A pack walk is a structured walk of two or more dogs and their handlers, meant to build a bond among the dogs, encourage socialization and appropriate interaction, and to exercise both a dog’s mind and body. Pack walking is recommended by veterinarians, dog behaviorists, and rescue workers across the world to help bond and integrate dogs. But what is it, and why does it work?
The domestic dog’s wild ancestor, the wolf, is a social animal that operates in family units called packs. A pack can roam over a territory of hundreds of miles; hunting together, playing, resting, and mating. It’s unsurprising that domestic dogs, who share so much of the same genetics as wolves, still instinctually feel the same need to travel together. Pack walking gives our furry friends the opportunity to build a bond with other dogs in a safe, structured environment. PACT even recommends pack walking as part of our meet and greet procedure between a foster animal and their potential foster family, and encourages pack walks to continue well into the foster term.
So how does a pack walk work? The first step is to identify a dog-friendly area to walk, like your local park. Meeting in a neutral zone will prevent any of the dogs from feeling overly protective or territorial with a new friend. Dogs should also be leashed, and the leash should be a standard, non-retractable leash less than 6ft in length. Leashes will keep dogs from jumping all over each other or bolting away from the group. At the beginning of the walk, dogs should be on the outside of the group with people on the inside, to create a physical buffer. This will allow the dogs to see and smell each other, but not to be so physically close that they could touch. As the walk goes on and as long as the dogs are showing relaxed body language and energy, the dogs may be moved to walk next to each other. Dogs may great each other with a friendly sniff only after a successful walk has been completed. It’s very important to build a base of positive interaction and reinforcement of those interactions to build your dog’s social confidence. After your dog completes a walk, praise them verbally and profusely, or use a food reward when you are away from the group. Your dog earned it!
Pack walking offers a variety of benefits: it allows your dogs to interact and bond in a safe and structured way, exercises the dogs, provides mental stimulation through exposure to new sights and smells, and it’s fun for the owners, too! Townships and local shelters have begun organizing public pack walks for their communities. Check in with your local organizations today to see what might be the next opportunity for you and your dog to pack walk. You can also start your own neighborhood pack walking club, and get your dog walking with buddies today.