Do Yappy Hours Need to Be Awful?

Yappy Hours are often promoted as a great advertising tool for up-and-coming pet photographers. Community liaisons and community members clearly seem to be fans – they are everywhere after all. But are they a good deal for pet photographers, dog owners and event hosts?

In all honesty, most Yappy Hours are a massive failure. But they don’t have to be. Keep reading if you’d like to learn why these dog friendly events are usually a huge failure, common pitfalls to avoid when planning a Yappy Hour, the questions you need to ask to ensure you’re hiring the right pet photographer and discuss a few alternatives for Yappy Hour hosts that are actually worth considering.

What is a Yappy Hour?

The term Yappy Hour is a play on “Happy Hour” – a common special run by bars, restaurants and other public houses to drive traffic immediately following traditional working hours. The idea being that workers can clock out and relax after a hard day’s work with a beer and drink specials. A Yappy Hour follows a similar premise, but introduces dogs into the mix.

Yappy Hours have exploded in popularity

Dogs are awesome, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that people would be excited to attend events with dogs. Yappy hours have become increasingly common over recent years, especially in more affluent condo and apartment communities that typically cater to more career minded single and childless Millennials. A demographic known to focus more on rearing fur babies, rather than starting a more traditional nuclear family. They’re also a common sight at country clubs, swimming pools, athletic clubs and other communities that require fees or dues from members.

The benefit being that Yappy Hours provide additional value to community members, without forcing much – if any – additional cost upon the host organizations.  This all sounds like a real win / win scenario – on paper at least. But if that’s the case, why are so many Yappy Hours so awful?

snorkeling dog at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

The Problem with Most Yappy Hours…

But are Yappy Hours beneficial for everyone involved? As professional puppy people we have attended A LOT of Yappy Hours – as guests, vendors and as hosts. If we’re being honest, the vast majority of the time, Yappy Hours are a huge waste of time for everyone in attendance.

But they don’t have to be. The trick is to set honest and accurate expectations of how the event will function and what everyone should get out of the Yappy Hour.

Socialized Dogs Do the Best at Yappy Hours

It’s a common claim that, “Yappy hours are a great way to socialize your dog”. But that is absolutely not true. Yappy Hours are impromptu popup events often held in locations not designed to cater to large numbers of animals and they tend to be monitored by semi intoxicated and distracted owners. Remember – it is never safe to give dogs alcohol

With proper training, most dogs are remarkably low maintenance – if they stick to their routine and remain in a controlled environment. But if you change up a dog’s routine or place them in unfamiliar situations, that all goes out the window. That isn’t said that some dogs can’t be trained or socialized to over come these hurdles. They may even be fantastic without any special prepping – but you don’t know until you bring them into the new environment and as new stimuli are introduced. This process is one that requires attention and effort on part of the dog’s owner.

Socialized Dogs Benefit the Least from Yappy Hours

The best way to socialize your dog is to bring it with you when you leave your house and let share in experiencing the world – to let it grow accustomed to strange noises, sights, people, and dogs. If your dog is properly socialized to the point that they will make a well behaved and calm Yappy Hour guest, a couple of dogs running around a court yard won’t be a big deal. Alternatively, if Yappy Hours are the only time your dog gets to meet its neighbors, it’s probably going to freak out and become a problem for other guests.

A Chain is Only is strong as Its Weakest Link

Being honest about how well socialized and trained dogs are in your community is important when planning a Yappy Hour. Communities with better behaved dogs will benefit from less structured play – as they’ll be bored by more confined or overly cautious settings. But communities with even a handful of less than perfectly trained dogs (or younger children in attendance) should be kept on a shorter leash (literally) as these dogs may very well present a health and safety risk to the rest of the group.

Are the Dogs Carrying the Event?

Be honest, would you really be that excited to drink cheap boxed wine in your apartment lobby if your dog wasn’t there? Of course not. If your neighbors were actually fun, you’d already be hanging out with them. The only reason you’re considering hanging out at what is essentially a corporate work party in your off hours is because your dog is there. The event planners and community managers hosting Yappy Hours tend to know and exploit this fact.

If you are the event planner, don’t be that person. Be honest and think to yourself, “would anyone come to this if there were no dogs?”. If the answer is a resounding “no” – adapt. Do better.

No One Wants to Pay For Your Yappy Hour

The vast majority of Yappy Hours are a barebones affairs by design. They mainly exist as a budgetary afterthought, an affordable way to provide value add to community members or encourage word of mouth referrals without forcing the hosts to incur any real advertising or setup costs. This is a mistake.

Value is a two variable equation: Benefit – Cost. If you are not providing any benefit, than no matter how low the cost it will always be considered too expensive. When planning a Yappy Hour don’t be afraid to invest in doing it the right way or to ask your community members to invest on their own behalf. Good dog photography costs can be relatively expensive, but cheap pet photography is rarely good!

How Are Vendors Compensated at Yappy Hours?

Most vendors at Yappy Hours are paid in exposure. Meaning, the entirety of their compensation comes from what is usually extremely limited access to the community. For some vendors this works. But it won’t for everyone. Understanding how your vendors are motivated and expect to be compensated can go along way towards planning a successful Yappy Hour. If planned properly, your Yappy Hour should be a benefit to everyone in attendance – vendors included.

Photograph of a cute smiling Jack Russell Terrier shot on a Canon Rebel t3i and 85mm

Not All Types of Vendors Tend to Benefit From Attending Yappy Hours

Whether this exposure is valuable or not is going to depend a lot on the type of community you’re engaging and what kind of products you sell.

Consumable Products & Commodities Do Well at Yappy Hours

If you have a high ticket item that is sold on a reoccurring or subscription basis, these short events mights be a great deal. This is especially true if your product can be dropped off or shipped to the event and handed out by the host themselves, for a lot of the same reasons why so many grocery stores hand out free samples. This is why novelty and luxury dog foods are such common sights at Yappy Hours. It takes minimal effort to ship a few samples of treats to a condo building and there’s a good chance dog owners might purchase the product if they like it.

Example of a headshot style studio dog portrait featuring a tan pit bull dog rocking yellow sunglasses in front of a white damless background. Captured at the Puptrait Studio in Baltimore. A dogs only photo portrait studio.

Pet Products That Usually Benefit From Yappy Hours

  • Subscription boxes
  • Consumable items with high barriers to retail entry
  • New product lines that are easily demonstrable
    • Novel inventions
      • Internet of Things (IoT) devices
      • Networked pet products
    • Niche products, marketed to general consumers
      • Fetch devices
      • Remote treat dispensers
      • Unique training tools
  • Customizable products that are delivered later
    • Monogramed collars and tags
    • Couture pet costumes and coats
    • More affordable painted pet portraits
  • High margin products targeting hyper niche markets
    • Luxury pet products
    • Products designed to aid senior pet owners
  • Hyper local pet services
    • Groomers & stylists
    • Trainers & behaviorists
    • Pet stores
    • Dog sitters and dog walkers
    • Doggy day cares and kennels
    • Veterinarians
    • Nutritionists
    • Pet Reiki and acupuncturists

Yappy Hours Are Often a Flop for Pretty Much Everyone Else (Especially Photographers). Here’s Why…

Consumers Don’t Value Free Stuff

If your product or service is something that depends on a perceived or subjective value, Yappy Hours are likely to be more trouble than they are worth.  As a general rule, consumers do not tend to value products or services that they are freely given unless the product is a commodity. Meaning, if your product is something that is priced relatively the same across your market and the value of your product is already understood by the consumer, you’re probably fine.

But if you practice a trade that varies widely in price or is dependent on creativity or skill, such as an artist or a photographer, this interaction is undoubtably devaluing your product or brand.

Why? Not only is participating in the Yappy Hour likely not to result in many sales, you’re also ruining your first impression. While access to new markets and potential clients is generally a positive thing, if you would have later met the client through a different marketing channel, in this instance you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

This is one of the reasons why when planning a Yappy Hour it is almost always better to arrange for a discount for these types of services than to try to find someone willing to do it poorly for little to no cost. Remember no one is going to care if you arranged for the photos to be taken for free if they images are terrible. It is much more effective to reinforce value with objective discount amounts when working with artists and photographers.

Consumers Don’t Value Rushed Services

If your business provides a service that can be performed on location, think twice before servicing clients at Yappy Hours.  Yappy Hours are typically fairly rushed, disorganized and hectic events. Even if you are a service provider that regularly offers micro or shortened sessions, this can still spell trouble in how your service is perceived by what would otherwise have been great clients.

This is especially troublesome for photographers. You may be able to crank out quality 15 – 20 minute long back-to-back micro portrait sessions in a controlled environment, such as a photo studio. But keeping a dog’s attention when there are other dogs within view and they are surrounded by barking is an entirely different matter. And if you do manage to isolate the dogs, how do you plan on keeping your churn constant and consistent? Usually this means requiring event attendees scheduling appointments ahead of time (which if you have access to them prior, what benefit is exposure?) and bringing along another person just to handle paper work / manage your queue. If you usually work with a dog handler or trainer during shoots to help keep dogs still, suddenly you’re looking at a 3 – 4 person job for a 1-2 hour long gig.

This might work if you’re a team of hobbyists looking for a stressful way to kill time on a weekend. But it doesn’t play well with any serious business model. Again, if you are planning a Yappy Hour this should be an important consideration as the professionals you introduce to your community are a direct reflection of your own reputation.

Yappy Hours and Up Sells Don’t Mix

If you’re thinking about performing a free and rushed service on location, think again. This is one of the most common pit falls we see up-and-coming pet photographers stumble into.  As we discussed earlier, clients simply do not value work that they receive for free. Rushed work is devalued even further. And, that assumes you’re even able to produce the same caliber work in less optimal conditions.

Meaning, the clients you work with at Yappy Hours are unlikely to purchase prints and even if they do decide to buy, they will be expecting the prints at or near what they perceive as cost. Remember, that’s their perceived cost, not your actual cost. If you’re working with someone who only buys prints whenever they see a sale on Groupon, that might mean that their reference point is actually substantially lower than what you might be paying for prints – even with your industry discounts.

If you are planning a Yappy Hour, do you really want your vendors hounding your community members? No one appreciates email spam or cold calling telemarketers. Why would you invite these people to contact your community members? In the eyes of your community, these vendors are perceived as an extension of your own management team. Unless you want your community members blaming you for bait and switch scams or spam, don’t expect vendors to only be compensated through spammy sales techniques.

Puppy Photo Booths Are Not a “Thing” For a Reason

The technical requirement of setting up a decent photobooth really aren’t all that tricky. All you need is a fixed light source, wide angle lens and clean background wider than the lens. That is why automated photo booth solutions exploded in the mid 00’s. All it took was the introduction of low cost networked tablets to really bring the technology together.

But despite hundreds of these well function and low cost solutions entering the market over a decade ago, there are still no dog photo booths. This seems like an obvious and giant niche to fill, that is until you realize that a lack of tech and tools were never the problem in the first place.

Photographing Dogs Is Fun But It Is Rarely Easy

Dogs do not smile on command.

While that might sound obvious, consider for a moment the implications of that statement. 

As a rule, dogs will not remain still without a fair amount of coaxing and they often require time to relax (especially at busier or louder events where other dogs are present). It’s not a process that can be rushed. More over, dogs are extremely difficult to shoot well in groups.

More notably Yappy Hours tend to result in loud and distracting environments – neither of which is conducive to maintaining a dog’s attention. Together these factors make it nearly impossible to take great photos of dogs at Yappy Hours – at least with any consistency.

And, if you’re alright with taking heavily cropped, poorly lit, blurry and out of focus shots why hire a pro in the first place? If you don’t care what the photos look like, save yourself the hassle and cost of hiring a pro. Instead buy a high quality, but easy to use, point and shoot camera and just photograph the dogs your self.

The Logistics (And Economics) of Puppy Photo Booths Don’t Compute

Photo booth business models depend heavily on volume. Something that is extremely difficult to accomplish when working  with dogs.

Don’t believe me? Let’s run through some basic math.

During your standard 3 hour long event, a photo booth that photographs an average of 3 people per session every 5 minutes, could photograph up to 100 people. And, I think it’s safe to say that is a fairly conservative number, as they could potentially do more simply by increasing the average group size or minimizing down time.

Now let’s run the same comparison with dogs. Keep in mind we can’t really photograph dogs in groups (at least, not well or reliably) and they take longer to shoot (again, because they can’t smile on command). So, assuming we photograph 1 dog per lighting quick 15 minute session, that photobooth would still  only able to photograph at max 12 dogs during a 3 hour event. Keep in mind that is an extremely optimistic estimate, especially when you consider that the typical studio dog portrait session takes an average of 60 – 90 minutes per dog and that those 15 minute sessions would allow for ZERO down time between sessions.

In other words, even assuming the total cost for equipment rental and labor remained the same (which is a huge assumption considering pets are more difficult to work with, pose a greater hazard to equipment and represent a fairly rare niche), it would effectively cost 10x more to photograph each dog than each individual human.

Still don’t believe me? Let’s quickly run the numbers. Assuming it costs $600 to rent a photo booth for 3 hours. To photograph 100 people would cost only $5 per person. But to photograph a dozen dogs would cost $50 per dog — and that’s before factoring for prints. 

Yappy Hour Photo Booth Alternatives for Community Managers

Hiring a professional pet photographer to photograph your Yappy Hour is unquestionably a terrible idea. No reputable photographer ever would ever agree to work for free (or exposure) or put themselves in a situation where they would be unable to consistently do a good job.

But that doesn’t mean that inviting a pet pro to photograph the dogs in your community can’t be a great experience for everyone involved. The trick to success here is to understand the limitations and to set your expectations appropriately, primarily that decent pet photography isn’t cheap and that photographing pets is not something that can be rushed.

That leaves you with two viable options…

Treat the Photographer Like Any Other Vendor

You wouldn’t ask a dog trainer or veterinarian to work with dogs during your Yappy Hour. But that’s not to say that they wouldn’t provide value to your community members simply by being there. The same holds true for pet photographers – possibly even more so. As pet photographers often have interesting images in their portfolio which can go a long way towards improving the overall look and feel of your event.

By working out a discount exclusive for your community members, you can actually generate more perceived value and good will with your members than you would bringing the photographer on site to work in a rushed way during your short 1-2 hours long event.

Build Your Event Around the Sessions

The biggest issue that most Yappy Hour planners run into is that they treat pet photography as an after thought. They plan an event and then ask photographers to adapt their methods to fit. But that simply isn’t how professional dog portrait photographers work. Our sessions tend to run 1-2 hours per dog – and that’s working in a controlled studio environment.

Believe me, if it was that easy to squeeze portrait sessions into a quarter or half hour we would. That would be our new default – it wouldn’t be an exception, it would simply be how we would do things. Think of it like baking a cake. If a recipe calls for 400 degrees for 45 minutes, you can’t just crank the stove up to 1,200 degrees and pull the batter out in 15 minutes expecting to find anything approaching edible in the oven. If it was that easy to do, that would be our default method.

Book a Day or Two of Shoots

Instead of squeezing a dozen sessions in an hour. Instead, book a dozen one hour sessions for your clients. You’ll need a designated space for the photographer to work in – it doesn’t have to be huge, just somewhere large enough for them to set up a small backdrop and their lights. Basically somewhere they can bring a small studio to you. But beyond that, the setup is little more complicated than organizing your community and getting them to pick a session time.

Ask For a Community Discount

If you are bringing a photographer several shoots and providing a space for them to work safely and efficiently, they’ll likely be happy to provide your community with a discounted pet portrait package. They may even be willing to lend your organization or property a kickback or finder’s fee for the referral. Which you would be free to either pocket or pass on as a savings to your community members. By requiring community members to pay for their own discounted shoots, you’re forcing them to acknowledge the significant value you’ve provided them (you’ve saved them the hassle of research and put a price tag on the discount) and you are not devaluing the work of the photographer (like you would if you forced them to rush or be compensated entirely through upsales).

Cap off Shoot Days with Yappy Hours

Rather than treating Yappy Hours as some randomly occurring semi annual event, tie the Yappy Hour to the sessions. Sprinkle in dog friendly celebrations and giveaways throughout the different days. Or, cap off each day of portrait sessions with a celebration. The sessions will give attendees something to share and talk about other than your community, simultaneously cutting awkward tension and discouraging community members from spending the time griping about whatever thing they usually like to complain about.

a great dane puppy napping after a play date

Yappy Hours Should Be About the Dogs

Planning a great Yappy Hour really just takes common sense. The problem is that all too often hosts and event planners prioritize convenience and cost above everything. Which in many ways is understandable, as no one has an infinite budget to work with. But if you are not providing a benefit to your guests or vendors — why hold the event in the first place?

Regardless of your budget, when planning a Yappy Hour it’s important to keep in mind that they should be beneficial for everyone involved.

Make sure that your vendors are fairly compensated and representing your community in a way you can be proud of. More importantly, you want to make sure that you are providing real tangible value to your community members.

The surest way to ensure that everyone is on the same page it to ask yourself, “Does this put the dogs first?”. If your answer is founded on the ever so popular mantra, “well, its the best we can afford”, odds are you’re probably better off just not holding the event. But if you remain dedicated to dogs, everything else will fall into line automatically. 

Comments are closed.