Group Dog Walks Are Great Fun (When Done Well)
Walks should be enjoyed by both humans and canines.
But sometimes it’s nice to have someone to talk to who can respond in more than barks and tail wags. Group dog walks with several dogs and their owners can be a social activity, good exercise, a dog training activity, and informal group therapy for dog owners.
What’s the Group’s Purpose?
Some groups are for relaxing, with everyone walking a comfortable pace that allows people to chat amongst themselves. Other groups may be for exercise with dogs and owners walking a brisk pace for measured distances. Hikers with dogs form groups and walk trails in local parks. Another commonly seen type of group is one organized for practicing dog training skills among other dogs and people while out in public.
The purpose of the group should be discussed often during the formation of the group and when adding new members. This will make sure everyone joining the group knows what to expect. A dog owner expecting a relaxing walk, for example, might be disappointed to hear the group is going to be hiking up local hills.
The group’s purpose can create limits on how many dogs and owners can participate. For example, a group of eight dogs and owners walking on city streets won’t cause a problem but twenty dogs and owners will. A group dedicated to training may decide on three to five dogs and owners per trainer; depending, of course, on the level of the dog’s training skills.
Finding Group Members
Finding members for your group is usually the easiest part. Talk to neighbors, people walking dogs in your neighborhood, as well as people walking downtown or at the local harbor. You might post a notice in the local veterinary clinic or pet supply store.
Social media, however, makes finding potential new members much easier. A neighborhood email or Facebook group is a great way to share news.
Once you have a few people who are interested, schedule a meeting at a local park where everyone can bring their dogs and you can all meet each other. Talk about what type of group you’d like to form and then listen to what everyone has to say. You might need to schedule a couple of meetings to find enough like minded dog owners with compatible dogs. Just don’t get discouraged; once the group gets going people will see you all walking and ask to join the group.
Deciding on Leadership and Rules
The most successful groups that have been in existence for several years have leaders. These are often the founders of the group although people do tend to come and go. Having several leaders seems to work best so that there is always at least one leader per walk and so that decisions are made by more than just one person. No matter what is decided on leadership, the leaders need to be open to input by the group members.
The rules need to be pretty simple. Dogs who show aggression towards other dogs and/or people are not welcome. Dog owners who are difficult may be asked to leave, also. Liability for any accidents remains with the individual dog owners.
Some groups allow young children in strollers but not walking children. The leaders of groups who don’t welcome children stress that keeping track of children running around the dogs is difficult; and children misbehaving around the dogs causes more problems than it’s worth.
One rule almost all groups follow is that all dogs must be able to get along and owners must be able to control their dog and make sure that their dog doesn’t pester, annoy, or bully any other dogs. The dogs don’t have to be best friends, but they do have to get along.
Announcing Date, Time, Place, and Details
Plan out and announce walk details ahead of time. This way people can decide if a particular walking route is good for them (too many steep hills, perhaps) or whether the date and time is right for their schedule.
The details could include whether the walk is a ‘go’ no matter what the weather, or if it will be cancelled or rescheduled due to inclement weather. Details could also name the walk leader, whether water will be available on the walk, or if water needs to be carried.
The details for a training walk could list the training level of the walk (basic, intermediate, or advanced) as well as certain exercises that will be practiced. Most training walk leaders (usually the dog trainers) also require reservations ahead of time and limit the number of dogs attending.
Keeping it Fun
Even though leadership and rules are important, the primary purpose of group walks is to walk the dogs, get outside, get some exercise, and to enjoy the company of other dogs and their people. Therefore, the leaders need to keep things low key unless there’s a problem.