Whether you choose to close your dog field during hot weather is dependent on many things and therefore varies from field to field. Most dog fields don’t close entirely unless the weather reaches levels where the Met Office issues health warnings but there are a lot of things you should be considering before it gets anywhere near those levels.
DISCLAIMER: It goes without saying that none of the information here is dog health advice – this simply relates to the business of dog fields and the considerations you need to take as a business owner during warmer weather.
Here we’ll go through a few of the reasons you might want to consider closing during really warm weather, and if you don’t close, what should you do to protect your customers, your customers dogs and your business.
It is important to remember, dogs do not have the same capacity to displace heat as humans and are at considerable risk of heat exhaustion in weather we would only consider to be relatively warm.
Just Leave The Decision to the Customer?
We’ll start with the harsh realities. If a dog dies of heat exhaustion or suffers a heat related illness in your field, you would likely be devastated. You would also inevitably suffer some fall-out. People would find out and people would cancel and possibly never come back. Not necessarily for any good reason but it would happen like that.
Without going into a detailed explanation (and to avoid causing offence), I’ll just list some of the things you need to remember about some of your customers when considering whether they are fully aware of all the risks they might be taking when exercising their dogs in the heat:
- Many really seem to struggle to understand how to use a simple combination padlock
- Many turn up without water, even when you have reiterated that you don’t have a tap many times
- Some are completely incapable of picking up their dog poop
- The VAST majority don’t fully read any instructions you give them
- Next to none of your customers read your terms and conditions of use
Just have a quick think about those things before you let them all make a decision about whether to book a 50 minute run around at noon on a scorching day.
It’s your business and you must protect it from foolish and uninformed customers.
There are customers who will choose to book on scorchio days regardless – their alternatives might be even worse – a stuffy apartment, boiling pavements – and if this is a dog who is highly reactive but won’t go to the toilet at home, a gentle stroll around a field with a little shade might be all that’s required.
What Facilities Do You Have?
Do you have fresh water available?
The most important thing you can do relating to water availability in your field is make it CRYSTAL CLEAR to customers whether you have it or not.
Offering fresh, mains fed water is often a luxury for dog field owners however it’s not always affordable to install or practical. You can offer ‘water’ from a container – the most popular being IBC tanks but with this water standing (often in very exposed positions for long periods of time) it is not suitable for drinking.
We recommend that on your daily field inspection (most check first thing in the morning for overnight wildlife intrusions), you bring a large, clean container of fresh water and a clean bowl. This means that you are looking after those customers who rushed out of the house and forgotten to grab water or those who didn’t know you didn’t have it available.
Do you have shade?
This might be a few trees, a thick hedge line that always casts a shadow, a woodland or a structure that offers a shady area to get out of the sun.
These fields are infinitely more popular during the summer months and for woodland fields, this makes up for the down time they experience in the winter when they have to close on breezy days.
Having decent shade can make all the difference, allowing for a less energetic session, but a stretch of the legs all the same.
As with the water availability – if you do not have any shade, we would advise that this is something that you make customers aware of and consider adding to your field.
Do You Have a Body of Water?
If you’re lucky enough to have a pond in your field, then you might be very popular in the summer months! Cooling off in the water or simply splashing around might be exactly what a customer is looking for.
Do you have a Persistent Breeze?
You lucky field owners! Those of you on the coast, on the tops of hills and in a wind gully have fewer things to worry about in the heat. Obviously, there are days when the wind simply doesn’t do its job but you might have more bookings than the inland and exposed fields in the summer months. This doesn’t mean you are exempt from considering the heat implications to your customers but it does help a bit. If you publish a daily wind report this will help people make on-the-day decisions.
Your Insurance Obligations
When we started insurance investigations several years ago we discovered something interesting. In general, the cheaper insurance policies have very few (if any in some cases) stipulations or considerations regarding the use of your dog field at all. In fact, when we dug into this a little deeper, many aren’t worth the paper they are written on, simply serving as a box ticking exercise. BE CAREFUL. Your business liabilities should be taken seriously and being under insured may get you in a pickle one day.
Your liability insurance policy might be invalid in extreme weather. These extreme weather conditions are often measured by the ‘Met Office weather warning’ that you are familiar with seeing on the news. This is not measured simply by a temperature threshold but is related to the health impacts. You can download the Met Office App and set up notifications for various weather and environmental alerts. Remember these warning relates to human health and not dog health.
We do not suggest that this should be the only measure you use to determine if it’s simply too hot for you to continue to operate but if a health alert is issues you may have no choice.
Refund or Reschedule?
Heat waves aren’t often a surprise. As a field owner, it’s useful to be looking at the weather several days in advance if not further. This way you can plan for everything from mowing and maintenance to red flags like heat waves and torrential summer storms.
If you see a heat wave coming, the best thing you can do is contact all your customers and inform them how you in tend to operate during this time.
We keep it very simple with our suggestions below – the very last thing you want to do is encourage someone to come despite not wanting to because they don’t want to lose their money.
When to Refund:
- If you close the field because you do not wish to deal with oodles of phone calls and emails with people trying to make arrangements to reschedule or cancel. Some field owners do not have the availability to deal with these kind of lengthy interactions in the daytime
- If a customer cancels in advance (many people cap that at the day before when it is evident that it’s going to get toasty)
- Because you like the customer
- Some dog field owners will refund any requests – we understand this entirely but where a dog field is a critical income generator and every attempt has been made to offer a fair refund opportunity to a customer, it is perfectly understandable to offer an opportunity to reschedule instead.
When to Reschedule:
- When customers cancel on the day despite being offered the opportunity to cancel before this point
- Because you like the customer
There are fields that have no refund or reschedule policy – once you’ve booked you’ve booked. I understand – it cuts out uncertainty, admin, lost revenue and additional costs. I do however think that there are a lot of negatives that come from doing business in this way and we do not advise this as a policy.
Reasons Why People Might Want to Come Regardless of the Weather:
- As mentioned above, the alternative might be worse
- You might have plenty of shade, a water body and/or a breeze that means your field is much safer during warmer weather
- Your customer is someone who is fully aware of the risks, has a good understanding of how their dog will behave and can make use of the session without taking unnecessary risks
- They might be travelling and simply want a safe place to stop and let their dogs out for a stretch and a toilet break
Other Things You Can Do in Hot Weather
Reduce your hours
We have always simply shut off bookings between 11am and 4pm during a heat wave. Even outside of these hours it can be hot but often the morning dew or an evening breeze can take the edge off.
Extend Your Opening Hours
As long as you don’t have any planning or insurance restrictions, you may want to consider extending your opening hours to take advantage of the cooler early mornings and late evenings.
Paddling Pools / toughs/ large water vessels?
The use of paddling pools requires a whole separate article but if you make them available, we strongly advise you only do so if they can be emptied and the water changed between each customer. This means you need a hose nearby and somewhere to drain the water that won’t end up creating a mud bath.
Infinitely preferable to a paddling pool, hoses can be a great cooling tool in a dog field – if you get a really good quality fitting with a variety of spray options, your customers will hopefully be able to mist even the most hose reactive pooch!
Offer Shorter Sessions
To make sessions more attractive during the middle of the day, offering really good value, shorter sessions can be very appealing to customers who simply want a very quick wander. Booking a 50 minute session when you know your dog will be too hot after 15-20 minutes feels like a waste of money but an affordable quick leg stretch and change of scene can be just what your customers are after. These are easy to set up on a temporary basis in most good booking systems.
Make Your Field More Robust – Create Shade
We go on a lot about the robustness of your fields and as the economy fluctuates, those with the more robust fields suffer less.
Making your field ‘all-weather’ is pretty much impossible and if it were, it is unlikely that it would be financially viable. We have a case study regarding installing lighting that you may find interesting coming up soon (you can sign up to our mailing list below for regular updates from the industry and to be alerted of new articles).
Despite this – creating shade short, medium and long term is a very good idea. The obvious way is with a field shelter but there are many more imaginative ways to create a cool spot for resting for both humans and dogs. Some of these require a much more long-term vision and if you’re going to get stuck into some planting, be very careful not to be tempted to introduce some of the fast growing hedges, shrubs and trees, many of which fall into the ‘toxic to canines’ category and are daft things to put in a dog field.
We hope you’ve found this helpful when it comes to strategising just how to manage your dog field during hot weather periods. If you are interested in working with British Dog Fields to improve the bookings at your field, increase your revenue or you’d like some outside help with any other element of your dog field business, please take a look at our consultancy services page here where you can find out more.