Monday, June 16, 2014

SociaBulls: How to Start Your Own Dogwalking Group

It seems like it was just a short time ago when we would enviously stalk the HikeABull's Facebook page lamenting that we wished we had a similar dog-walking group here in Chicago. I never thought it would be a possibility until Lark wrote back and said that I should start my own. After several conversations, we had the confidence to set up our first walk, and we've been learning more in the nearly 3 years(!) we've had our group.

We've had several people contacting us lately with questions about starting their own groups, and since now seems like the perfect time to start we decided to update with the key things we've learned and the links to more of our resources in a single post.

Finding Members
Remember this sad post when Miss M and Mr B were the only members? On our first walk we had a mere 4 people, Most of our members came from word-of-mouth, and this post explains how we were able to network and use our cards to get more interested people.
We also know the needs are different in different cities, and we wrote this post about creating a group that works for the needs of your specific area.

Creating Structure
We created a structure to make a positive and safe place for dogs of all socialization levels to be able to walk together. We don't have dog-to-dog greetings for these reasons.
We make sure our new members understand the rules through an "application process" where they initial that they understand. We know many things cannot be prevented, but to prevent equipment failure we do these things. We also bring these things on our walks.
We use this bandana system to communicate who is part of the group, who needs extra space, and who can be aligned with as a "buffer dog".
So that no one person is overwhelmed with the responsibility of planning the walks each week, this is how we organize our weekly walks and divide responsibilities.  We even have set people watching the weather and preparing for cancelations which we wrote about, here.

Scouting Locations
Beyond the structure, we have realized our locations are one of the most important parts of the walk. It's important for us to find locations that are continuous, have 'a way out', have good parking, and they may even change with the seasons. We wrote more about it here. 
While there are often many people or dogs who are curious about the group, we schedule "Dogless Walkers" for each walk, which we wrote more about here.

Integrating New Members
After our group was featured in the Chicago Tribune(!), we had an unexpected wave of new members wanting to join the group. We began using this type of new member application process so we could learn more about the people and pooches. Each new member has an "orientation walk" where they come without their dog and they are paired with a current member to learn how the group works. They then help out as a dog less walker before coming on their first walk with their pup. We find this helps people learn more about all aspects of the group and integrate more easily.
We want to make it clear that we are not trainers, and it is not a training group, but a way to practice what we already know in a more controlled setting. We wrote more about it, here.

We also had some great guest posts from Seattle WalkABulls, the Twin Cities Pack Walk, the Positive Pittie Pack Walk in New Jersey,  and our mentor group HikaBulls.

We know many of you who are interested in starting groups, or have started groups, and we would love to hear any of your additional tips or where you might be in the process!

Follow this strand for all SociaBulls related posts
Learn more about our SociaBulls group here, and on our Facebook page here.

1 comment:

Two French Bulldogs said...

We have often thought about it but we are so finicky sometimes we don't like to budge
Lily & Edward

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