Getting dog owners to clean up without confrontation

Approaching errant dog walkers with a plastic bag can often persuade them to clean up after their pets. Picture: Greg Macvean
Approaching errant dog walkers with a plastic bag can often persuade them to clean up after their pets. Picture: Greg Macvean
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WE have all been in the situation where we have spied a dog doing its business while its owner walks away, leaving the dirty pile behind.

Inside our heads we are screaming at the idle swine for not picking it up, leaving the disgusting mess for an unsuspecting victim to step into.

In our imagination we run through various scenarios where we tell them exactly what we think of them and what we would like to do with the offending filth, but for most of us those thoughts just stay in our heads.

But is it ever ok to challenge an errant owner? What has happened to those who have taken up the cause on behalf of the silent minority? And what advice do the professionals give about approaching owners who refuse to pick up?

The safest option - and usually the best one for most of us - is to report what we have seen on the Dish the Dirt hotline and leave the rest to the environmental wardens.

Common sense tells us any direct confrontation is never likely to go well.

Embarrassment it seems is the best tool for those who are determined to have a word, making irresponsible owners feel akward rather than angry. Advice from Dogs Trust suggests the “helping hand approach,” giving the person the means to make amends, without accusing them of being mucky pups.

“The smile approach is well received and when followed with the ‘Oh, have you forgotten your poo bags, here have one of mine . . .’ strikes the balance 
between finger pointing and helpful,” says Hannah Baker.

“We wouldn’t advise anyone to adopt a confrontational approach and it’s important to try and stay calm.”

.Its an approach that worked for Sarah Raine, 55, of Pilrig, who always carries a plentiful supply of carrier bags in case her golden retriever Missy makes more mess than usual.

She spotted one dog walker about to walk on, despite her making a deposit, and offered the lady one of her bags.

“I just said ‘here you go, have one of mine’. I don’t think she had any choice but to take it then.

“I think she was probably a bit embarrassed but she just said ‘thanks’ and took it.

“Her dog had gone at the side on a grass verge, she probably thought it was out the way, but you should pick up wherever they go.

“I know it’s not the nicest thing in the world, picking it up, but you sign up to it if you have a dog.

“Just make sure you use a couple of bags to avoid any accidents.”

Her experience was backed up by Keep Britain Tidy ambassador and TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp, who says she approaches irresponsible dog owners without facing their wrath.

She regularly gives out spare bags to forgetful folk when she is confident they will respond well to the offer.

“As a mother, I don’t want my children having to dodge the piles of dog mess when playing but the responsibility to pick it up shouldn’t be with me.

“If I see a dog owner who has allowed their pet to do his business and then 
attempt to walk away it infuriates me.

“I would advise people to remain calm and if you have a spare bag offer this.

“Resist the urge to get angry and don’t approach anyone unless you feel 
confident to do so.”

Challenging people is not for everyone and if you don’t feel happy doing it then you shouldn’t.

Chris Goldie, 45, of Moredun, said: “I wouldn’t like to as people know me in the area and I don’t think it’s my place.

“I have reported it to the council though and I’ve seen a few people getting warned or being given fines.

“It is a big problem here and the environmental warden said it was the worst place in south Edinburgh.”

Harry Wright, 61, who lives at Redford Place in Colinton, was so fed up with a couple of dog owners at his local park that he decided to approach them. The nurse was keen to explain that Colinton Park was used as a playing field by local school children and advised that they should clean up or find somewhere else to exercise the 
animals.

“They were bringing six to seven dogs and I decided enough was enough. But when I tried to speak to one of them I just got a mouthful of abuse,” he recalls.

“I tried to explain to them that it was a children’s playground and they said they had been going there for years.

“There’s acres of space beyond the school towards the Pentlands where they can walk their dogs safely. It would be better if they went there.

“There are signs up on the school fence saying don’t exercise your dogs here but they just ignore it.

“They know it’s a children’s play area but they choose to ignore it. These people are quite intent on using it and are quite nasty about it.”

Disappointingly his advice fell on deaf ears and the poopy perpetrators still 
return to the same spot.

But other mini crusaders have had more success.

Mum-of-two Elaine Thomson, 34, has approached dog walkers on many occasions, offering them the means to clean up in the play area of Drummond High School.

She says she’s had a mixed response so far, ranging from “getting a mouthful” to people taking her up on the offer.

“I’ve had people shouting at me but I don’t care. Others have said ‘OK, have you got a bag then?’.

“It depends on the type of person you are, whether you’re prepared to take a mouthful for it.

“I am as it’s the worst job ever to clean your child’s shoes of dog muck. It’s 
disgusting and if people have a dog they need to take responsibility for it.

“We’ve had people pretending the dog isn’t with them to avoid doing it, it’s 
ridiculous.”

The Clean Up Scotland Campaign also recommends that you “politely but firmly encourage guilty owners you meet to clear up after their dog”.

Where this isn’t possible, or you don’t feel you can, call the Dish the Dirt hotline on 0300 4563476 and let the council do the rest.

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com