Managing a Dog Field: What Is A Buffer And Why Do You Need One?

Managing a Dog Field: What Is A Buffer And Why Do You Need One?

What is a ‘buffer’?

When we talk about a buffer, we mean clear air between customers – a distinct time between when one customer’s session has finished, and the next begins.

It’s a block of time that belongs to you, the dog field owner.

What it isn’t

A buffer isn’t the time you ask people to use to load their dogs back into the car and exit.

Why A Buffer is Important to Customers

Getting what you pay for

If I have a session that starts at 10am and ends at 11am, I expect to utilise that entire time, regardless of how long it takes me to get my dogs into the car and exit the field.

If the next customer expects to begin their session at 11am prompt, they have every right to expect that I would be out of the field and they would be driving in at 11am.

Logistically, this just doesn’t work and invariably some customers will be the odd minute late leaving and the next customer will be the odd minute early arriving.

This means someone loses out on the time they have paid you for.

Reactive dogs

A proportion of your customers will have reactive dogs. A proportion of your customers won’t consider their dogs reactive, but in certain circumstances, they very definitely are reactive.

There is nothing that puts me off a field more than having a car loitering outside a field having arrived early, waiting for me to leave. So much so that if a field doesn’t operate or enforce a buffer, I simply leave early to avoid that happening. This means that I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth and that’s somewhat annoying.

My dogs are reactive and the distraction of a vehicle by a gate sets them off (with or without an excitable dog barking or howling inside). They will go to the gate and bark, I struggle to regain their attention and getting them in the car is more difficult than it needs to be. I also have an audience which makes me feel judged about what a failure I am at managing my dogs!

What’s even more irritating is that an otherwise peaceful non-reactive experience ends in an adrenaline spike in my dogs, and those of you who understand dog thresholds will know that this can lead to hours (sometimes 12 hours in my case) of increased reactivity or anxiety.

The reason I started using dog fields in the first place was to avoid this and if I can’t achieve a relaxed run about in a secure dog field, the field has no value to me and I won’t come again.

Why a Buffer is Important to You the Field Owner

Customers crossing over can be a source of conflict. Whether you know it or not, that’s your problem because bad experiences get retold.

I have to admit that back in the day when my dogs were significantly more bonkers than they are now, I had a few run-ins with other dog field users (I know I’m not alone). These interactions started with the best intentions “I’m really sorry but could you wait away from the field so I can enjoy the rest of my session please?”

The response is almost always something along the lines of “I’m next in so I’m just going to wait here” or a passive-aggressive “Where am I supposed to wait?”.

Embarrassingly, my stock retort used to be – “I don’t care but you shouldn’t be here”.

I’ve had a taste of that when using my own field (despite having a 10 minute buffer) and it’s staggering how rude people can be to people they don’t know.

This is why, despite my reluctance, I now recommend that dog field owners have CCTV in their car parks. Somehow, I think it just moderates people’s behaviour a little if they know someone could be watching.

I have a number of friends with reactive dogs who ask… is this field good for me?

No buffer, no recommendation.

The Problems a Buffer Solves

A minute or two late leaving or a minute or two early arriving is reasonable. Accounting for uncalibrated watches, defiant dogs that have decided that field is more fun than car, and general faffing – a buffer significantly reduces the chances of crossover between customers.

Emergencies. It is not unheard of for a car to break down in a field. It’s happened to me. A buffer gives the unfortunate customer a chance to call you and for you to call the next person so that they don’t rock up resulting in hysterical dogs adding to the stress of an already frustrating situation.

Maintenance. One recommendation that we make if you’re having poo issues at a field is to spot-check – especially if you have an inkling as to who the perpetrator/s might be. That buffer is your time and as such, if you want to pop into the field to do a quick sweep, you can. If you don’t have a buffer, this isn’t possible until the end of the day and if you’re trying to maximise your revenue in winter, let’s be honest, it’s not going to happen.

Irritated Customers. If I visit a field and someone is loitering before my session has ended, I usually let the field owner know. The reason for that is that some dog field owners really come down on customers who don’t play the game. I always have and I don’t apologise for it. You don’t need customers who can’t observe simple requests. Neither do you need emails, texts and calls from irate customers and a buffer reduces the number you get.

How Long Should A Buffer Be?

A dog field buffer really shouldn’t be any less than 10 minutes. 2 minutes late, 2 minutes early and that leaves 6 minutes of clear air. That sum doesn’t work with a 5 minute buffer. If you have a particularly long single-track drive or a narrow access that means someone might be waiting to exit onto the highway in traffic, make it 15 minutes.

Some fields that really target reactive dogs leave 30 minutes between sessions and whilst that’s fantastic, it’s difficult to justify from a business perspective so not practical for most.

Managing Poor Time-Keeping

Being late leaving is more forgivable than being early arriving. Early arrivals could ‘do a lap’ or pull over somewhere suitable to avoid being early.

Being late leaving can be caused by a bunch of fluffy, four-legged variables.

Sometime in July this year, our dog Arbre decided that it would funny to f-off to the far end of a field when the ‘going home’ indicators started flashing in his head. The first time he did this (and after making it clear to him that I don’t negotiate with terrorists), I had to get a lead from the car, run a good 200m, lasso the little $4it and then get him loaded into the car whilst being acutely aware that I was eating into the buffer.

Without a buffer, you might find that incidents like this eat a good 5-10 minutes into the next person’s session.
Other variables:

These are all forgivable. Not keeping an eye on the time is not.

A gentle call or email usually results in an apologetic response followed by an excuse which is fine (and might be a hilarious story). This stuff happens.

How Do You Handle Repeat Offenders?

Repeat offenders can find somewhere else to go. The truth is that reactive dog customers are more valuable. They don’t cancel if it’s raining and they need you. Look after them and if that means binning off someone who doesn’t respect the system, then so be it. You’ll fill their slot with someone who does.

How You Can Add A Buffer In If You Don’t Already Have One?

If you don’t already have a buffer and you’d like to add one, don’t hesitate.

Here are a few tips if you’re changing things up so that everyone gets the message:

You might have some teething problems but they won’t last. You might have to make a few calls in the first few weeks to remind people but they will get the message.

Buffers Are Best Practice

The reason most people give for not having a buffer is so that they can offer the most value to their customers but I think it’s more because people think you lose revenue if you have ‘dead time’ in the field. I also think that a lot of field owners simply don’t attract reactive dogs so it’s not a concern they have.

Reactive dog owners will pay more for a reactive-friendly field and they will travel further. Fact.

That is why when we’re ‘running the numbers’ for new fields, we can clearly show that a single field site can be more profitable than a site with fields adjacent to one another and this trend is on the up.

With more fields to choose from, reactive dog owners have more options and don’t have to settle for a dog field that isn’t ideal for them.

Of course, there’s no point in having a buffer if you’re not going to enforce it and an unenforced buffer can be more annoying and problematic for everyone than a field with no buffer.

Buffers and Planning Permission

One of the key elements that planners consider when looking at your application is what is commonly called ‘intensification’. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just to do with the development of the site and how the field itself is intensified from its existing use, but it also relates to the number of ‘comings and goings’ from the site – the intensification of traffic.

The addition of a ‘buffer’ reduces the two-way car movements to and from the site and also at the access to the public highway. This demonstrates a reduction in the likelihood of any accidents, increased noise, loitering and waiting to get in and out of the property.

If you want to know more about full planning permission and retrospective planning permission, have a read of this.

Never Has a Buffer Been More Important for Your Dog Field

February 15th 2024: I hate the fact that I’m writing this. I lead with a date for context. It’s been 46 days since the law regarding XL Bullies changed in England and Wales and there have been two very serious incidents in dog fields in England involving XL Bullies. These are two that I know the details of and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that one of these incidents (resulting in a tragic outcome) would have been completely avoided if the field owner had in place, and enforced a buffer between sessions.

There is No Valid Counter Argument

I have racked my brains and consulted with many successful dog field owners and for the life of us as a collective, we can’t think of a single valid argument against a buffer.

I am acutely aware that my view that dog fields should be run professionally is considered ‘over the top’ by a small (but very shouty) minority of dog field owners and stakeholders in the dog field ‘game’ but this one is a no-brainer.

Perhaps consider being to the dog field owner who is no doubt in a permanent state of anxiety, counting the days until someone finds out that it was their field where an XL Bully attacked a puppy and where their customer is facing prosecution for not abiding by the law (and has had their dog destroyed).

Please put in a buffer.

Take Away Points

As a reactive dog owner, I would really like to see all dog fields operating a buffer and hopefully going forward this will be seen as standard practice. The good news is, that as more and more dog fields put one in place, I have more choice.

If you’re looking for some help to boost your bookings, increase your revenue or reduce the hassle of your dog field, we can help. find out how by clicking below.

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