Thursday, February 20, 2014

Walking multiple dogs at once can prove to be a dangerous prospect, even for professionals

Admittedly, being a professional dog walker is a lot of fun: You are greeted by your charges with a lot of enthusiasm, the premise of your time together is all about fun and positivity and you never know what to expect.

The latter statement is probably the most important. Not knowing what to expect can be an exhilarating thing — but it's also something that needs to be taken quite seriously.

The need for dogs to get out and about and experience the world is something that myself and fellow dog professionals stress is necessary, and for good reason. Exercise is important, sure, just as the socialization with people, other dogs, and their environment.

It's the socialization part that can throw a wrench into the best intentions when it comes to taking some pets out for some fun, especially if one or more of them have trouble handling themselves with regard to their behavior.

In households with multiple dogs, I often hear about the struggles that are encountered when trying to walk their four-legged friends as a group. To do so seems to make a lot of sense, right? Time is saved, there are certainly enough contraptions out there to facilitate the task and after all, people like my most famous predecessor, Jim Buck, have made it look

I have no problem with the idea of walking one or two family dogs together, providing they are able to both handle themselves confidently. But beyond that, I never walk more than one pet at a time.

The truth is, walking a group of dogs is not wise, nor is it safe, for a lot of reasons. It's especially true if there are one or more dogs at the other end of the leash who simply lack the skills and sophistication to successfully navigate a challenging social situation that they find themselves facing. It could be a squirrel that pops into view, or a small child that tries to approach — or perhaps another dog that triggers an unwanted response.

Further, the level of arousal easily becomes heightened in the presence of the other dogs in the group. Those reactions boomerang right back to the dog who is having difficulty, or worse, that dog could redirect their unwanted response onto another dog in the group — or even toward the human that's on the other end of the leash.

Let's not forget about encountering a reactive dog and their ill-prepared handler, or those canines that are allowed to go off-leash. (I see this frequently.)

A situation like any of those are nothing short of disastrous.

That said, it's wise to attune oneself to the specific needs of each dog in the household and proceed accordingly, rather than putting everyone together in a group — tethered — with the expectation that they'll all be on the same page.

A reactive dog deserves to have the time out on a walk all to themselves, so that their human has the opportunity to work with them one-on-one, or simply to just get the most out of the walk that they are able to. Every good experience sets the stage for long-term success and confidence.

Mitigating any probable angst with the other pets in the group while you are out with another is easy: before the leash is grabbed and the shoes are put on, give the other pets their own stuffed Kongs or safe chew toys to stay occupied, in or out of the crate, while you're away.

Walking several canine friends may seem like an ultimate goal to attain in households with multiple dogs, but I assure you that it's a misguided one. Even as Buck, a pioneer in my field, acknowledged in a 1964 interview, there are dogs that simply require solo treatment.

Here's to keeping your adventures from becoming misadventures.

For more practical tips that will save your sanity on walks, even if your pooch has a ways to go in their training, click here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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