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Do walkers need obedience training?

The challenge: How do we encourage dog walkers to keep their pooches on a lead so that others can enjoy the park?

Partner: Darebin City Council (Victoria)

Year: 2018

In our ever-growing cities, competition for space and open parkland means overlapping uses and behaviours can cause conflict when it comes to dog walking.

The Darebin Parklands, in Melbourne’s North East, offers a beautiful designated off-lead area for dogs, but for others to enjoy the park, dog walkers need to keep their dogs on the lead.

While most dog walkers were helpful and genuinely keen to help, it was clear that tensions exist between perceived positive and negative outcomes of keeping ‘Fido’ on or off the lead.

Dog walkers recognise that keeping their dogs on the lead benefits other park users and wildlife, but they also want their dogs to exercise, play and explore.

What did we do?

To better understand why dog walkers do or don’t stick to the rules, the Darebin City Council engaged BehaviourWorks to interview dog walkers in the on-lead area of the park at peak dog-walking times; weekdays in the evenings and weekends in the mornings. 

What did we find?

Dog walkers who let their dogs off the lead in the on-lead area shared two common beliefs:

  1. That their dogs didn’t get enough exercise and,
  2. That their own dog can be trusted and does not pose a risk off the lead.

Lead researcher, Lena Jungbluth, also collected some formative insights about whether dog walkers who let their dogs off the lead in on-lead areas did so without thinking (like a habit).

This didn’t appear to be the case, as they typically “scoped the situation” before letting their dog off the lead, suggesting that there is an opportunity to intervene on-site to influence decision-making. 

Intervention options

Possible interventions included:

  • persuading dog owners of the value of protecting other visitors and flora and fauna of the park
  • social norming messages
  • training dogs not to pull on the lead and incentives like dog treats for those doing the right thing
  • coercion through increased patrols or fines.
  • Text Hover
Insights 

With more people moving into the area, there is also an opportunity to provide new residents at this ‘teachable moment’ (i.e., moving house) with critical information about dog walking areas in the vicinity to encourage appropriate habits that reduce potential conflict among park users.

Lena also provided some formative insights (based on research carried out in other public spaces) on how changes to the physical environment (e.g., the use of different colour schemes) can provide important visual cues to tell park users what is appropriate in particular areas.

Further discussion

This new data gives interested parties a starting point to discuss which course of action to take.

As any dog walker will tell you, obedience training takes time and patience, especially when it comes to humans.