Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guest Post from HikeABull: Starting Your Own Dog-Walking Group

Long before we had our own Chicago SociaBulls group, I would enviously read about the HikeABull group in California combining dog socialization with amazing hikes. It was only one day after lamenting on their Facebook page that I wished we had a group like this in Chicago, that group organizer Lark wrote back that I should think of starting my own group. It seemed like such a daunting task: Where do you start? What type of structure do we need? Would anyone want to join?
Through numerous email conversations and support, Lark helped me build up confidence to begin our first walk. This was our first post pleading for members to join us.We were so excited to have 4 dogs join us on our first walk  and in a mere matter of months we've grown enormously.
Since then we've heard from so many people wishing that they also had a group in their area, After speaking with Lark, we are so excited to share her guest post about starting your own dogwalking group.
Allowing space and no dog greetings is incredibly important to allow dogs of all socialization levels to feel comfortable and benefit from these walks. Here is Lark explaining the structure of creating a successful group:
Benefits of a Dog-Walking Group
 Creating a place where people could come and be social with their dogs in a fun and respectful environment is my passion. HikeABull is my heart. I wanted it to be a place where all types of dogs, breeds, behaviors, personality, could come and most important be successful. This comes from having dogs that are not always welcome everywhere because they are pit bulls, and also because of Lola and her just being a dog with quirks. Lola used to lunge and whine when she saw dogs, people, and squirrels …leaves blowing. And when you have a dog that acts like this, lets face it: it's embarrassing. Lola loves other dogs and people so much, she would get overly excited and then couldn't calm down. She had no leash manners or focus. Lola is not unique and most dogs are going to have some behavior to work on or manage. Lola and I attend OurPack Training classes and hike with HikeABull. The reason the hikes help is because they have the structure of respect. I knew that another dog coming up to Lola would excite her too much and therefore set her up to fail. Lola is now (most of the time) a socially sound dog, because of training and the ability to socialize in a place that I had set her up to succeed in. Even dogs that have wonderful social skills can still benefit from structure. It is like teaching our children social manners. They have to learn the appropriate behavior for certain social settings and so should our dogs. The classes gave me the tools I needed and the hikes have the social outlet to practice them.

The Importance of Structure: No Dog Greetings
HikeABull has 4 organizers and we all take pride in creating a comfortable and successful social environment for all the dogs. How do we make this happen: with structure. Our number one rule is the dogs do not get to greet. This takes that social pressure off of the dogs and gives them a chance to relax. Our society has somewhere along the line decided that because their dog is dragging them to get to another dog’s face, it okay and all dogs love it. Not true! We refer to Our Pack’s information often

Structured Distance Between Dogs
 To give all the dogs a chance to get comfortable, we start each hike with distance between dogs. A good distance is 5 feet from dog to dog. As the hike progresses the dogs relax, and get into the groove of pack hiking, the distance closes. Most dogs end up walking side by side, but some will continue to need space throughout the hike.

Respecting Differing Socialization Levels
 Next we believe in respect. We have respect for our fellow group members and are aware of their dogs needs. HikeABull has dogs that are working on fear issues, poor leash manners, leash reaction, over-excitement, and some have been under socialized. Plus, we also have many dogs that are very sound social dogs. None of these issues have anything to do with breed, but the individual dog. Before the hike starts we have short introductions and everyone gets a chance to let the group know what their dog’s boundaries are and they are encouraged to speak up throughout the activities if they need more. 
We also remind people to beware if their dog is staring at another. Not all, but some dogs can be particularly sensitive to the stare. When the group is stopped (example; before the hike, water breaks, or after the hike) we have the dogs spaced out with plenty of room. It is common for the dogs to get a little restless or board at this time. It also gives the dog a nice opportunity to stare at another. Not all dogs do the hard stare, it is ok for them to look at one another, but you want it to be a looking around, checking things out kind of thing. Not a, “I‘m focused on you“, thing! Bring high value treats, and try to get your dog’s focus back on you, or turn your dog away from whatever it is interested in. Break the eye contact.

Keeping a Good Reputation
 We also make sure HikeABull has a good reputation. We follow trail rules leash laws and make sure no poop is left behind. Our reputation is important to us; we want people to notice us for our great dogs and not bad behavior from their humans.
This group is only one type of socialization for people to participate in to have a well rounded dog. 
If someone wanted to start their own social group, my first suggestion would be to find your structure and guidelines and then make that very clear to all people wanting to join. It gives them the tools needed in deciding if the group is right for their dogs needs.
I love that HikeABull and Sociabull's are a place where all dogs are welcome and can be successful. I am so proud of the people who take the time to organize both groups.

Following these guidelines really helped us create our SociaBulls group which has been such a positive experience. We've heard from so many of you who are interested in starting your own groups, and we would love to hear how that's going.
Also, Lark is currently creating a type of forum where people can reference and locate dog-walking groups in different cities and share ideas to create more positive experiences. Stay tuned to the HikeABull's Facebook page for further updates! 


Kate said...

Very cool and great information. I think it's great that you (and now others!) took the initiative to start your own group in your area. It's such a fantastic way to get out with your dog.

Emily said...

Wouldn't it be fantastic if everyone realized shoving their dog in your dog's face isn't the best way to greet? Every time I express to someone I'd prefer my dog not meet their dog that way, they pull back and look at me like I must be walking a wild beast. I can never think of the best way to explain my concern in a brief meeting so they understand instead of thinking negatively about me and my dog.

Patty said...

Great post! I have only been able to make it to one hike a bull hike so far but hope to attend more!

The Heartbeats said...

As mom to boxers & GSD's it is soooo refreshing to see groups with boundaries that understand that dogs cannot be set up to fail. Boxers & GSDs are very intense and need these boundaries. It doesn't make them bad but if you don't respect the boundaries, it can be ugly! Sometimes I feel like I am protecting my dogs from MORONS! LOVE the rules...

Mamma Heartbeat

Corbin said...

This is so great. Some day I'd love to start one in our area.

goosie mama said...

Amazing, thank you so much for posting this. Two Grad Students and A Pittie and I have been punting the idea around for a few months - you've got a couple of note-takers in NYC! YAY!

If any other readers in NYC are interested, please visit and let me know!

Mayzie said...

That is SO super neat! I luvs the part about not greeting each other. That makes me SUPER nervous cuz I don't know what the other doggie's intentions are. What if they wanna EAT me?

Have you ever run into any off-leash dogs on your hikes (from peoples who aren't in your group)? How do you handle that? On our trails around here, there's LOTS of off-leash doggies (even though they're not supposed to be).

Wiggles & Wags,

Two French Bulldogs said...

awesome!! Thank you guest poster
Benny & Lily

Of Pit Bulls and Patience said...

This is so helpful! I'd love to start a group here, but advertising it is a little tough in this area- people are so spread out! I'll keep an eye on HikeABull's FB page. But I'm with Mayzie- what if a dog comes running up? Leash laws are more like suggestions in this area.

Brenda said...

I'm curious about Mayzie's question too. This is such an interesting post and actually had the idea of starting a group tickle the back of my mind - and I've never considered it before. But I love the structure! My GSD needs that, and many socialization opportunities have no structure at all - so we can't partake. We have lots of places to hike around here, so it would be fun and easy to find locations. But, we'd inevitably run into a dog running down the trail off leash, with its stupid owner calling out "Don't worry, he's friendly!" I guess you just deal with it... But if you have any particular way of handling that, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Two Pitties in the City said...

The off-leash dogs were actually my biggest concern when starting the club. I actually walk 'dog-less' and when I see an off-leash dog, or a dog coming to approach the group, I run up and start talking to them so they understand our dogs 'are in training' so they don't like to be approached. Since our group has grown so big, we now need dog-less volunteers in the front, back, and middle. We haven't had any problems with it. I think I'll write more about it during our next SociaBulls post.

parlance said...

Great post, very informative. I'm going to link to it. Hope that is okay with you.

Rachel said...

What a great post. Thanks do much for sharing your ideas here! And I think it is so cool what a great thing these groups are.
One question... For those of us joining established dog walking groups... Do you know if there is a nice way to go about asking what types of structure and rules they have? I love the rules of both Hikeabull and Sociables but if I don't start my own group I wonder how they could be incorporated into an existing group without offending the organizers...

Thanks so much for any input!

Two Pitties in the City said...

Thanks so much for the great guest post!

Rachel--Hmm...very tricky. Maybe you could let them know that your dogs aren't very comfortable with quick meetings/ being approached by other dogs, and you were curious if there is a structure in place to make sure that the dogs don't greet while on the walk just so it doesn't set your socialization back.
If anything, maybe it would help them think about how that might be true for other dogs. I guess the worst case-scenario, they may point out that your dog doesn't want to be approached (singling you out?) but at least then you wouldn't have to worry about it.
Let us know how it goes!

Sara Grace said...

This is awesome info! Thanks!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...