restricted access Evaluating Persuasive Messages to Influence Dog Leash Law Compliance at a Public Area in the Great Plains

Visitors to public recreation areas where dogs are permitted often choose not to place their pets on leashes despite the presence of enforceable leash law regulations. Unleashed dogs can impact the safety of visitors, wildlife, and the environment and burden managers with additional duties. Often, improving leash law compliance is considered a law enforcement issue rather than a behavior that can be modified through education. We tested several persuasive messages addressing leash law compliance at a western Nebraska public recreation area where visitors are allowed to be accompanied by dogs. The area is an important nesting area for a legally protected shorebird, the piping plover (Charadrius melodus); unleashed dogs in plover nesting areas present a serious concern for managers. The majority of dog owners (81.3%) was aware of existing leash law regulations and expressed a high likelihood (4.13/5) of leashing their pet even though observations showed chronically low (16%) compliance rates. Urban and rural visitors perceived persuasive messages similarly. A persuasive message that emphasized avoiding dog bites and fights was the most likely to persuade dog owners to leash their pets. An education campaign focusing on this message may be helpful in improving leash law compliance in public recreation areas.