Monday, January 23, 2012

SociaBulls: Navigating a Dog-Walking Group in a Densely Populated City

 We are so excited to hear about so many people who have decided to start own walking groups in their own city, and we've been hearing many questions about how to do this within a densely populated area.
Last week Lark from HikeaBulls shared some great tips about the importance of creating structure to set all the dogs up for success. To add on, here are some things we've learned about managing walks within the city:

Explore Beforehand and Choose a Continuous Route:
 The key aspect of the walking is developing a rhythm for the dogs to walk as a pack. The hard parts are when the dogs are stopped because they usually get anxious, or may react to other dogs' hard stares. So it is really important to find routes that don't involve a lot of traffic lights or stopping. We have gotten very creative with our routes, and after learning more about our local Park District we've found many park-like areas which allow continuous walking. We also choose areas with ample or easy parking.

 Have a Dogless Leader (or a Few!):
The problem with finding these great uninterrupted park-like areas is these areas are usually the spaces where people like to go off-leash. Knowing how on-leash dogs can get over-excited, or even defensive, when approached by off-leash dogs, we are very careful to intercept these dogs as often as possible. We have members who will volunteer to attend the walk, without their dog, to help intercept other dogs approaching. We try to have a leader in the front, back and middle; members walking at the front of the group will yell back if a dog is approaching. Usually people are a bit curious, and with a wave the leader is able to explain to the approaching person or dog that our dogs are 'in training' and they need to focus and not interact with other dogs. People have been really nice about it, and in many cases people will even step to the side. The leaders also carry extra supplies: water, bowls, poo bags, extra leashes (we had one break!). We are working on making cards and informational material for the people who stop us and ask about the group.

Create a Pack Order:
 Knowing our dogs all have different socialization experiences, we create an order within our group to allow dogs to feel confident during the walk. We usually have our most excited, or leash-reactive, dog in the lead. We have several confident dogs we use as 'buffers' between over-excited dogs. We are aware of dogs who might be afraid of men, and pair them with a female walker, or allow them to walk in the back at their own pace. Before joining the group, members let us know this type of information about their dogs, so it helps us create 'walking buddies' We also do introductions at the beginning of each walk to make sure everyone on the walk is aware of  dogs who might need extra space.The dogs themselves also seem to find friends within the group. We had written before about Maize, who started in the front and became more confident as Izzy and Lola walked behind her. Eventually they became a trifecta. Mr. B's BFF's are Jack, Torre, and Gordon.

Respect! And Set Rules
We make sure that all of our new members are understanding of our rules and structure knowing all dogs have different socialization levels and we want to make this a positive experience for everyone. We discuss our structure through email, and now an application where they indicate that they have read and understood the rules. We are an 'owners helping owners' group and we create a positive supportive environment for other owners to work with our dogs. We think having trainers on the walk would be kind of like having a personal trainer join a fun-running group, so we don't have trainers on the walk or align with a single trainer.
We want our group of responsible dog owners to be seen in a positive way and we are very respectful of the neighborhoods we visit. The group makes sure to walk to one side, and if there is a runner coming we yell back to the rest of the group so we all give them space. We all bring poo bags and clean up after ourselves. We also cap our walks around 23 dogs so we won't take up too much space in a densely populated area.
We also know that many people who see us will judge all pitbull-type dogs based on what they see from us, so we always want to be seen in a positive light.

Pick your Own Name
 Having your own name defines your identity as a hiking group. We all have different philosophies and rules we will follow in our groups, but if something happens with another group that shares a common name, this automatically creates a connection and damages your reputation. So it's just best to choose a name completely different than any other group.

For all of those who have emailed (and so sorry for the slow response...this has been an incredibly busy time with work/school), I hope these ideas have been helpful. We would love to hear about the progress of your groups, or any other questions.
PS. My camera stopped working mid-walk so luckily for smartphones, and a great pack leader, we were able to get these photos!


bigalrlz said...

Interesting and fabulous post, as always! I'm glad you added the note about your camera, not that the quality is awful, but I noticed the photos were lower resolution that usual, I wondered if my web browser was displaying them poorly :)

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

This is so great and helpful! You truly do it all!

Kate said...

It's really interesting to the specifics of how you run your group. This is great information!

Emily said...

I am so cheesy, I choke up whenever I read the posts related to your group because I find it so inspiring and love to hear what a positive difference you are making. I am definitely among the many who want to take what you have done and do something similar in my area. (For convenience purposes we are thinking more this summer when we move out of the boondocks.)

Corbin said...

Mom and I totally admire and respect what you are able to do on your walks!

A Wonderful Dogs Life said...

Thank you for all your hard work and great efforts on behalf of dogs and dog owners everywhere.


houndstooth said...

Your walks sound so structured and specific! I'd be thrilled if we found people around here who wanted to walk or hike with us, but we're our own small group as it is! lol I'm glad things have been going so well for you!

Kim @ Yellow Brick Home said...

Aw, this group has come so far!

Jack loves being Bruno's BFF and Lola's boyfriend. When we're able to attend SociaBulls walks, Jackie gets so excited and says things like, "Hey, guys, today's gonna be real great. I get to hang with Bruno, and it's gonna be a good walk for me. " (In Jack voice.)

goosie mama said...

Yay, I love these posts - we're trying our first walk this Sunday and G and I are so thrilled!!

Sara Grace said...

Super helpful!

wewalkdogs said...
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