Bringing The Science To Your Dog's Poo

Dog poo is a problem. The problem is of the "tragedy of the commons" variety, an economic theory that describes what happens when individuals each act rationally according to their own self-interest, and yet the group as a whole suffers the depletion of some common resource. The resource in this case, obviously, is the ability to walk on the sidewalk without stepping in a pile of crap.

A group of UK scientists has now attempted to quantify the problem to see if there might be a solution. How can we convince people to clean up after their dogs? The researchers describe their findings in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Environment and Waste Management. At Pacific Standard, Ryan Jacobs explains:

In the United Kingdom, eight million dogs produce somewhere north of 1,000 tons of crap a day. Abandoned excrement is not only a bane to environmental and human health; it's an incredible strain on economic resources. An area with poo blight can see lower rates of "inward investment and tourism." Additionally, local agencies in England and Wales spend a total of "£22 million per year" on "dog waste collection" and related services, the study says.

The researchers surveyed 933 people, and were surprised to find that most dog walkers actually cleaned up after their dogs - or at least, they said that they did. The most common reasons given were because it was "the right thing to do" or to "help reduce the spread of disease." The dog poo problem, it seems, comes down to a small minority. Jacobs again:

Three percent of respondents "strongly agreed that dog walkers should not have to clean up after their dog(s) in any location," while eight percent said "they would only clean up the dog waste if it was on the path."

Because the problem might actually be due to this small portion of dog poo savages, the investment in ticketing may not be cost-effective. The authors offer a potentially cheaper determent strategy: "[I]mplementing a requirement … for dogs to be kept on [leashes] may lead to a reduction in the presence of dog waste as a direct association can then be made between the owner and the defecating dog."

The researchers also discovered that places that were more populated, like parks, were more likely to be kept clean than less visible spaces, like overgrown, abandoned lots. "Results of the audits suggested that availability of bins, path morphology, visibility, and path location are key factors in determining the occurrence of dog faeces," the researchers write.

So there you go. The best way to convince people to pick up after their dogs might be to create a situation in which they'd be embarrassed not to. Better living through shame.

Head on over to Pacific Standard to read the entire post: Is the dog poo problem solvable?

Image via Flickr/David Swayze