There are dogs that just love other dogs so much they can’t wait to say hello. While there are others that quiver at the thought of being approached by another pup, often because of past experiences. And then there are others that are right in between.
This is where pack walks can come in handy. Pack walks are a group of at least 6 dogs walking together, where at least 1 or 2 are well-behaved and accustomed to being around other dogs. The idea behind pack walks is to allow dogs to learn by the leader’s example to establish a calm energy and socialization among any number of dogs. At every pack walk I’ve attended, dogs instinctively end up falling into pack formation, learning to walk as a group together and rarely being put off by distractions. For some dogs, it takes more work than others, but as with any new skill, practice and consistency are key.
If you’re joining a pack walk for the first time, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Give space. It is best to allow space even with the best tempered dogs so they don't feel trapped. Some dogs take longer than others to acclimate, so allow for a little time to get them used to the new environment before starting the walk.
Save hellos for the end. Dogs have their own way of communicating and when they are on a leash their communication can be impeded and often misinterpreted. (Think, how can we smell each others bums without getting tangled up?) For your very first pack walk, it is best to avoid greeting all together until after the walk. This allows the pups to get used to each other during the walk and be more open to a greet later on. Also, many dogs that show up at pack walks are there because they are reactive* and their behavior can’t always be anticipated.
Wave your flag. If your dog tends to lunge or is reactive, it’s helpful to let other dog owners around you know that your dog needs their space. You can do this verbally or by letting your dog sport a yellow or red bandana. A yellow bandana is a universal signal that your dog needs space - most “in training” bandanas are this color.
Stay cool! Especially during the summer months. Dogs can be irritable when dehydrated. To keep them cool, rub some water on their bellies to prevent overheating. That’s right. Rubbing cool (not cold) water on your pup’s belly, paws and underarms can help cool them down drastically. And make sure you have enough water for yourself and your dog to drink too.
Take frequent breaks. Dogs tire out and overheat faster than humans. Early mornings and evenings are the best time to take a dog out on hikes. If mid-day hiking is unavoidable, then dog boots are highly suggested to protect their paws from overheating, as are frequent water breaks to stay hydrated.
Body language says a lot and is often mistranslated. Squinty eyes, a big cheesy smile, and restless breathing is usually understood as "aww look how happy my dog is," when in fact, it could mean that they are overheated and stressed, and it's time for a break. Giving your pup space, keeping them hydrated and taking frequent breaks can lessen the chances of this happening, and the more you get to know your dog, the easier it is to watch for these signals.
Post-hike tip: Bone broth is a great re-energizer for dogs because of its mass amount of protein and essential amino acids that assists immensely with their healing process and gets dogs up and running again.
*Reactive? What does that mean? Reactivity is commonly confused with aggression, but is actually one of the underlying signs of aggression. Dogs that are reactive are driven by fear, and ofen overreact to certain situations. A lot of time, reactive dogs have triggers, perhaps from a circumstance in their past -- it may be a certain breed of dog, men with hats, women of a certain race or even small children. Leash reactivity occurs when a dog feels trapped by being on a leash and his/her instinct becomes to lunge at the passerby to protect themself.
Pack walks are not just a regular stroll with a bunch of dogs. They require focus on both you and your dog’s part, and can be quite a mental challenge for your pup to keep his/her emotions or instinctive reactions in line. I can assure you, that you’ll both feel like you got a mental workout in. They’re also a great way to explore new places like hiking trails, lake, beaches and even some city walks. By teaching our dogs how to safely coexist with each other and in new environments, we can continuing trying and enjoying more activities together!