Walking multiple dogs at once is fun, but can be difficult and even dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Linda has grown accustomed to walking multiple dogs. She has three – a Rottweiler, retriever and a feisty border terrier mix. She walks all of them twice a day, at the same time. One afternoon, she found a lost shepherd mix in her office parking lot, and welcomed the stray into her household until she found her a permanent home.
All four dogs adapted relatively well to one another. Then, Linda took them out for their first walk as a pack. Things progressed smoothly until the shepherd mix laid eyes on another passing dog. Suddenly, she lunged at one of her fellow pack mates with shocking aggression. An experienced multi-dog walker, Linda was able to bring the situation under control, but in other hands, it could have been disastrous.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 43 million households have more than one dog. And caring canine parents want to exercise those dogs. When time is at a premium, as it so often is, walking two or more dogs at once seems like a great idea. But it can pose some problems if you’re not prepared. J.D. Antell, dog walking expert and author of The Dog Walker’s Start-up Guide, says that before a multi-dog walking experience, you need to make a plan that includes training, safety and proper equipment.
Training is paramount
Walking several untrained dogs at once can pose a danger not only to you, but to innocent bystanders as well. Training techniques should start as early as possible in a dog’s life. “It’s preferable to walk one dog at a time, particularly in the beginning stages of training, because having more than one dog around can be distracting while teaching,” says Mychelle Blake, a dog training expert and President of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She adds that training allows you to acclimatize to each dog’s temperament and agility.
Although training should be consistent for satisfactory results, it doesn’t need to be elaborate. “Sit” and “stay” commands should be included, and a game called “no pull” can be very useful –if the dog walks forward and causes the leash to tighten, stop until he returns to walk at your side.
Gear for pack walking
When you’re walking multiple dogs, choose proper collars, harnesses and leashes for each dog’s specific needs and temperament.
Collars – Look for sturdy, quality materials, and ensure that collars are neither too tight nor too loose on the dogs’ necks. If you have one or more dogs that insist on pulling, a harness might be a better bet. Do not use choke chains.
Harness – Again, durable quality products are safer and more comfortable for the dog. A harness relieves neck pressure and avoids choking dogs with weak windpipes or respiratory problems.
Leads – Choose a strong lead approximately 4’ to 6’ feet in length to provide reasonable security for a multi-dog walk. “Do not walk multiple dogs on fl exible leads,” Mychelle says. “It’s a recipe for trouble.”
Coupler – This nylon extension (designed for multidog walking) divides in two to separate each leash and reduce tangling.
A multi-dog walk may include canines of any size, age, personality and activity level. The idea of walking two terriers and a German shepherd together may tempt you to think twice, but these differences shouldn’t deter you. Nevertheless, it’s important to gauge each dog individually, as well as how he relates to the others in his pack. “Age is not so much a factor except when we are talking about puppies versus mature dogs,” says Antell. Puppies are generally more energetic than older dogs and their differences might create an alarming conflict unless the dogs have already adapted comfortably within the same household. “In most cases, you will be able to group dogs together by activity level,” Antell says. For instance, if a couple of dainty Pomeranians are going to walk with a Rottweiler and a Doberman, put the needs of the least physically able dog first. “Assuming they are social and friendly with each other, the specific method is to cater to the least physically capable among the group. Of course, this means the younger or more physically active dogs will not enjoy as active a walk as they might like, but you have not compromised the health of the most vulnerable dog either.”
Safety is a top priority when walking multiple dogs, and you must factor in your own capabilities, such as fitness level, vigilance and speed.
• Physics play a major role in keeping a pack under control. For example, a 120-pound woman should think twice about walking two 150-pound English mastiffs simultaneously. The weight of the woman compared to the dogs’ combined weight means they could easily drag her off her feet on a wild pursuit after a squirrel or rabbit. In a case like this, it is best to ask a partner or friend to walk one of the dogs.
• If any of your dogs become easily agitated or even aggressive, scan the environment continuously during your walk. Go for walks during off-peak hours when there is less traffic or other dog walkers, to minimize your own dogs’ excitability.
• “If you feel apprehensive about walking more than one dog at a time, I would suggest recruiting another person to walk with you as a backup,” says Mychelle.
It doesn’t matter whether you have two dogs or six. If they’re trained, sociable and well behaved, and if you have the right gear and are keeping everyone’s safety and comfort in mind, it can be a wonderful way for you to step out together. Best of all, no one has to be left at home!