. When regular fouling is noted you can start to narrow down what time of day it is appearing. During three of four days you can narrow it down to the nearest two hours and be pretty sure its the same dog. Every attempt should be made to observe them in the act. If you cannot take appropriate enforcement action yourself record the information including an address or car details they return to, reporting it to the dog warden so appropriate action can be taken.

The objective is to use the first two weeks to publicise the campaign and get support. Only then should you start telling people it must stop. Even then give everyone the benefit of the doubt and resist getting heavy handed. Only after all else has failed should the law be used to show that it will not be tolerated and everyone must comply. 

Even a mindless offender moving into a new area will think twice if it's clean. 

Who are they?

There are generally two types of offenders, the thoughtless and the mindless. 

The thoughtless often appear oblivious to what is happening always looking the other way and could be said to be in denial. These people can typically be discouraged by grabbing their attention and applying peer pressure. A fear of being caught works with them and their offending will reduce quickly as the campaign gets more hard hitting.
The good news is these form the majority of offenders and are easier to deal with than the mindless. It's best to stop the thoughtless first, isolating the mindless who will need more persuasion.

The mindless are more difficult to understand. They don't seem to care and are far more resilient to both the campaign and the peer pressure it encourages. They are often known and disliked by good dog owners and even dog wardens. They can be aggressive when challenged and so should only be approached by those prepared for abuse and trained to deal with aggressive behaviour. 

This process through Please, Because and Or Elseis designed to isolate the mindless at the end of the project. The enforcement phase can then target the remaining few who cannot be stopped by other methods. It is best not to try to prosecute in the first two phases escalating the uniformed presence towards the end and keep resources including the police to a very concentrated zero tolerance crescendo.

Punctuating the project with press coverage works well and should be planned from the start. Embargoes on press releases should ensure the press keep to the Please, Because and Or Else! and don't jump straight in with a zero tolerance headline during the first two phases.

Dog Bins
These are not in themselves the solution, especially if there is insufficient budget for regular emptying and maintenance. Be careful when asking what people would like as if more bins are not an option some good dog owners may be upset. Better to establish this first and make it plain if not achievable.
You can stop dog fouling with no dog bins but you cannot stop it with only dog bins. 

Using ordinary litter bins for disposal of bagged dog waste is not a bad idea as long as those emptying the bins have agreed. Double bagging is recommended. 

Prohibition Signs
As overuse of these leads to familiarity, they are best not plastered on every lamp post. This type of sign is better used to ensure people understand the law. Changing signage on a regular basis is more effective and makes an impression. Cartoons are very useful which can be both light hearted and hard hitting at the same time. There will always be someone who finds them offensive but there needs have to be balanced with the offensive behaviour of the dog fouling itself.

Topics to highlight include:
Wheelchairs and pushchairs.
Children playing.
Sports fields.
Discarded bags.

One problem that may affect your area that needs to be identified is people driving to the site from some distance to walk their dog. This may undermine your plan as this type of user will move to using another site then return once the campaign is over. One way of solving it is to successfully identify where it's happening and address them directly either in person or with windscreen flyers or posters. Make it plain you know what they are doing and try not to put them off from using the area responsibly. 

Public meetings can get extreme over reactions calling for offenders to be strung up or suggesting impractical enforcement methods like CCTV. One reason for this is that it is often those most annoyed and highly motivated that come to a public meeting. It's best to separate those who will be great allies and others who were serious about the lynching. 

It is important to say well done and thank you. Confirmation that it has succeeded and a resolve that it shall never return will reinforce the change in behaviour. 
Everyone feeling good about the results will ensure the area remains clean and safe long into the future.


  1. Very interesting and knowing the huge problem in London I'd like to pass this onto a local forum or two.

    1. Great article. Any idea on the brand of paint to buy?

    2. Thanks.
      I use tree marking spray as its very bright and not permanent.