The other evening I was chatting with my sister-in-law about her kids and she was telling me about this incredible trip that her and just her older daughter (age 5) took to Paris together. And then she said the following: “My kids are awesome when they’re by themselves.” To which I replied, “Well, of course, so are my dogs.”
Living in a multi-dog household versus a one-dog household is akin to roller skating versus salsa dancing while swinging from a trapeze while wearing scuba gear and juggling roller skates. One is pretty straightforward (at least comparatively speaking), and the other is just a f!@#ing mess. Which is why the first time I tried walking just one dog at a time, I felt like I’d exchanged my roller skates and scuba gear for a Segway.
Before adopting Peaches, and taking the time to read and learn more about dog behavior, my husband and I were living in a split-level condo with no yard and two dogs. So our daily routine involved three walks a day with both dogs down to the local park and back. Our two rescue dogs, both of whom we adopted as puppies, were 6 months apart. Neither had any significant behavioral issues. However, every time we walked them and passed other people or people with dogs, our younger dog Hudson would get worked up and redirect on our other dog, Charlie. It was no big deal and manageable, but nonetheless stressful. During the first five years of these two dogs’ lives, we never once took either of them anywhere by themselves. When we did anything with them, it was always together. We might have varied where we went, for how long and with whom, but no matter what, we always made sure to take both dogs.
Once we transitioned to a three-dog household, and then four shortly after, walking all of our dogs together became pretty unrealistic. That was also about the time that I started taking regular obedience classes with a local animal behavior consultant and dog trainer and learning more about leash training and dog behavior.
Eventually, I started taking just one dog at a time on walks in and around where I lived. Sometimes it was a 45-minute walk, sometimes it was as short as 15 minutes. But, it was always just one dog at a time. And that’s when something remarkable happened: I fell in love with dog walks and I actually learned something about each of my individual dogs.
As it turns out, our dog, Hudson, who I always assumed was the problem dog, redirecting on Charlie and being reactive towards other people and dogs, was not the problem at all. Charlie was the reactive dog, and Hudson was reacting to him. Hudson, as it turns out, is our easiest and most enjoyable dog to walk. He trots along at whatever pace we’re willing to move, rarely lingering too long at any given spot and totally ignoring even the most reactive of dogs that we pass. Occasionally, I’ll walk Hudson and Peaches together because Hudson’s presence relaxes Peaches, who can get pretty nervous in new or stressful situations.
Dogs are different when they’re by themselves. And taking the time to walk, train and travel 1-on-1 with your dogs can offer you infinite insight into who they are as individuals and what their potential training and enrichment needs might be. A couple years ago I took a road trip from Michigan to Utah with just one of our dogs, Buster Brown, and it was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening bonding experiences I’ve ever had with a pet.
I cannot emphasize enough how life-changing it was for me when I bothered to discover how much more enjoyable and productive three 20-minute walks with one dog at a time can be instead of one hour-long, action-packed walk with all three dogs at once. Quality of a walk (for both dog and human) is considerably more important than duration.
Consider one of my favorite excerpts from Feeling Outnumbered? How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-dog Household by Karen London and Patricia McConnell:
One at a Time. We’ve had lots of clients who had nothing but trouble trying to walk their two or three dogs around the neighborhood. Perhaps one dog was reactive to other dogs and set the rest of the group off . . .
All of these clients were grateful when we said: “You know, it’s okay to not walk all your dogs at the same time.” That may seem like a stunningly obvious thing to say, but when you’re the one in the middle of a forest of paws, it’s easy to lose track of the path out of the woods. . .
Of course, separate walks take lots more time, and you simply may not have it. That might not be a problem–in some cases your dog might be better off skipping neighborhood walks . . you can use trick training and exercises inside the house and yard to keep the non-walker busy and in condition.
For those of you out there who do currently walk two or three or even four dogs at a time for 45 or 60 minutes or however long you go for, I recommend the following:
- For just a few days, try walking each individual dog for 15 or 20 minutes each and note the difference for both you and that dog. Is it more enjoyable for you? Does the dog seem more or less anxious or relaxed? What kind of body language are they exhibiting? How often do they stop to sniff? For how long and where? Do they move slower or faster than they do when they’re with the others? Are you able to go different places than you normally would or pass different types of people or dogs or distractions? Do you notice anything different about the energy level of individual dogs or the group when they’re back at home?
Or if you just find that too boring to handle, then maybe you can try for John Garcia’s Guinness Book of World Records dog walking record. Was it 22 or 25 dogs at once? Not that it matters at that point, and not that any of us are as cool or adept at working with dogs as John Garcia.
*A point of clarification: When I refer to “one dog at a time”, I mean to indicate one leash and dog per person. It of course still counts as “one dog at a time” when you’re walking with friends who also have their dog(s) with them. “One at a time” simply means that you only have one dog at the end of your leash to focus on and handle at that moment.