Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Start a Dog-Walking Group in Your City: Guest Post from Twin Cities Pack Walk in Minnesota

Photo by LP Reyes
While we feel lucky to have such a great community through our Chicago SociaBulls group, we also love hearing about and learning from successful dog walking groups in other cities.
Twin Cities Pack Walk is another group we have been corresponding with online. They are amazingly well-organized and they even have their own walk photographer! I also love seeing their photos of all of the pups trudging through those Minnesota winters. Here is the story of the group including why and how they started, gaining membership, growing, and tips for starting a group in your own city.

Starting a Group
Photos by LP Reyes
As an owner of a shy and fearful pit bull I was looking for a safe space to continue to socialize my dog, Penelope. After spending many hours in formal training, I wanted to find a way to ensure that her social experiences with dogs and people would be positive and help to solidify the idea that the world was a safe and good place. I was also interested in creating a space for fellow dog advocates to connect and socialize about our passion for all things dog. I reached out to some friends and fellow breed advocates whom I knew through my volunteer work with local Rottweiler and pit bull rescue A Rotta Love Plus and the world of group dog walks was opened to me. I was amazed by the fantastic pack walking groups popping up all over the country, but mostly drawn to the work by Chicago SociaBulls. I loved that their pack walks not only served the purpose of socialization and training, but also that they allowed folks in the city an opportunity to interact with our beloved breeds in a positive way. I loved that people would walk by and go “Wow that is a great group of dogs…oh my goodness those great dogs are mostly PIT BULLS!” I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my excitement and quickly found some amazingly talented folks and we formed Twin Cities Pack Walk. We wanted to create a space where ALL dogs and ALL handlers would be successful. Together the TCPW organizing team came up with the mission statement: “Safe, structured, socialization for dogs and their humans.”

Growing a Group
                                                                                              Photos by LP Reyes
A huge reason our walks have been successful is due to the wisdom of those, such as Chicago Sociabulls, who came before us. We were so thankful to receive some guidance that would help us structure our walks in an effective way. Together we came up with some ground rules that we felt would create the space that we had envisioned. We created a Facebook page to help get the word out and invited our friends to join us. We created an excel database to track interest and communicated via email. Once we had our structure in place we were ready to embark on our first journey: which included a whopping 5 walkers. The weather was frigid and the wind was brutal but we were so excited to on our maiden voyage we just kind of drifted through the wind and the snow! We couldn’t wait to see where our little group went.
 Within a month we had tripled in size and were walking with about 20 dogs/handlers all documented through the lens of our fabulously talented pack photographer, Lp Reyes. Our little group was growing! In February, 2012 we were featured in a Twin Cities Dog Blog: Sidewalk Dog which lead to a big jump in membership. As our group began to grow in leaps and bounds we took a step back to reevaluate the best method by which to manage our larger numbers and incorporate new members. Our original method of tracking members and rsvp’s wasn’t sufficient so we decided to utilize as a resource to track and confirm pack attendants. We looked around and found that we had some really solid dog/handler teams who had begun to walk with us each and every week. We formed a group of “regulars” who balanced our pack energy and allowed new dogs of varying temperaments to be successful. Our regulars (many of whom happen to include a pit bull type dog) embodied what we wanted our group to be and new members felt confident bringing their dogs to our walks as a result. We LOVE our regulars. Having a solid base allows us to accommodate 25 dog/handler teams and enables us to incorporate new walkers almost every week. Word of mouth continues to bring new members and all are welcome to join!

What we Learned When Starting a Group
                                                                                               Photos by LP Reyes
  1. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Find a few other like minded people to create a core group that works behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly. It takes a small village to be able to successfully have walks every week and coordinate the people, dogs, locations, and photos!
  2. Use the wisdom of those who came before you! Group dog walks are popping up all over the country and there are SO many phenomenal folks doing them. As a group who has been on the receiving end of advice, we are delighted when others contact us to find out how we structured our walks, managed our walks administratively, and garnered support from fellow dog lovers. We had two fantastic local rescue groups contact us so that they could set up walks to socialize their and dogs and prepare them for adoption events. We even had a group all the way from Fargo contact us about starting their own group. It has been an absolute joy watching those groups grow and blossom as well. As a national community we have so much knowledge to share! 
  3. Figure out what your group goals are for the walks and stay true to them by creating rules and structure which accomplish those goals. Figure out what works for your walk. The rules of one group may not be the best for your group. Be flexible and adapt as needed but also trust your instincts and make choices that will ultimately help to accomplish your goals as a group. 
  4. Spread the message of your dogs and your mission. We aren’t just about having fun (though we do plenty of that). Our group is amongst many who are creating a trend that encourages responsible dog ownership in communities throughout the nation. We think that’s pretty damn amazing. 
  5. Take the time to lay a groundwork that is sustainable. It took many long hours to create the numerous databases and networks that make up TCPW but once that foundation is laid running the walks is so much more manageable. 
  6. Scout and select locations that are going to meet the needs of your group. Use a set of criteria that you determine such as site lines, distance, ability to pass people, likelihood of encountering off-leash dogs, etc. Make sure to keep tabs on things such as special events, barriers due to weather, and other things that might make a seriously amazing location not so hospitable to a pack walk. 
  7. Have fun and look fabulous when you are doing it!
Thanks so much Twin Cities Pack Walk for sharing your group!
You can learn more about their group on their facebook page by clicking here.
Please let them know what you think, or feel free to ask them any questions in the comments section. 
                                                                                   Photos by LP Reyes
You can read more starting a dog-walking group from the Positive Pittie Pack Walk in New Jersey here,   Hikabulls in the Bay Area here and our thoughts on making a walking group work in a crowded city here.  You can also read all walking-group related posts through this link here. 
Stay tuned for more stories of groups who have started walking groups in their own cities.
If you have a dog-walking group, and you would be interested in sharing your story, please email us using the Contact Us icon on the side of the blog.


Hannah@Eriesistibull said...

WOW - a photographer! Jealous. I'm our group's photographer (which I don't mind doing!), but it makes it hard to socialize with everyone as well. I have a girlfriend who has recently been taking classes -- I should see if she'd be interested in coming for practice!

We started our group in May, specifically to avoid the Erie winter weather with the hope that come winter, it will be in our members' routines and they'll stick with it!

I'd love to have more pitties join the group - so far really just Ed & Tess!

Chelsea said...

Great post about my fave pack! I am proud to be a member of TCPW and Hannah is right, LP takes the best pictures!! TCPW has help my anxious pittie Meg learn to deal with her anxiety around other dogs and we have seen huge changes in her ability to deal with her the big scary world all due to pack walking.

Bella Wolfe said...

I have been toying with the idea of starting/joining a dog-walking group in Dallas. However our biggest concern is the triple digit heat. But insightful and helpful posts like these really help to build my confidence and although it will be hard work, it's worth it. Teaching leash manners has been a constant struggle with our pups and it would be great to have a community of like-minded people to learn and grow with.

Corbin said...

I admire those who organize these walks. I wish I had the time to dedicate to it, most days I'm lucky to find time to take a walk around the block!
-Corbin's momma, Jenn

Two Pitties in the City said...

Thank you for sharing your group! And you have such good tips! The teamwork part took us awhile, but now we have a really great team. And the locations are always an underrated part of what really makes the group work. I've also been noticing how way popular you guys are...your walks fill up quick! Congrats on such a great group!

2 Punk Dogs said...

Thanks for sharing their post and all of your previous tips on starting a group! We'll definitely let you know if we get one going here. :)

Twin Cities Pack Walk said...

Thanks so much for reaching out to us and for all you do for dog walking groups throughout the nation.

The piece turned out fantastic :)

Stubby's Heroes said...

This is great! I am the founder of Stubby's Heroes. We are based out of the suburbs of Atlanta, GA and started out fighting BSL within our state by speaking before various council and commissioner meetings in an effort to provide the law makers and communities with viable options, other than BSL which we know just does not work. In the interim of fighting BSL, we decided to work just as hard to restore the image of the American icon that we love, the bully breed dog. Our first march was in Oct 2012 with 250+ registered marchers and their dogs, most Pit bulls, all spayed/neutered, and for the most part, all rescued from the streets and shelters. Since then, we've started up monthly walks in counties such as Athens/Clarke, Bartow, Cobb, Cherokee, Fulton, Gwinnett and Paulding with walks starting next month in Bibb county, Chastain Park/Atlanta, Alpharetta and Newnan! This weekend was also our first walk in Pinella's county, FLORIDA! Stubby's Heroes walks have crossed the state lines! Each walk is organized by a Stubby's Heroes' volunteer called a Group Leader, we have two photographers snapping photographs along the way, we encourage the neighborhood to come out and meet us, and we always end with a group photo and an outing to an outdoor eatery locally. Our walks have grown from 3 people to an average of 25, and some as high as 40. We exercise Space=Safety rule and we encourage excited dogs happy to meet everyone, to wear a red bandanna to ensure that there aren't any issues. We have never had an issue, we have only had fun, we demonstrate to the community what WE - responsible dog owners - look like, and we've picked up some non-Bully walkers along the way! Thank you for posting this! If you are in the state of Georgia or in Pinella's County, FL please look us up and participate in a monthly walk! Fighting BSL is hard work and we need everyone on board. What better way to strengthen our community than by building monthly outings? Jo, Founder - Stubby's Heroes

A Wonderful Dogs Life said...

We hope one day we can visit your city and pawticipate in a walk. Our Mom and Dad really want to meet Mr. B and Miss M

Emily said...

I had no idea this was going on in my home state... now if only it would happen here in Phoenix!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...