Monday, March 11, 2013

SociaBulls: Making a Dog Walking Group work in an Urban City

When we first started our walking group, we weren't sure if this was something that could be successful in an urban setting. We spent a lot of time talking to our mentor group Hikabulls to see what worked, and once we started, we had a lot of trial and error. We realize we are always still learning, but these are the key things that work for us:

Location Scouting and Availability:
Besides our rules and structure, our locations are one of the most important parts of making our group successful. In a city of 3 million people, it can be a challenge to find areas to accommodate our group. We look for areas with wide paths, few street crossings to keep their rhythm, and areas with little chance of running into runners, bikers, and off-leash dogs. We also look for paths that are not 'enclosed' by trees, bushes, walls or railings so dogs can have the chance to step away if necessary. 

Surprisingly, we have found several areas like this in the city! At the same time, sometimes these locations aren't available or they are difficult to get to. Each week our Event Planners scour the Internet looking for events going on in the city: races, sports events, presidential motorcades, protests, parades, festivals, and anything else that might cause street closures or take our spot. Especially during the summer, when there is so much going on, planning locations can get challenging.

Planning Pack Order and Dogless Walkers:
We created a member site where we post the walks at the beginning of the week and we ask walkers to RSVP by Wednesday. This allows us to plan our walks to allow all dogs to be successful. We have an amazing Pack Coordinator who understands what each dog is working on and creates comfortable walking locations within the group.

Having Dogless Walkers is also an essential part of the group. Since we do meet so many curious people, the dogless walkers can approach the people, answer their questions and deter them from approaching the group, since we do have several shy dogs. They also help intercept other people walking dogs who try to approach and deter off-leash dogs. 

 Integrating New Members Slowly:
For a long time growth just happened naturally and we were able to accommodate interested new members with little to no waiting time. With this we had a huge bump in interest, and we had to develop a plan for integrating new members. We created an application to help us understand each of the dogs for pack planning purposes. We also have new members attend a type of 'orientation' where they attend their first walk dogless. We know it can sometimes be overwhelming coming the first time with your pup, so coming dogless allows people to understand how the group works and ask questions without distractions. 

We integrate people into the group slowly, and limit the amount to 4 new dogs at a time attending the walks so we can understand what works for the dogs to help them be successful.

Plus, join our Chicago SociaBulls Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabull page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorite aspects of your blog is reading about the continued growth and success of SociaBulls! Its way awesome and very inspirational!

Two French Bulldogs said...

Do you follow Sugar? She is in Chicago and posted today about the shops at North Bridge Mall on Michigan Ave. doggy friendly inside.
Benny & Lily

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