Is the politeness of a “Please… pick up after your pet” sign effective?

On a recent walk down a nearby street, an older man stopped, pointed at the sign pictured below, and said, “It should say: Don’t be a jerk and pick up after your pet.” I made a startled quick response and continued on my walk.

The sign is very polite. It includes both “please” and “thank you.” The politeness is hard to miss in multiple ways: the polite words are at the top and bottom in a different font and the signs are all throughout the neighborhood.

At the same time, the niceties cannot cover up several unpleasant aspects of this sign. The polite words surround a command (“pick up after your pet”). The sign references poop. Finally, the need for the signs suggests not everyone follows these rules.

Would the sign be more effective if it did away with the politeness? Is the potential offender of this request going to be swayed by the politeness? There are other options for the sign. It could include no polite phrases. It could reference consequences, such as fines. It could appeal to shared norms (example: “keep our neighborhood clean”).

The politeness of the sign might be more about the people putting it up and upholding these guidelines. They want to reference a community atmosphere where people collectively care for the environment. Pronouncing a command does not seem to be as bad when couched in polite terms.

The comment of the man who talked to me hints at the ongoing issue at hand: a polite sign may not produce the desired outcome. But, if signs become more pointed or punitive, all semblance of peaceful neighborhood life might disappear.

Looking more at the human-pet relationship in sociological analysis

A new sociological study suggests more sociologists need to see pets as social actors:

In a new paper published earlier this month in the British journal Sociology, Charles argues that “the so-called species barrier” has long concealed the important kinship between humans and their pets. Her recent research suggests that it’s a bond that should have long ago figured into sociological analysis.

A recent survey in the U.S. revealed “that 91 per cent of pet ‘owners’ regard their pets as family members.” In Australia, Charles writes, 88 percent do. While some researchers may scoff at the notion that this type of relationship rises to any level of complexity, pet owners’ own recent qualitative descriptions also seem to offer compelling contradictory evidence.

This relationship, as Charles notes, isn’t new. It just hasn’t been probed in the way one would expect. Pet-keeping, as we conceive of it today, was first popularized in the 16th and 17th centuries, as urbanization shifted the human-animal relationship “from function to affect.”…

She believes that animals have consistently been treated, to some degree, “as social actors.” But the evidence for that kind of theory is mounting, she argues. “Thus, in a recent study of family formation and kinship networks, a significant number of people spontaneously included animals in their families; this was a particularly interesting finding as interviewees had not been explicitly asked about animals.”

On one hand, this sounds reasonable: lots of people have lots of interactions with their pets. On the other hand, what exactly are members of the American Sociological Association section on Animals and Society studying if they haven’t considered some of this…