- Walking on leash. It helps to have some basic obedience skills. You and your dog will be better able to maneuver into a good position in the pack relative to the other dogs and people. Some dogs might need a formal class, but most only need to practice on solo walks with their owners. Well-trained but energetic dogs might need a chance to relax and walk out ahead of their owners instead of in the formal heel position learned in class.
- The right equipment for your dog. If your dog has had training or is gentle, a simple flat collar or back clip harness will do. Others might need a head halter, front clip harness or prong collar. A few dogs will have been trained with the electronic collar. On a group walk be prepared to try different equipment if you need a bit more control. Do not use a flexi as it can be dangerous in a group. A 6 foot leash is usually best.
- Reactive dogs. If your dog becomes overly excited, barking or even growling, around dogs or people, walk away until your dog calms and can pay attention to you. Keep doing this until the walk starts. Most dogs settle down once all are headed out on the walk.
- Find your place. Some dogs do better in front. Others smaller or slower might like to bring up the rear. Occasionally a couple of dogs will take a disliking to each other or become worried. In those cases just find a different section of the group where your dog feels more comfortable. After all if you are on a walk to socialize your dog, you want that experience to be positive. The other members of the group can help your dog become more confident or more peaceful, whichever skill is needed.
- Ages, breed types and condition. Most healthy dogs can walk 1.5 to 2 miles. However, if in doubt about your dog’s conditioning, breed structure or health, it is always prudent to talk to your veterinarian. He or she can give you suggestions to prepare your dog for the walk. For any puppy under 6 months it should have experience in small groups of people and dogs, as well as gain some walking mileage, before joining a larger dog walk.
- Socialization. Dog walks are a great way to teach your dog that people and dogs are fun to be around. However, if your dog is young or sensitive, take some precautions to ensure a positive experience for you and your dog. Quickly assess which dogs and people to partner with and which to give a little distance until your dog gains confidence. If your dog is not sure of people, keep your distance and do not hesitate to ask people to not approach your dog until it is ready. There is no shame in owning a DINOS (Dog In Need Of Space). (See the previous columns in the Patterson Irrigator about DINOS.)
- Basic dog walking etiquette. Besides being mindful of other participant’s needs, group dog walks will only survive if we stay aware of the needs of the community. Please curb (take dog into street to do its business) and pick up after your dog (carrying a backpack can help where there are no waste receptacles). Keep your dog off lawns and gardens. Homeowners can be protective of their turf, literally. Be aware of blocking the intersections as you cross; here it never hurts to give a thank you wave when holding up traffic. If you encounter another dog or person, give them space. Walk carefully off the sidewalk or, if you have no room, sit your dog and demonstrate your training. Many people, as well as dogs, are uncomfortable and need space around strange dogs.
With a little knowledge and care, a group dog walk will be an inspiring and happy experience in commonality and community.