We’ve been hosting a bi-weekly pack walk in North Hollywood Park for about six months. It’s free to the community and dogs with a variety of issues are welcome. Their problems range from anxiety to moderate aggression to overenthusiastic behavior to shyness. We also have some well-adjusted pups who come along for the ride as well.
The walk is designed for dogs who need to learn to socialize with others in baby steps. While socializing on-leash isn’t ideal, for these dogs it’s necessary for safety as they all have behavioral problems. The dogs are kept six feet apart at all times and are not allowed to greet others face-to-face. If a dog requires more distance than six feet, I make that adjustment. Also, we require only one dog per handler unless the dogs are small and the owner is very adept at handling both.
As a trainer, there is very little that I do on the walk except keep the dogs safe and show the parents the best way to handle them on leash. The walk itself is the true teacher for these pups. Once we walk for about 20 minutes, most of the dogs begin to relax and acclimate to one another. They begin to learn that on-leash time in the presence of other dogs is a good thing and the more good experiences they have, the less reactive they become on-leash in general. They also get the chance to interact with a variety of doggie personalities and gain confidence from doing so without incident.
Most importantly, they get a refresher course on dog language: t
he system of gestures and body postures which dogs use to communicate with others. When dogs aren’t socialized regularly, except with humans, they begin to forget this language and are more likely to miscommunicate causing friction with other pups. I always make the analogy that for humans it’s like learning a foreign language in high school. You might remember a couple of words later in life but unless you move to that country and immerse yourself in the language, you will forget most everything.
When people come regularly to the walks, they begin to notice changes in their dog’s behavior. Recently, we’ve had two dogs who have graduated into socializing in off-leash environments and are doing a fantastic job!
Each pack ends with a short training session where I talk briefly about socialization skills and take questions about dog behavior in general. So, if you live in Los Angeles, please feel free to join us. You can contact me here on the website with any questions.