Housetraining the Nation

I found myself thinking about dog training this morning. 

The Off the Ground Twitter feed was full of photos of beaches covered in litter, a sight during good weather that is as predictable as the tides. My theory about why this occurs is two-fold. First, like festivals, it doesn’t take many people to leave their rubbish and establish the norm (“it’s okay to leave rubbish behind”). Because the UK lacks a cultural auto-pilot when it comes to rubbish disposal, this norm can easily spread through a crowd, especially at an “official” site like a beach or a park because of the idea that it’s someone else’s job to clean up. After all, someone will collect rubbish left behind at stadiums, cinemas, or theatres, or on buses or trains, right? Why should a beach or a park be any different?

And that’s where the dog training comes in. Anyone who has worked with a puppy, or any animal, knows that WHEN you tell them something is incredibly important. You praise them for sitting immediately after they do so, not minutes or hours later. Same with housetraining: you have to rush a puppy outside in the middle of a wee, not after they left a puddle.

To change existing British norms and behaviour, do we need to address the problem as it unfolds? Perhaps regular loudspeaker announcements at the beach that litter must be taken home or placed in a bin? After all, it’s done for security at train stations and airports; could “Buy it, bin it” be added to “See it, say it, sorted”? I would hope a balance could be found between ineffectiveness and annoyance, but at the very least it counters the implicit norm with an explicit description of the correct behaviour.

Something like “We hope you have a wonderful day at Bournemouth Beach! Please take all your rubbish home or face a £150 fine and points on your driver’s license. Thank you for helping us look after Dorset and keep it clean for everyone to enjoy” broadcast every twenty minutes or so? Or announcements during football matches or on trains? These are simple, no-cost methods that could start change the national mindset from “someone else’ll clean this up” to “my rubbish, my responsibility”.

Although rewards have been shown to be more effective when training pets, I suspect that some humans are more likely to respond to punishments. Right now, the refusal to close the beaches after yesterday’s major incident is a missed opportunity to send the message that littering is unacceptable behaviour. For far too long littering has been brushed under the rug—or sand—and allowed to continue without consequences. Isn’t it time steps were taken to address the problem head-on and housetrain the nation?

[ Read more about anti-litter messaging: WHAT * WHEN * WHERE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *