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  • Writer's pictureJeryl

Pack walks

Updated: Jan 17

I just saw a recent post about an accident that happened during pack walks(basically a pack walker was killed by the dogs she was walking) and decided to share an article i wrote back in 2019 plus some additional information. It is about pack walks and why I decided to stop doing so couple of years back. This is not the first time accidents happened to dogs and humans during such walks. Please note that this is my personal views and experiences. In my opinion, there are no right and wrong, only morally. If someone does it, feels comfortable with it and gets the business they need, then good for them. I will never say that I am 100% right and everyone else is wrong, choices are everyone’s to make. For me, I always think of ways to progress through science and improve the welfare of the dogs I work with. Below is the question I was asked which inspired me to write this post.

“Dear J,

I came across dog walkers recently and I’m wondering how some of them manages to walk a large number of big dogs together on leash without pulling. I saw some pictures of those dogs and they all looked at the camera, so cute!

I am curious to know if this is achievable and if it is recommended for my dog.”

Dog walkers sounds great, they walk your dog without you having to do the physical work, drain the energy of your dog and keep it happy. Everything sounds great on paper, until pack walks come into the picture.

You will understand more after reading our posts on the removal of pack walks in 2019, in fact since 2016 I’ve been reducing the number of dogs per walks and focusing more on monitoring their wellbeing, to see if there’s a way to balance safety, public’s preferences and labor cost. The final conclusion was decided when I did not find the pros of pack walks outweighing the cons, hence I came up with the idea of private walks.

The main reason why i stopped doing pack walks is due to safety, it’s not just safety for the dogs but also safety for the public. During pack walks, dogs can easily wander off, causing handlers to lose focus and also endanger other people/animals. In traditional theory, trainers believe that whether or not the dogs can walk well is all dependent on the handler, this in my opinion is unfair to the animals if we consider from their perspective. It is impossible to use positive reinforcement during pack walks; you cannot hold 10 dogs while watching and giving treats to the respective dogs and still maintain safety and comfort, using praise or play in this setting is also impractical and confusing for them. Those who wishes to prove otherwise is just doing so for argument rather than practicality. The only option left with when dogs pull in pack walks would be to apply aversives, which is common for handlers to force all dogs to be on tools like choke chains, slip leash and remote collar. In terms of safety, think of it this way; would it be easier for a person’s eyes to be able to monitor just a single dog or ten dogs at once? How can anyone be able to identify the stress levels of every single dog during pack walks? If one of the dogs are stressed or tired and needs to end the session, would the walker stop the whole session just because of an individual? How do they drink, do they all have to share a bowl and is this hygienic? If a dog refuses to enter or stay in the transport, how do they ensure that their schedules can be in place? How about cleaning urine and picking up poop if it happens halfway during walks? When a person squats down to clean and one or more dogs are distracted, what are possibilities of dangers here. These are just the first layer of issues that can easily happen during pack walks, yet most owners would never think of the possibilities if I hadn't highlighted them. If you think about it, it’s not just about the walk itself, there are so many things to take note of when walking dogs in packs.

In most settings, dogs are often preferred to be on choke chains, slip leash or remote shock collars and there’s a reason for doing so especially in the initial phase, the so called 'communication'. Because it's not possible to control the pressure of an individual dog with multiple leashes in your hands, most handlers would bundle them up like a ball, this return would also prevent them from causing the handler to fall because the dogs would be pulling each other instead of the human. If one dog pulls and the handler needs to yank the leash, all the other dogs will also be affected. If you think about what I've shared above, you may notice that I've not even dived into mental and physical stimulation, which is often non existent because of the amount of complications involved. Dogs may be pack animals, but they are mostly formed through blood relation and/or grew up in the same environment, hence grouping multiple dogs from different families is almost counterproductive. If we observe a pack of dogs in the natural habitat, they are not designed to walk side by side, and definitely not on leashes, hence the idea of doing so as a form of socialization in my opinion may actually worsen their perception of other dogs.

It is possible to train a group of dogs to walk well together, my suggested way is to work with a dog through solo sessions until the particular dog is well trained enough to walk with another well trained dog, bear in mind that it could easily take months to years of proper training for a dog to be ready. Do also note that this is more suitable for multiple dogs household rather than random ones due to time and different temperaments/personalities.

If we discuss about walking a group of untrained dogs that has not met each other and yet they seem to be fully cooperative, then it would be ideal to consider that these dogs were most likely trained/walked using aversive methods. This can range from the form of tools that are built to cause discomfort, both physical and mental, to overstimulation (tiring them out first). Our hands are not designed to withstand pulls from dogs that adds up to hundreds of kilograms, so the fastest way to reduce shock from the pulls is by returning the pressure to the dogs through yanking, or punish them whenever they attempt to rush. When we talk about weight, it is simple science and physics, just consider an average 70kg man holding onto a leash with his hand vs 200kg (10 untrained dogs of multiple sizes) dashing towards multiple directions. I would be skeptical if a person tells you that it is all about postures or leadership ability, such fantasy isn’t applicable in the books of science. Aversive training may seem impressive due to fast changes displayed by most dogs (and also make the handler seem cool and macho), behind are tons of hidden side effects waiting to explode one day when the dog decides that it has had enough. What I share here are techniques that I myself am very familiar with, these methods are rarely shown in public these days because it will create backlash. If one is lucky and observant enough and hang out around dog environments, they may observe trainers/walkers punishing dogs in the corner or street and parks, it is much more common than the public might think, and this is is a huge problem because handlers are beginning to hide. It is very different from my time; the public in the past was comfortable with training dogs in a certain manner, nobody would question you for choking and screaming at your dog. What you see are the results of dogs that had gone through a certain amount of trauma, they may never learn to misbehave because they know the consequences.

All dogs are generally cute, placing them together looks even cuter, but how many people are able to distinguish between happy and stressful behavior? The photo was sent to us shown 8 out of 10 dogs displaying signs of extreme discomfort and stress - slouching, ears behind the back of their heads, tight lips etc., the only dog that didn’t looked stress was the one with it’s mouth opened and tongue out, which could just mean it was overly tired. Force posing is also a thing, the sign to look out for is when dogs are lined side by side for photos.

As for the reason why there are walkers that prefers pack walks instead of focusing on one to two dogs at one time, if it was me in 2011, I would say that it is due to cost efficiency, mentality(if it works, why should I change) and fame/status. Imagine spending more than an hour just to prepare and earn $20-$40, then having to travel to another location and repeat the procedure. Walking a large number of dogs at one shot can simply generate much better profits within the shortest period of time, and you look like a dog whisperer(if it’s still relevant today).

If I’m being honest, these days when I see pack walkers showing their dogs on the streets and on social media, some even swagging and dismissing the stress signals that their dogs are showing with a nonchalant look, I felt like I’m seeing a mirror of myself a decade ago. Dogs bumping onto each other, panting and trying to catch up, getting touched by strangers, no sniffing time, no personal connection with the human, is this what walks should be for them? Is this what we call training/obedience? The only problem is, are we going to be stuck here forever, or would people start noticing something is off with their dogs in those settings?

Ps again:

In my opinion, there are no right and wrong, only morally. If someone does it, feels comfortable with it and gets the business they need, then good for them, I will never say that I am 100% right and everyone else is wrong, choices are everyone’s to make. For me, I always think of ways to progress through science and improve the welfare of the dogs I work with.

Amber(left) and Toffy(right) enjoying their relaxing walks with maximum attention and love. Private walks are now part of the optional activities we provide.

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