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Are Power Walks Good for Your Dog?

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You see them everywhere, and you may think kinda cool, a dog walker with anywhere from four to a dozen and even more dogs all strolling together in what are sometimes marketed as “power walks” or “pack leader walks.” A more accurate term may be “precarious walks.”

Dog walkers can be a valuable benefit, assuming they are responsible and best if certified by Pet Sitters International, National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or International Organization of Professional Dog Walkers. Is the dog walker Fear Free certified?  Certification means the dog walker has taken the extra step to learn and conform to industry standards.

Still, even with certification people can do whatever they like, and market these multi-dog walks as somehow beneficial, perhaps with walks to a dog beach or a dog park where all the dogs are let off-leash.

The dogs return home exhausted and pet parents are pleased. The truth is that many of these dogs are also recovered from a nerve-wracking experience.

Don’t be fooled by marketing that suggests dogs benefit from these group walks – they do not.

It’s true that dogs are social by nature, but some dogs just don’t like other dogs. They may not like large dogs or specifically dislike male dogs or dogs with cropped ears or whatever the case is. These walks can quickly deteriorate into a hot mess if the wrong dogs are mixed together.

The notion that these “power walks” are beneficial has been reinforced by a few TV dog trainers, who claim that they resolve behavior problems. That’s rubbish. In fact, an argument can be made that when dogs are constrained by their leashes, these walks are more likely to create aggression issues rather than to solve them. If a dog wants to get away from another dog – for whatever reason – there’s nowhere to go.

Leashes can get tangled and shortened, and with that tempers may get short as well. Matters are made worse if any of the leashes are the retractable type.

With limited social space between individuals, we may feel uncomfortable, and dogs are no different. Many dogs feel that with nowhere to move away from the next dog and then the next dog, the only choice may be aggression. Even if the dog isn’t outwardly aggressive, and most dogs may not be, it doesn’t mean the dog is enjoying the experience. Quite the opposite is often true, as dogs may be emotionally traumatized.

Many pet parents think, “My dog is social so my dog loves being with others,” assuming that their dog will love the experience; they don’t realize that is often not the case.

Even with a group of, say, four dogs walking together daily who do like one another, dog walkers may add one or two to the mix. When that happens, a peaceful dynamic could quickly change.

Some dog walkers have a tough enough time controlling any large, rowdy dog, let alone dealing with three or four simultaneously. It isn’t easy for one person to control 300 to 400 pounds or more of dogs, no matter how good their handling skills are. If a squirrel comes along, good luck.

Of course, walking is enriching and the exercise is healthy. At the end of the walk, the destination may be a dog beach or dog park. Some communities have restrictions on the number of dogs one person can take inside a dog beach or dog park, but rarely is this enforced.

Consider that some of these dogs may not enjoy the dog beach or dog park as much as their people believe they should enjoy it. What we think dogs enjoy and what they actually enjoy are often two very different things.

Even if all of the dogs love the beach or park and get along with one another they sometimes form “gangs” and bully other dogs.

The number-one rule for anyone taking their best pal to the dog beach or dog park is to watch what’s happening. That’s easy enough to do with one dog, and certainly possible with two or three dogs, but increasingly difficult with several dogs and I suggest downright impossible with a half-dozen dogs or more.

Dog walkers – when they are responsible and qualified — may be incredibly beneficial to dogs and their people. However, the so-called “power” or “pack leader” walks can create stress and take an emotional toll on your dog. It’s not worth it.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant) has written and contributed to many books about pets; hosts three radio shows; contributes to Veterinary Practice News, CATSTER and others; is on the Board of Directors of the Human Animal Bond Association and Winn Feline Foundation, and is chief correspondent for Fear Free Happy Homes. He speaks at conferences worldwide. His blog: www.stevedale.tv

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