It turns out Auckland dog owners can be as disobedient as their canine pals, and its causing headaches for city council and the courts.

Auckland Council hit owners with 5175 fines, totalling $1.43 million, last financial year for offences ranging from failing to register a dog or pick up its poo to letting dangerous animals roam.

Yet just 17 per cent or $240,000 worth of fines were paid on time.

Those who didn't pay on time ended up being chased by the courts where they were hit with even more fines for wasting everyone's time.


Now Auckland Council is trying a new trick to train dog owners to pay their fines on time: send out nicer letters.

To test this astonishing hypothesis, council recently trialled the use of five different infringement notices over a six-month period and published a report about which one produced the best payment results.

The first notice in the trial was council's current letter, which is filled with indecipherable, legal language and doesn't even include a payment due date. Just 9.4 per cent of dog owners paid their fines after receiving this letter.

The next four notices were all based on an easier to understand template developed by Australia's New South Wales Government, but contained subtle differences.

The first had the words "pay now" highlighted in bold red ink across the top and resulted in 12.9 per cent of owners paying their fines on time, largely due to the letter's simpler language and format.

The next letter kept the simple format and red "pay now" highlight, but added in a personalised greeting, such as "Dear Jane", leading to even more owners paying up (13.8 per cent).

The third letter kept all of the improvements above but now used blue ink instead of red to highlight the "pay now" slogan and included the word "please" for the first time. This had 14.1 per cent of owners reaching for their wallets.

However, the most successful technique involved sending the third letter, while also writing a handwritten note - such as "Jane! You really need to open this!" - on the outside of the letter's envelope. This led to 15.8 per cent of dog owners paying.

"The trial demonstrates how low or no-cost changes to infringement cover letters can significantly increase payment rates," Auckland Council senior researcher Jesse Allpress said.

Yet Allpress also admitted that - with just 15.8 per cent of people paying up after receiving the most successful letter - council still had more work to do.

He said a big reason behind the trial was "to help Aucklanders avoid paying extra fees on a fine that they end up paying anyway".

Almost all dog owners referred to the Ministry of Justice for fine collection last financial year paid up eventually, but not before being hit with a combined $136,000 in extra late fees.

Yet, the trial was also part of a broader push by council to improve how each of its departments communicate with city residents.

Allpress - who also studies how to improve voter turnout at council elections - said research showed people paid attention to information that is personalised.

Similar to how we could hear our name being said on the other side of a noisy room, people tended to pay more attention to written communication that used their name or that of their dog.

Victoria University Professor of Psychology Marc Wilson said other studies showed adding a simple "thanks" with a smiley face to bills had led to waiters receiving larger tips from diners.

Auckland University Professor Merryn Gott studies ways to improve health care for older Kiwis and said people want to feel like they have reciprocal relations with others.

"If you feel there is someone on the end who is a real person who actually - well, cares might be going a bit far - but who acknowledges you as an individual, then you are more likely to engage," she said.

Auckland Council's letters and research can be seen here.