Recently, a trainer on Facebook opined that the ability to walk 10 dogs at one time in a so called “Pack walk” was a hallmark of a good trainer. My working compadre’ and I discussed this at some length, as he replied to the post. It got me to thinking that this is good fodder for the blog, and I spent the remainder of the work day masticating thoughtfully on the subject…
Ten leashes, ten dogs. A trainer in the middle looking just a bit smug about the feat of “pack-walking” the lot down a public street. People with little background in training dogs look on admiringly, opining that, “That guy must be a REAL DOG-TRAINER!!!”
Those who choose to ply their living as professional Dog-Walkers in metropolitan areas, can certainly see the value of the ability to manage such a Mongrel Horde at once. Ten dogs @ $25.00 per dog per hour…That’s not a bad hourly wage. Done 5 or 6 hours per day…hmmmm. That’s some nice income. For them, it would be a handy skill. But the truth of the matter is that those people are not Training ten dogs at once. They are leading them…So why would a trainer feel the need to do such a circus trick? Maybe gimmicky self-promotion? Ego inflation? I can’t think of any other benefit. At least for the dogs…And isn’t THAT the whole point of training a dog? Helping the individual dog to a better way of life by being obedient, and maybe even useful?
The majority of trainers in my circle work on one dog at a time. Training, practicing, and proofing the skills that the owner deems necessary or desirable. There’s no NEED for assembling a twisted helix of leashes, attached to 10 different personalities and temperaments, all with differing motivations. There’s no point in it. And it certainly shouldn’t be considered a defining skill of a “real dog-trainer.” Because it isn’t.
Human beings have an ever present need to impress other human beings with various “skills” and accomplishments. More than a few dog trainers are caught up in the old paradigm of proving that they are “Better than that other trainer”, by virtue of their own skill set. Again, what is The Point?
Could a trainer that has trained hundreds of individual dogs to titles and awards and Good behavior, each in it’s own turn and time, walk a large group of dogs in an orderly fashion? Maybe. Or even probably. But, in the contrast, could a Dog-Walker that can manage all of those leashes simultaneously, necessarily be able to Train individual dogs to the highest levels? In a few cases, yes. In the larger scheme, no. The goals of the two are very different. Both are skilled in what they need to do their job, and they have differing ends to achieve. Opining that a “real” trainer must be able to walk a large group of dogs is simply looking beyond what is truly “safe” or “prudent” in public. If a 110 pound lady is walking multiple dogs on a busy street, she might find that if one of those individual dogs decides it “Go Time”, she would be in very serious trouble. They call it a “Nantucket-sleigh ride” with contusions, bruises, and serious road rash. Not to mention injured dogs if traffic is present. Is such a stunt really worth the liability? Even if it takes place in a rural setting, one could lose substantial layers of skin should an unexpected prey-animal cross your path. A group of dogs suddenly inspired and driven to run, is not going to hear your pleas of “Whoa! Stop! Whoa! Stop!!”
On the other hand, should a trainer enter a training arena with a baker’s dozen of German Shepherds, all off-leash, in an evenly spaced, single file row, and all of them perform a perfect auto-sit in unison, I will more than enthusiastically call that person a very skilled trainer.
I must make one proviso to this discussion that I have observed personally. My work puts me in place to observe, each day, a large group of dogs (12 to 25 or so at a time) all released into an enclosed play area. Lots of room to run, grass to roll in, holes to dig, and not one on a leash. The dogs rarely fight, play well together, and tire themselves out. Usually, a single person(a human) controls the group behavior. Now THAT’s a skill I can admire. The ability to be calm, collected, and in a position of Leadership over the group. In control of your own emotion and energy, even when the dogs begin to raise their levels of behavior. Now that describes a good trainer…