How safe are pack walks? Dog owners, daycares and an expert on dangers and how it can be done right

Dog owners think pack walks can be 'stressful' for dogs, while an expert says it can beneficial if done well and in smaller numbers.

Dogs in a pack walk at the park (Photo: Getty Images)
Dogs in a pack walk at the park (Photo: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — With dogs being the most popular pet in Singapore according to a 2023 YouGov survey, it's easy to spot groups of dogs being walked together when you are out at the park on a stroll or a run. Commonly, they are handled by a single trainer from a dog daycare or boarder.

While the typical reaction of a dog lover would be to stop and admire these groups of dogs, the everyday person may not be aware that pack walking remains a divisive subject amongst the dog-owning community.

Jazsica Law, who hired a dog boarder more than three years ago, told Yahoo Southeast Asia she found her dog returning with aggression after pack walks. Three years on, her dog’s “drastic behavioural change” was still unable to be rectified.

According to her, at least 7 to 8 dogs were walked at one time, and sometimes up to 10 to 15. She has also seen pack walks conducted in the early afternoon during the hottest period of the day, and instances of hitting, or sitting dogs down for a group photo.

“I think pack walks are not really necessary. If I’m gonna adopt a new dog, I will definitely not send her for a pack walk because I think it is very stressful.”

Another dog owner, who chose to remain anonymous, had engaged a dog training company for her two dogs. Both her dogs did not enjoy the pack walks.

“I can tell they were quite stressed out. Their ears were pinned back and their eyes were darting from side to side. They were just walking for fear of being corrected.”

In January, two staff members of a dog-training company were suspended for allegedly abusing two dogs during a photo session while on a pack walk.

Yet, despite the negative experiences of some, there are still owners who opt for these services. Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to more dog owners and daycare walkers for their perspectives.

A large pack of dogs on a walk (Photo: Getty Images)
A large pack of dogs on a walk (Photo: Getty Images)

In the case of dog daycare Urban Paws, pack walks at all its outlets are conducted with over 20 dogs at a time. Two to four pack walks are carried out each day, ranging from 10 minutes to an hour, with frequent water breaks.

"This is feasible only with the right equipment, proper screening of dogs, and handlers who are experienced and trained," said founder, Laura Ang.

Meanwhile, dog care assistants from Super Cuddles walk smaller batches of two to four dogs at a time. The number is dependent on the size, breed and age of the dogs.

"We do not do large pack walks as there can be many issues that can arise. When walking dogs, they are bound to sniff and sometimes try to pick up food, or chase after some creature. Hence, we need to always be vigilant and react fast if anything were to happen," said owner, Rosalind Ow.

"If a handler were to be walking 6 to 8 dogs at a time, how fast can this handler react?"

On the other hand, five dog daycare and pet boarding houses told Yahoo Southeast Asia they do not offer pack walks services due to safety reasons.

One such daycare, Mr Woofles, said its handler only takes one dog at each time for pee walks.

"We want to give individualised attention to the dog while they explore. This helps to ensure the safety of both our handlers and dogs, as they will have full control during the walk," said co-owner, Samantha.

"The dog will be able to walk at their own pace, and get the opportunity to sniff around in an unhurried manner," she added.

Similarly, dogs at boarding house Furmummy are only brought for short one-on-one outdoor walks. This is because the company welcomes dogs of different ages and breed, of which pack walking might not be suitable for some dogs.

"There are challenges to manage pack walking as 'furbabies' walk at different pace. It is natural for them to pause and sniff. It is even more difficult to do it in Singapore given the busy parks and streets, and recent hot weather," said Glady, manager at Furmummy.

Woman walking one dog on a leash in the park (Photo: Getty Images)
Woman walking one dog on a leash in the park (Photo: Getty Images)

Dog behaviour specialist Fraser Noble shared that negative portrayal of pack walks in the media, which could lead to businesses being criticised, might have prompted some daycares to stop pack walking services.

"They probably just want to cover for the safety of the dogs and the business."

On the other end, Noble thinks that businesses that still carry out large pack walks do so to increase profit, with reduced staff looking after more dogs.

"Maybe they're not understanding it fully, or think they can deal with it. It could also be that they have not had to deal with an emergency," he said.

"It's a very competitive game. It's very difficult to thrive in this industry. That's why a lot of people end up doing things they said they would never do when they first started."

Pack of dogs jostling at a dog park (Photo: Getty Images)
Pack of dogs jostling at a dog park (Photo: Getty Images)

Noble is not against pack walks, but is conscious about how they are carried out.

"The problem is how do we know who's doing it well and who's not if the general public aren't in the know? That's where the danger lies."

He has seen some dog daycares pairing one handler with way too many dogs. The dogs are cramped together, and these handlers are sometimes unequipped to handle so many dogs.

"It is not natural for the dogs to be bumping shoulders every time they move or get dragged to the other side. It's a very stressful situation."

"If you were handling eight to 10 dogs, there's no way you could possibly give enough attention to each dog and read their unique behavioural traits, physical abilities, or socialisation requirements."

"Many dogs on these pack walks are being pulled on a leash. It leads to walking with tension, and teaches the dogs to walk in a certain way."

According to him, dogs have their own preferences, and jostling for a preferred location can result in aggression and reactivity, overstimulation, or stress.

"The risk of conflict is increased when dogs can't go where they want to go, especially for those in the middle, or those trying to get to the side. Some prefer to walk in front or at the back."

"It is also not natural for animals to be on a leash. They are unable to have the freedom of running away. If something excites them, they don't have the option to do what comes natural to them," added Noble.

Lastly, well behaved dogs who walk with reactive or misbehaving dogs, might adopt negative behaviour through social learning.

"Your dog who was once very gentle might learn to be reactive because of the dogs it is walking with".

Ideally, one equipped handler would be paired with four dogs, he said.

The other issue is untrained dog walkers, shared Noble.

"Dogs are predators. If we put them in an uncomfortable situation, or are not able to make them feel comfortable and safe, we are putting ourselves and the people around us in a potentially dangerous situation."

You can't just say 'I like dogs, so I'm gonna walk 10 dogs. You've got to be able to understand the dog and work with them.Dog behaviour specialist Fraser Noble

Handlers need to be carefully in selecting and pairing the correct dogs together, as well as the handler. Other factors to consider include time of day and location where the walk is done, said Noble.

"You don't want to walk directly across certain things your dog is nervous around. Even when you introduce some things that it feels stressful about, you must do so in a controlled and positive manner."

However, when done right, Noble said that pack walks can have benefits such as good socialisation with other dogs. Dogs can also learn how to behave appropriately, and react positively to external stimuli like cars, children, or other animals.

Additionally, pack walks provide mental stimulation, inspire playful behaviour and exploration, reduce stress, reinforce good behaviours, and provide good bonding between dog and handler, he said.

"It's a good opportunity to reinforce these behaviours in a real setting, and get them to work well with other dogs, walk politely, and respond appropriately. Some dogs get bored on a walk, so having other dogs around can maintain their interest."

A pack of leashed dogs walking (Photo: Getty Images)
A pack of leashed dogs walking (Photo: Getty Images)

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