Dog pack walk benefits

Group pack walks benefit dogs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, helping those with behavioral challenges improve and be better prepared to be adopted.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

On a late-summer morning in Dogtown, a radio call goes out: “Who wants to go for a walk?” That’s the cue for available caregivers to select one dog in their care and meet at the headquarters building. The dogs chosen are those who most enjoy and benefit from a pack walk with up to eight or nine other dogs and people.

Besides a few regular walkers, there’s always a different number and mix of dogs and people. And that’s a good thing, because it simulates a real-life dog-walking situation and gives dogs the opportunity to socialize with those they don’t encounter every day. They get to know different people and learn from one another. This mixing of temperaments and personalities helps them all become more well-rounded individuals.

Dog with challenges to overcome

Who wants to go for a walk?Norton led the way on a recent stroll. He’s made tons of progress since he was rescued from a dogfighting ring in 2012, but he’s still pretty shy and withdrawn. Walking with the group helps him adapt more easily to new people and situations. Since he can be really affectionate once he gets comfortable with people, the quicker he’s able to warm up and show his sweet side, the easier it will be for him to win someone’s heart and find a wonderful home.

Like Norton, Rusty, a handsome heeler mix, is walking his way toward greater confidence. In the past, insecurities caused him to overreact by barking at people and dogs from behind barriers in his yard and while on leash. Along with some clicker training, group walks have helped him feel far more at ease around new dogs and people. And that makes him feel not only more secure, but also less reactive. Within only a few weeks, he’s transformed into a dog who trots calmly alongside new people and dogs.

Two role model dogs

Of course, it helps to have role models along like Carmel and Kelly to demonstrate appropriate behavior and set an example for the group. Carmel’s a really confident girl who does extremely well with other dogs. She has a calm energy and is never reactive on a leash.

While Carmel provides support to her less-confident walking companions, Kelly is the superstar who inspired caregiver Erin Schmitz to become the organizer of these group walks. Because of Kelly, Erin coordinates the walks more frequently than they’ve been done in the past.

Kelly’s situation is fairly typical of dogs living in Angel’s and Deja’s, located in The Lodges in Dogtown. She can’t live with other dogs because she has a tendency to get overexcited with roommates. But Kelly truly enjoys the company of other canines and is excellent meeting them on-leash. The walks give her and other dogs who live alone a chance to get the socialization they crave. Kelly’s so good that she often acts as a “buffer dog,” walking nicely and forming a buffer of friendliness in between some of the more insecure dogs.

Group dog walk benefits

Group walks primarily benefit dogs who live alone. However, they also provide enrichment, socialization and fun for all of the participants, and every walk helps get them one step closer to being ready for the real world.

Learn more about Dogtown.

Photos by Sarah Ause-Kichas