Last year, as a joke, my colleague Katie suggested we should do work with dogs. We are all dog lovers in the office and everyone laughed and said ‘that would be amazing’! Nine months on, and we are releasing our first BeeZee Dogs programme in Whitehawk in Brighton today.
But why are we working with dogs when trying to deliver meaningful public health outcomes? Here are 4 reasons this is a serious programme, even if it seems flippant.
You can tell a dog person when you walk down the street with a dog. They look and smile at the dog, sometimes stop and have a stroke and others a bit of a chat about the dog. Dog walkers usually chat when they see each other out, even if just to say ‘hi’. Whenever anyone is considering starting something new, they are asking themselves the following question: “Do people like me do things like this?” In this case, because they know it is a ‘dog thing’ they know the answer, at least in some way, is ‘Yes’. This means they are likely to feel more comfortable signing up.
I sometimes get a bit anxious going to new places and meeting people I don’t know. We try hard at all of our programmes to ensure that we minimise this feeling for people using various methods. However, with BeeZee Dogs, people can come along and chat to other dog owners as they know they have a common interest. “How old is your dog?”, “What breed is this one?”, etc. It gets conversation going. People who run interventions to help people change complex behaviours often overlook these basic principles of how important reducing anxiety and feeling comfortable are.
Am I talking about the dog or other people? Both! Dogs are a good excuse to have to get outside and active. Meeting other people who have the same goals and interests can mean you find new people and dogs to go for walks with and for social support generally. This is key to making lasting changes: Be part of a tribe!
We have an on-site vet for general health advice (for the dogs) and agility training each week for the dogs and humans. Seeing your dog happy and watching them enjoying this cool activity is rewarding for the dog owners. But without realising it they may just end up doing a fair bit of exercise themselves! Getting active without even knowing it is the goal here. When you enjoy something, it isn’t a chore.
I know that Katie is as excited as I am about getting BeeZee Dogs off the ground. At the end of the day, we don’t assume we have got this right straight away. This is a learning process. The feedback so far seems to suggest that our assumptions are correct and we know that we have robust behavioural science underpinning the programme, particularly the tried and tested behaviour change sessions that will take place each week. But as a way of marketing our services and let’s face it, keeping our staff and customers happy, dogs are a great place to start!