The reason that Google Reviews, Trustpilot and Trip Advisor all exist is that real life experiences matter. Gone are the days when well known restaurant critics held all the power when it came to the success of a brasserie in the Cotswolds – now it’s people power that reigns.
However, as valuable as peer review is, one of the reasons we verify fields in person is to view the field for every owner, not just through the eyes of the beholder. Everyone’s needs are different. What is suitable for me and my two 20+kg athletic cross breeds is entirely different from what is required by an 8kg miniature dachshund. We make sure we’re considering all creatures great and small, those that come with their unique foibles and those with the glaringly obvious issues – like being 80kg at 9 months!
Visiting dog fields in person is important for all users because we report the facts as we find them and remove the element of preference from the review process – these are the things you can expect from a verified field here on British Dog Fields:
- Details of the perimeter height, construction and maintenance (fence and gates)
- Explanation of the parking arrangements
- Details of the features and services available
- Explanation of anything that owners of reactive dogs should be aware of
- Highlight any misinformation in the dog field marketing material
Each review also contains our own photographs, information about location, and special or unique elements of the field or facility.
Our Experience At Dog Fields
I can’t be certain but I suspect we have visited more dog fields in the UK than anyone. Our experiences have been good and bad. Some issues we’ve encountered are simply life and to be expected – admin errors, occasional dog poos, people turning up too early or leaving too late. We’ve never judged a field on these things, simply how they deal with it when these entirely foreseeable issues arise. The best test of a dog field owner from a customer perspective is without doubt how they manage challenges and complaints.
There is nothing we enjoy more than an awesome field, seamless booking process, excellent communication and everything at the field being as advertised. No nasty surprises. Those visits provide ear to ear smiles and happy hounds. These are field owners that take their job seriously.
We take lots of photos when we visit a dog field – the images on their website and Instagram might not be a true reflection of the field and that’s ok, it’s the way of the world – but the unfiltered ones are what you need to see if you’re looking for a dog field – close up shots of the fence, the field full of sheep next door, the overflowing waste bins that illustrate a lack of maintenance. We’re not looking for problems but we will never hide them.
Why Accuracy Is So Important When Describing A Dog Field
Accuracy and detail of the set-up of a dog field is absolutely critical for some dog owners when choosing a field for their dogs. For example, for someone travelling solo, with a baby and a dog that is a strong puller, whether the parking is inside the field (or a secure air lock area), or outside of the field requiring the dog to go on a lead, can be a crucial detail.
The difference between 4ft fencing and 6ft fencing is fundamental to many users but you would be staggered by the number of fields who don’t detail this anywhere that’s obvious.
We also pay close attention to the size of the holes (the ‘grid’) of a wire fence because it varies enormously. Whilst a standard stock fence grid design (usually around 20cm x 20cm) is sufficient for our dogs (where there is no direct distraction on the opposite side of the fence), this is certainly not true for our miniature dachshund tester who if motivated, could simply wriggle through this type of fencing before his owner could reach him.
These details can seem small – e.g. you believe there is fresh water available in the field and don’t bring any of your own, but when you arrive the water is in a grubby old water bowser or containers that could have been sat in the sun for days.
It’s Not Just About Dogs
It’s actually not about dogs anywhere near as much as you think. It’s about humans. I want a field that above all is safe. One where I do not have to worry about the possibility of escape, distractions or triggers for our nervous dog. My colleague prioritises easy access for her pram and a tight grid fence so she knows her dog isn’t wriggling out anywhere.
I know dog owners who only use fields where there can be certainty of no interruptions – no nearby road or track, no livestock, no likelihood of seeing another soul. Any deviation from that is undesirable for her and her dog.
I also know users who have immune-suppressed dogs. For them, hygiene is crucial. Regularly inspected fields, cooperative users who pick up the odd rouge poo and an absence of communal toys and water bowls – all vital components of a suitable field for them.
Using a Checklist, Incognito
Occasionally, I receive emails of objection from dog field owners. Mostly these objections are to:
- The facts as I have stated them do not match the perception the owner has of their field
- The incognito nature of our visits makes people uncomfortable (and sometimes very angry)
Let’s look at these and why using a checklist is important and visiting without announcing our booking is non-negotiable!
We use a checklist – we research each field using only their own marketing materials be that through a website or their social media. After our visit we trawl through their customer reviews and more general social media presence so as not to be influenced unduly.
This checklist is very simple and answers the question:
Is the fence as it is marketed? Whether that is a 3ft box hedge or a 10ft chain link fence with a 45o crank. Are the facilities as described and is there a level or service that a customer, paying to use a facility to exercise their dog would expect?
Not announcing our visits mean that we see the field exactly as any other user would experience it. Anyone can put a review of their experience on the internet for all to see, we are no different. If you are a field owner concerned about incognito reviews of your dog field, you are in the wrong business!
I understand, it can be uncomfortable knowing you are being judged by your customers, but it’s happening every day so you need to get used to it. The difference with us is we don’t complain about the occasional dog poo on your Facebook page, we understand that technology fails and you can’t rely on people to read instructions. We’re reasonable and fair. We report the facts so if you are worried that you aren’t checking your field frequently enough, then that’s probably true!
Using A Tape Measure
If you are a dog field owner, never, ever, mislead people about your fences.
It is not a matter of opinion or debate. We come with a tape measure. We photograph the fence and we take no prisoners when it comes to outing those field owners who over estimate the height, style, or suitability of their fences. A lack of transparency in this area is inexcusable, ignorance is no defence and it damages the industry and results in a lack of confidence in users.
Sometimes, we receive messages from owners refuting our review of their fences. They have 6ft fencing all round they claim…..
…but a 5 bar wooden gate at the entrance; an area where the fencing drops to 4ft but there is a ‘big thick hedge behind it’; or a fence that is 4ft with single strand wires above to extend the height. This is inaccurate – for a field to be fenced to 6ft, the entire perimeter must be secured to 6ft (give or take an inch where practicalities dictate) with appropriate fencing. Not a scrapyard mash-up of recycled resources. We’re all for reuse and recycle but it must be fit for purpose.
Your fence is only as tall as it’s lowest point. Fact.
After years of visiting these fields and facilities we have a good idea of the warning signs – the red flags that concern us.
No secure booking method that protects the customer, no terms and conditions to be accepted, no declaration of comprehensive public liability insurance. Is this a business or an undeclared side hustle?
Overflowing waste bins invariably mean that daily inspections and maintenance are not done to a standard we would expect. Broken toys and detritus; grubby touch points like taps and broken equipment of any kind.
Perhaps less common but equally frustrating is where for example, the parking area is flooded. If this is an unusual or temporary situation, the field owner really should take the time to make users aware. It’s just common courtesy and allows users to prepare. Not doing this makes me wonder –If they don’t know the parking is flooded, how do they know the fence is intact and secure?
Supporting The Industry
Some dog field owners feel that British Dog Fields is not necessary – they don’t like it. We don’t agree. We believe that dog field owners doing an excellent job should be celebrated. By providing a resource where fields are verified, enabling field users to make their decisions about where to spend their money is vital to the success of this fast-growing industry.
As more fields pop up, we hope standards rise and those that have been operating sub-standard facilities either improve theirs or make way for new owners. Poor facilities will result in problems, council complaints and increased challenges for those looking to gain planning permission for their own fields.
The threat of more bureaucratic intervention looms – with the potential for licensing requirements, standardised facilities and regular inspections on the horizon, this will put further pressure on a business that already is extremely costly to establish – land prices, planning permission, fencing costs having doubled in less than a year. Maybe this would be better for dog field users but they may feel differently if they had considerably fewer to choose from.
So the summary is this – we will continue to verify fields through anonymous visits.
Users, you can be assured that our reviews are fair and based on facts as we find them, not opinion or preference. You can search for ‘Verified’ facilities using the advanced filters.
Owners, the cream rises to the top and we are grateful for all the support we have received from those of your doing great work and hope that through British Dog Fields, your facilities reach a bigger market and that you enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
British Dog fields operates an accreditation programme that helps dog fields stand out and is a declaration by us that these fields meet very high standards. It covers a vast array of elements, from how the business is run day to day; the maintenance programme; the provision of facilities; right through to their customer service and transparency of marketing. We have fields in the programme that are small, 4ft fenced, cut grass paddocks with a waste facility and a simple padlocked pedestrian gate. It is regularly inspected and all the marketing is entirely accurate so no user could be confused about the field and fence on arriva. All fields are eligible, regardless of their size, facilities, fence height and location. Accreditation is about standards being met, not the number of seesaws and tyre tunnels you have in your field.
If you are field owner and you’d like to know more, you can visit the Accreditation page here.