KINGSBURG – If you’re eager to take your dog on a walk without it becoming a tug of war or fur frenzy as other dogs approach, you may want to take advantage of the pack walks organized by K9 Solutions owner Sarah Chambless.
“Some dogs get very excited when they go out on walks. We have to remember some people are nervous around different dogs and different sizes. That can be overwhelming and that energy can cause a conflict,” she said.
The walks take place on the first and third Sundays of each month and are free for community members and their dogs to participate. This time, they also included an Ugly Sweater dress-up as part of the walk.
The group starts off at the corner of Marion and Lewis streets in Downtown Park, also known as Coffee Pot Park. With husband, Brian Chambless, and their dog, Jake, in the lead, the group travels north to Draper Street, crosses the street and heads east a few blocks. Then they turn back to the park at Lincoln Street in front of Suncrest Bank. Sarah moves between participants to answer any questions as they cross streets.
“If two laps are too much, walkers can do just one lap and stay at the park for a while,” she said. Back at the park, dogs lap up water and owners adjust leashes as needed. The purpose is to provide socialization and exercise but it’s not play time among the dogs, Sarah Chambless said.
“We don’t encourage on-leash interaction between the dogs. This is a different way of socialization. We encourage calm behavior, and we try to educate on etiquette when you’re out and around town with your dog. It’s about promoting responsible pet ownership.”
Chambless said some dogs may be nervous while on a leash or just not as friendly as other dogs. Thus, dog owners shouldn’t let their pets run up to others as a first-time greeting.
“It’s about respecting one another and people and other dogs you encounter. That’s what we want to promote.”
The pack walks first started when Chambless opened her dog-training business three years ago. While they started out with just her and her husband, their dogs and a few others, it’s grown to include participants from as far away as Madera and Visalia. Newcomers are welcomed, but if they’re concerned about their dog’s behavior, Chambless said it’s OK to call with questions. If needed, she’ll set up an evaluation beforehand.
“We have some people who are clients, some are not. Some have set a goal for them to be able to attend the pack walks since we do work with various behaviors. For some of the dogs, this may be too over-stimulating for them so we set pack walks as a goal.”
Chambless said the goal is for dogs to be able to walk on a leash, encounter other dogs or humans and know when and how to greet others.
“If they’re always excitable and that’s the only behavior and interaction they know when they’re out and about, it’s going to be difficult for them to learn when it’s acceptable to say ‘hi’ and when it’s not.”
Dressed up in festive or downright ugly sweatshirts, T-shirts, or holiday headgear for the occasion, the pet owners agreed coming to the walks was helping their dogs learn how to conduct themselves.
Julia Picher brought her German Shepherd Fritz to the walk. She has other German Shepherds but they didn’t get the same training and since they live in a rural area, they also haven’t been socialized as well as Fritz.
“He’s a good dog but I think it’s because I took him to training. Once he got trained enough, I felt comfortable to bring him on the walks. Now, he always comes when I call him. He’ll sit, go down and get on his place and stay there. It’s made him really manageable for the size he is. He’s only 1 years old right now and he’s a big dog,” she said.
That day was the first time Fritz wore clothing and Picher said she wasn’t sure how he’d react.
“I just got here and put them on. He seems to being doing pretty well. We did practice with his head band twice,” she said of his reindeer antler headband. “He’s a ranch dog so he usually doesn’t wear clothes. This is the one and only time and he’s looking pretty hideous. It’s an old T-shirt and I just glued stuff on there. It’s supposed to be ugly and it is. He’s going to be mortified when he sees these pictures.”
Diane Martin came with friends from Clovis whose dogs participate on a fly-ball team together. It was the first time she’d brought her border collie, EmmieLou, to a pack walk. Martin said she knows walking on a leash is a challenge for EmmieLou as she’d rather be herding everyone instead.
“This is all brand-new to her since this is our first time. She’s not very good at walking. She wants to be where the action is.”
Meanwhile, Liza Stack brought her Queensland healer, Fred, and Terri May came with her border collie, Story. May agreed that the walks gave their high-energy dogs a chance to learn how to react to the other dogs.
“The walks have been super beneficial. I wondered how today would be with the costume and if it would be more stimuli that would set him off. He’s been super focused on me today which I’m really happy about. I think Sarah and Brian set such a calm successful atmosphere so it’s worth driving here.”
Kristen Terry was pushing her toddler daughter, Abigail, in a stroller that afternoon. The walks give her Boston terrier, Bendi, more chances to learn how to walk next to the stroller, she said.
“When we walked around our neighborhood, Bendi would get clipped by the stroller I don’t know how many times. She’s doing better, but sometimes she does this,” she said of the dog getting its leash caught up in her legs.
Terry said they took Bendi for training before her daughter was born and it’s paid off in better behavior. Now that Abigail is growing and more playful, the family dogs are realizing they can interact with her more.
“The dogs are getting really excited they can play with her more now. Before, they were being careful. Now, they see she can actually play so they’re getting more rambunctious.”
As far as dressing up, Bendi was happier wearing a simple neck kerchief than a full outfit.
“Bendi normally doesn’t dress up. When we try to, they get mad and don’t want things on,” Terry said of Bendi and their Doberman. “Sometimes, when it’s cold enough they’ll keep the sweaters on since they’re both short-haired dogs.”
Chambless said since it was her husband’s spontaneous idea to have everyone wear holiday gear this year, they’ll wait until next year to make it a contest. For now, they’ll keep meeting twice each month and working toward happier and healthier dog and human walks.
“Don’t discourage yourself from coming out because you’re afraid of how your dog’s going to behave. We’re here to support and help,” Chambless said.