No dumping: The aesthetics of the anti-dog-poop sign

In the residential side streets of midtown Toronto, it’s easy to think the only methods of public self-expression available to the residents are gaudy SUVs or the direction one walked when cutting the lawn. (Diagonal? How chic!) But look past the tracks of the various fossil-fuel-powered disgraces to our ecosystem and you can find a unique urban aesthetic: that of the anti-dog-poop sign.

Ours is a time of great division, and yet these signs remind us of our shared humanity. You and I may be different in every other way, but we both hate to step in dog shit.

I’ve long noted and appreciated the existence of these signs on my daily walks. During the pandemic, when I wasn’t gaming, I took to informally studying them. Gotta put that arts degree to use somehow, I suppose. Through this study, several trends have emerged. Today I’m going to share what I’ve learned.

These signs come in a range of aesthetics, and I’m going to highlight four: the comedic, the absurdist, the rationalist, and the cubist.

The comedic

an anti-dog-poop sign features a crossed out dog with text that reads "curb your enthusiasm"
Clearly this anti-dog-poop sign is a couple of years old at this point.

Our first aesthetic acknowledges the humour of this situation. I mean, excrement is notoriously funny. That’s why this article’s title is a pun. There are many other puns I had considered using, such as:

  • No shit
  • Cut the crap
  • What the deuce
  • Shitty situation

This type of anti-dog-poop sign, however, rarely makes poop puns. That sort of bush-league nonsense won’t impress the neighbours. These signs feature other puns, like the “curb your enthusiasm” joke above. The creators want to touch neither your dog’s scat nor the low-hanging fruit jokes used during my creative process.

Comedic signs reject the idea that clear communication is necessary for the matter at hand. They tacitly argue the dog owner should already know how to behave should nature call. Their message often requires that level of understanding to decipher.

Additionally, these signs offer something to passersby who are also in the know. I often find myself smiling or chuckling at the cheesy puns I see on them. They brighten up my walk.

Comedic signs seem like great ones for families to create together. Kids can be competitive, and a contest to create the funniest non-poop pun would be a healthy way to channel that competitive drive while encouraging their creativity. As a kid, I would have loved the opportunity to come up with something like this.

The absurdist

an anti-dog-poop sign features a close-up view of someone's eyes with the text "please, scoop your poop"
The yard where this sign is located features two of these.

Similar to the comedic signs above, absurdist signs often favour weird imagery over direct communication. After all, I’m dodging your dog’s dookie precisely because a clear and concise message was lost on you. Why bother simply repeating that phrase or appealing to reason? Sometimes though, as in the sign pictured above, these signs also include a direct line as a secondary feature.

Regardless of the presence of text, these signs use strange imagery to catch the viewer’s attention. I noticed the weird eyes on the sign above long before I walked close enough to it to read the text. I had assumed the signs would say something about security cameras, rather than dung.

Absurdist signs, I feel, are the last resort. More conventional methods and appeals to reason failed, so the only option left is to confuse the people letting their dogs defecate on your yard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pictured sign is on a corner lot, assaulted by the irresponsible dog walkers of two streets, including one that leads to an off-leash dog park. I can’t imagine how often the homeowners must find fecal landmines planted on their expansive, lush lawn.

The rationalist

an anti-dog-poop sign located on a floor-level apartment window compels dog owners not to leave their dog's poop outside the residents' window
I’m thankful the residents placed one of these on a frosted window so I could document it without being a huge creep!

Some people believe strongly in the capacity for humans to reason with one another. These modern-day urban philosophers respond to beshat sidewalks with compelling arguments as to why life should not be this way.

Makers of rationalist signs still have hope that these dog owners will act responsibly. They haven’t yet resigned themselves to absurdist or comical methods. They still believe that the minds of dog walkers can be swayed once they learn of the real-life impacts of their bad behaviour.

Or maybe they just have an interest in typography. The rationalist anti-dog-poop sign needs a fair amount of text, making them perfect for the graphic designer with soiled shoes.

Signs placed by the city would also fall under this category, although they take a different approach. Clearly the dog owner that leaves feculence behind for others to interact with is selfish. Rather than appeal to their humanity, remind them of the fines they could incur in the extremely unlikely scenario that a bylaw enforcement officer catches them. That ought to work.

I have doubts about the effectiveness of the rationalist sign, but I admire the optimism and the belief in the inherent goodness of humanity that they represent.

The cubist

an anti-dog-poop sign features no text, just a crossed out dog taking a dump
Enough said.

Cubist signs take a page from the aesthetics of internet and smartphone applications. Text can be a barrier for users, whether they be users of an app or a sidewalk. Image-based signs create a cleaner look that can be more accessible.

In a way, cubist signs are just stripped-down rationalist signs. The imagery featured is often similar – usually a crossed-out dog dumping. But while a rationalist sign will supplement the image with reasons, the cubist will stop there. The sign serves more as a reminder for the dog walker than a lesson. And due to its minimal text, it doesn’t overwhelm pedestrians to whom its message doesn’t apply.

In my experience, these signs are the most common, partly because commercial versions of anti-dog-poop signs tend to take this approach. I imagine they are also a lot easier to produce than many of the other options. Those anti-dog-poop signs require you to devote creative energy to messaging, while this one requires creativity only for the design of the sloppy pup.

And as I noted, these signs are accessible. It’s far easier for someone with low vision to see a big, high-contrast image than it would be a block of text. Likewise, that text communicates nothing to a pedestrian who can’t read the language it’s written in. Thankfully, the symbol at the heart of the anti-dog-poop sign is universal.

Tangents on the anti-dog-poop sign

A question that’s no doubt on your mind is whether these signs work. In my experience, it seems they do.

There is a street near my home where several homeowners have erected such signs, and despite it being popular among dog walkers, the sidewalks are always clean.

A far shorter road where there are no such signs features a sidewalk that is always routinely and thoroughly beshat. So much so that you can often smell it while walking on a rainy day. This is despite the green median on this street where dog walkers could much more discretely leave their mutt’s mess. They never do.

I should point out that the street with the signs largely consists of homeowners, whereas the latter street features mostly renters. The residents there would have less autonomy over erecting signs, and they probably do less maintenance on the sidewalks than the homeowners do. What renter owns a hose, for example?

The sign above in the rationalist section seems to be working too though, and that’s one of several on an apartment building on an arterial road. I’ve never seen poop left near the windows where these signs are placed (which is nearly all of them).

My other tangent is that I should point out these signs are not unique to midtown Toronto, or even Toronto itself. I’ve seen some hilarious ones posted online, and as I’ve noted above, these signs are even available in stores. I would assume they spring up anywhere with a high enough volume of irresponsible dog owners.

On that note, have you seen these signs in your city? Take a picture of one and show me on Twitter!

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