If you have more than one dog, chances are you have had to consider pack walking. For some, this task is easier than for others, depending on their dog’s characters, level of training and behavioral challenges. It is no secret that I live with a pack of pups, so I wanted to share my insights on pack walking. Here we go!
First I would like to explain my own, personal, pack walking situation. Normally, our dogs get walked separately. Lady belongs to my sister, Ruby belongs to my mother and Bailey + Chilly belong to me. We all have our own daily routines that we are comfortable with. Bailey is reactive and she really needs my full attention (we live in an urban area full of triggers), so that’s why I usually walk her separately from baby Chilly. However, within that routine, there is always room for a pack walk. We don’t plan them ahead, they just happen naturally. We go with the flow. When it feels right, or the schedule allows (sometimes demands) we will do it and always grow so much from it.
Now, when I say pack walking I generally mean when ONE person is walking more than one dog. The dogs are very close to each other and you all need a mutual rhythm of walking. You also need to communicate with all of the dogs. This is the kind of pack walking that I am referring to, in this particular blog post. We all on the same page? Great!
The benefits of pack walking
1. The dogs learn from each other
One of the most fascinating things to me is how dogs are able to learn from one another. Chilly teaches Bailey how to be calm around her triggers. Bailey, in return, teaches him how to focus at one thing at a time. Ruby teaches the whole pack how to keep their cool in unpredictable situations and the other three improve her leash walking. Lady is amazing when it comes to listening to directions and always surprises me with how responsive she is. I love their dynamic and every single version of the pack pairing has proven to be a learning experience for everyone involved.
2. It forces you to communicate clearly
I always stress the importance of communication but nothing forces you to face your own lack of clear communication more than pack walking. If you don’t give clear directions, the pack will get imbalanced and confused. I suggest you always use a name before a cue. It helps the dogs orient and know when you are speaking to them. Also, reinforce wanted behaviors. If your pack is calm, reinforce that with praise and treats. If one of your pack members starts to get nervous/react/pull/etc., first assure the other pack members that you are still in control and like what they’re doing and then proceed to communicate with the imbalanced one. Pack walking is a flow – you must simply go with it.
3. It teaches you patience
I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with patience. It has always been a big challenge for me and my dogs are my biggest teachers in this department. Walking more than one dog requires a lot of patience and calmness. There’s no rushing. It’s all about the balance and flow. One of them may get super excited when a dog passes (or in Bailey’s case, super reactive), but it’s up to you to keep your cool and show your dog that they are still safe and welcome within your pack. Is this easy? For me, it’s not. For some who are naturally patient probably a little more. But I will tell you that this will definitely make you a more mindful dog owner and a more patient human.
Things to look out for
1. It doesn’t happen on its own
When I say that dogs learn from one another I have to stress that YOU need to create the environment in which they are able to do that. This means boundaries and clear communication. Only when that is established do the dogs look to each other for guidance, too. If they are too busy acting out, they won’t have time to learn. But if you tell them what to do, where to walk, when they can roam free … if you provide structure and security …. then they finally have the space to look to one another and pick up on each other’s positive behaviors.
2. Satisfying your dog’s individual needs
I’ll be honest – I wouldn’t recommend pack walking as the only type of exercise your dogs get. This is just my personal opinion, because I truly deeply value one-on-one time. (If you are on my email list you already know that). Your dog deserves some individual time with you, where you are able to work on your communication and strengthening your bond. He should know to always primarily focus on you, not on the other members of your pack. Your dogs also have different needs, both physical and mental. You need to know every pack member’s needs and you need to make sure they are fulfilled. It will pay off, because the general vibe in the pack will be more harmonious, trust me!
3. Know WHY you are doing it
We all have lazy days, but doing it just because you don’t feel like putting in the work to properly exercise both or all of your dogs isn’t a reason good enough. For me, at least! I already stressed the importance of individual time above, but pack time is just as important and I fully acknowledge that. You just need to know WHY it’s important to you. Think about every single member of your pack and what you want them to get out of the experience. Pack walking shouldn’t be self-serving. It has a deeper purpose.
– Bailey is reactive and very easily triggered. For her, the pack offers stability. She gets to see the members of her pack be indifferent to her big triggers. She gets to see that, even when she reacts, her pack remains unaffected. She feels safer. Braver. She also needs to trust me a little more than normally. She needs to trust me that I will still prioritize her and protect her, even if I have other dogs in my care. For Bailey, pack walks are all about stability and trust.
– Chilly is the newest member of our pack so a lot of pack walking, for him, is just about learning group manners. He is a border collie and still struggles with trying to herd random groups. He’ll walk nicely if it’s just the two of us, but if there’s a pack it’s a challenge for him. Through pack walking, he works on his impulse control.
– Lady is very gentle and easily overshadowed by the others who are more impulsive, but she brings big amounts of warm and calm energy to the pack. She used to struggle with leash pulling, so within the pack her main focus was to keep the slow tempo of the group and not go too fast. She is also easily influenced by other pack member’s reactions to the surroundings, so pack walking is a great exercise for her to practice a calm mindset.
– Ruby is the oldest member of our pack who practically doesn’t know triggers and is a good influence on the whole crew with her total indifference to … well, everything. But she’s not the best walker, so she needs to pay attention to where the other pack members are walking and how we are all moving; this provides an amazing mental exercise for her.
Always use positive reinforcement!!! You know how passionate I am about positive training but I want to let you know that pack walking IS possible if you’re training force-free. I know a lot of popular dog walkers use aversives + choke/prong/shock collars and I believe you all know my personal feelings towards that. I stand by positive training because it’s supported by science (and common sense). Make pack walking a great and positive experience for your pups. Be patient. Some dogs will instantly feel comfortable in a pack, some will need more time. It might even happen that some will demand more one-on-one time than others and all of that is okay. Tune into your dog’s individual needs and take it easy. Stay positive, stay kind. Remember, you reap what you sow!
What is your experience with pack walking?How many dogs do you have?How do your walks look like?Any issues with pack walking?Let’s chat in the comments below!
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