The Australian Koala population levels are declining. Dog attacks are the third most common cause of death, after tree clearing and vehicle strikes. At the 2019 USF Social Marketing Conference, Sharyn Rundle Thiel presented on a social marketing approach to reducing the koala mortality as a result of dog attacks. iSMA is sharing an overview of the fascinating program, “Leave It.” 


Australian Koala population levels are declining. Dog attacks (predation) are the third most common cause of death, after tree clearing and vehicle strikes. The need for greater community engagement led to a trial of social marketing by Redland City Council.  In 2017-18 Social Marketing @ Griffith undertook research to understand what would engage dog owners in the community to protect koalas from dog attacks.  

What we did

Co-creating a community program

A comprehensive program of research including a systematic literature review, community surveys, expert interviews and co-design sessions (the 6 step technique is explained online at was undertaken.  This research sought to gain a deep insight into how dog owners could be reached and motivated to participate in a pilot program.  Three key themes emerged to inform subsequent program planning and design.  

Program Build

Specifically the program needed to 1) be dog, not koala, focused; 2) offer pet owner training and support; and three 3) focus on the benefit to all wildlife species, not just koalas. As one co-design session participant noted: “We’re not just looking to save koalas; we’re looking at protecting other wildlife as well.” 

The social marketing pilot program was called Leave It.  Leave It aimed to inspire dog owners to enroll and participate in a four-week training program (product) to improve dog behaviors, as well as dog owner skills. All communication materials were entirely dog, and not wildlife, focused (see Trainings emphasized a series of behaviors, including sit, stay and leave it (wildlife aversion).  Leave It trainers had previously received training from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPTD-KA) with experience in wildlife aversion training. The price for the training was $AUD150 for four sessions (price) run over a four-week period.  

Website Promoting the Leave It pilot program


Engaging community

Drawing on co-creation insights that indicated a desire for community events, Leave It was promoted via a community event called Dog Fest. Dog Fest offered a festival feel that included a variety of training demonstrations, displays and talks supported by displays and discount offers from pet retailers, food and drink retailers, and a series of fun competitions, e.g. best trick.  People registering on the day for the Leave It pilot program received a 20% discount. 

A Dog Fest Social Media Post



Data analysis indicated positive program outcomes.  For the dog owners who participated in the Leave It pilot program five of the 7 dog behaviors changed for the better: sit, stay, come back when called every time, wildlife aversion, and stay quiet on command. Dog Fest attracted over 1500 attendees, indicating a reach of nearly 10% of the 21,000 dog owners in the local council area. In a Dogfest visitor survey 90% reported a positive experience, and 91% reported they would attend Dogfest in 2019.

The pilot program was deemed a success and city wide roll out is now underway. 

 1. Australia Koala Foundation, “Interesting Facts”, accessed March 23, 2018,