Packwalking looks like the simplest thing in the world- just taking a group of fur kids out for a stroll. Is it really as easy as it looks?
When done properly, packwalking is effortless and an amazing experience. However, as with any activity, there is preparation and practice involved for successful execution. Firstly is the choosing of the pack. While it isn’t impossible to walk a group of dogs who are not familiar with each other and/or with their pack leader, the chance of something going awry is much greater with an unestablished pack. A leader is much more effective when he/she knows his/her followers, and conversely, followers, especially in the animal world, only obey credible, proven leaders.
Knowing the fur kids of a pack allow you as the pack leader to anticipate and prevent certain situations. For instance, which fur kids are reactive to what? Who will dart at the sound of a loud noise? Who has a prey drive to chase anything that moves? Who goes ballistic at the sight of other fur kids? Who is new to packwalking? How about, which fur kids will respond to direction one hundred percent of the time, and who will stop listening when they are excited? Finally, who drags their butt and lags behind? Who is always straining to be one step ahead?
All this information is useful for choosing the members of a walking pack and assigning certain positions within that pack. As with any successful group, you want to stack it with strong individuals, vary the abilities, and keep wildcards to a minimum. This means, having more non-reactive, obedient, reliable walkers than unpredictable, novice fur kids. The front spots to the left and right of the pack leader are typically for the best walkers. They help control and lead the group. However, should there be fur kids with strong reactive tendencies, assign them a front spot so you can easily control them should the need arise. Being able to neutralize wildcards quickly is imperative for the safety of the pack.
The other component of a good packwalk is a good leader. A good leader maintains a calm energy, is firm & decisive with instruction, and has consistent expectations. Being relaxed and calm is not the same as daydreaming or being occupied with anything else though. Distracted packwalking is about as dangerous as distracted driving. Conversely, being hyper-alert and on edge is also not desirable. While it is very necessary to be on the lookout for potential hazards, like traffic, noises, people, and/or other animals, being nervous or stressed is the wrong state of mind to be in for walking. As the calm leader, you preserve the peace of the pack by staying on top of any changes in the energy of the group due to distractions. Deviations and non-conformance are not acceptable, and corrections/redirection need to be dealt out firmly and decisively.
However, nothing takes the place of practice practice practice. It takes time to feel confident about having two, three or four times your body weight in fur kids attached to you. It takes time to get to know the fur kids to develop mutual respect and trust. It takes time to learn how to stay in the present moment and balance feeling relaxed with being aware. So, no, packwalking is not quite as easy as it looks, but the exhilaration of walking peacefully with a pack of fur kids in tow once you get it, is so worth the effort.