Years ago when I was working with my own leash reactive dog, I always wished there was a place that we could go practice where it would be safe. I dreamed of walking alongside another handler and dog and just walking. The problem was finding people that were willing to let us practice with them. I remember one time, specifically, where I finally worked up the nerve to ask. There was a man and his dog in the neighborhood that took their morning walk every day at the same time as me. It was always a crap shoot if my dog would explode as we walked toward him on the opposite side of the street. I usually would make some gesture of apology and just try to keep going, but I had recently found some balanced training mentors online and was working on myself as well as my girl, and was working up my courage. So, one day, I called out across the street and asked if we could turn and walk the same direction as them, but in the street. I had seen this technique take the pressure off of leash reactive dogs and wanted to try it. The man was very polite as he said, “No thanks, I would rather not”. I can’t tell you how crushed I was. I had finally gotten up the nerve to ask and was rejected. I cried a little on the way home that day, but also started thinking heavily about trying to get a group together of people like me (those working on it!)
It probably took a year to really get that leash reactivity gone, (for me, it was so much about the relationship that my girl and I had), but the beginning was the tools and techniques that gave me just enough edge to start believing I could fix it and it just got better from there. Next, I found a training group that was structured and people had their dogs under control, and finally, I had a safe place to practice. The more we walked with other structured dogs, the more comfortable my dog felt and the more confident I felt. And from there it just snowballed!
Now, I have the opportunity to help others who want this so bad and just don’t know how to achieve it. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
Last year I began organized pack walks for clients. There is something magical about structured pack walking. Some people had let their leash skills slip a bit, but we coached and helped each other and it all came back. Everyone there can count on a safe environment no matter what learning stage their dog is in. What I mean by “safe” is that folks are not judgmental about any dog’s behavior because most of us have been there and we know how hard they are working on it. Everyone there knows the rules and follows them (giving distance to dogs that need it, for example). We all take the proper precautions, ( muzzles, tools, etc.) and we are there to help one another. Lastly, you have a chance to talk with people who have had the same problems and see what can be accomplished. Sometimes, that is the game changer.
If you have a difficult dog, reach out to a balanced trainer and ask them for help. Take the steps to find some safe pack walking buddies. Don’t be discouraged if you get turned down, it’s worth the persistence.