Summer 2010

The challenge

The RSPCA wanted to address the problem of status dogs owned by young men in urban areas. Animals were often bought as puppies and trained in an aggressive way. This was a concern both for public safety and from an animal rights perspective. The RSPCA had been unsuccessful in communicating this. Their message at the time – which had been based on the assumption that young people did not care about their pets, and thus focused on animal rights – was failing to cut through.

How we approached it

We conducted qualitative Values Modes research with owners of status dogs in Lewisham aged between 14 and 19 (Lewisham being the sort of urban area where the problems associated with status dog ownership were most pronounced). They were almost entirely Prospectors. They cared about their animals but they also wanted the respect of peers, so they adopted a ‘tough love’ approach to pets. RSPCA messaging had fallen on deaf ears because it emphasised Pioneer values – the public threat and animal cruelty.

What happened

Because of the nature of Prospectors, this was an issue where we felt role models could be decisive. We designed an intervention that involved channelling messages through respected peers, and recommended that the RSPCA create a status dog ‘training unit’ led by young people. This was something which had worked in New York, where retired dog-fighters now run classes. By understanding values we were able to communicate the same message, but in a way that inspired people rather than alienating them.