The Effect of Ambivalence on On-Leash Dog Walking Compliance Behavior in Parks and Protected Areas


  • Matthew Bowes Vancouver Island University
  • Peter Keller
  • Rick Rollins
  • Robert Gifford



Parks and protected areas, compliance, ambivalence, direct and indirect management, visitor education, off-leash dogs, shorebirds, wolves, wildlife conservation, theory of planned behavior


This study employed the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to examine how ambivalence affects compliance of visitors to regulation concerning on-leash dog requirement in a national park setting. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in British Columbia, Canada, has a substantial challenge with off-leash dogs, which interfere with shorebirds and contribute to habituation of wolves that come to view dogs as prey. Historically, the park has favored indirect visitor education strategies over direct enforcement. These visitor education strategies rely upon frequency and intensity of information, conservation appeal for keeping wolves unhabituated and “wild,” respecting sensitive shorebird habitat, and fear, by presenting dogs as prey. However, the ineffectiveness of current strategies and ongoing visitor noncompliance with dog-leashing regulations has presented a significant challenge, highlighting the importance of theory in developing effective strategies to influence visitor behavior. Following TPB methodology, interviews were conducted with compliers (dogs on-leash) and noncompliers (dogs off-leash) from which a survey was developed. Results found a strong relationship between behavior, intentions, and the three factors that influence intentions: attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. However, relations were weaker between each of these factors and the relevant beliefs thought to be influencing each factor. The next phase of analysis examined ambivalence, which occurs when visitors hold conflicting attitudinal beliefs about a desired behavior. In this ambivalence situation, park visitors may choose not to reflect on beliefs when forming their attitudes about complying with on-leash regulations. Park regulations and communications usually target attitudinal beliefs in order to influence visitor behavior, but under conditions of ambivalence, this kind of strategy may not be effective. In an ambivalence situation, messages to achieve compliance should be directed at influencing norms and perceived control, rather than just attempting to influence attitudes.In addition to messaging, alternative strategies to influence visitor behavior may be warranted that emphasize community level outreach initiatives focused on personal contact. Patrolling and on-leash enforcement in combination with outreach may be more effective. Seasonal closures to sensitive areas during peak migration may also make enforcement a less daunting task of managing visitors in such a large area.  Providing an alternative beach area or other location where dogs can run free may also make it easier for park visitors with dogs to engage in compliance behavior. Media, social media, “prompts” that remind people to “leash up,” and messages delivered by a credible source also have the potential to influence on-leash behavior.Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biography

Matthew Bowes, Vancouver Island University

Professor of Geography





Regular Papers