(June 2016). I’m just back from the IMDT Conference. Some food for thought indeed, particularly (for me) with regard to what dogs naturally would choose to do if no pressure.
So, the Fifteen-Minute Rucksack Walk (or Backpack Walk).
No, it’s not some sort of dance! Steve Mann recently went to Cuzco in Peru and observed the many dogs wandering freely round the streets. They have homes but are turned out during the day. His two observations that stick in my mind are ‘Dogs don’t run in Peru’ and that the dogs actively seek out people just to be near them.
Steve gave us his Rucksack Walk which, though he had devised it previously, really makes use of how dogs just can ‘be’ if left to their own devices – and that they like to just ‘be’ – with us.
I foresee this really catching on, like Chirag Patel’s ‘Bucket Game‘. It’s a good catchy name that makes you curious to find out what it’s all about.
It is the answer to many dog owners’ three main problems: lack of space near to home in which to walk their dog away from roads, avoiding things that scare him and lack of time.
In fact, the Rucksack Walk is actually conditional upon these things: limited space, an environment in which the dog feels secure and a limited amount of time.
To me personally the beauty of it is that it gives legitimacy to what I suggest to many of my clients who feel guilty if the dog isn’t walked hard for an hour each day. It’s something positive they can do, and do successfully. It’s perfect for people finding walks with a reactive dog a nightmare. I go to couples where the dog engages a whole lot better with one person than the other. This could even things out.
The Rucksack Walk, as Steve says, would be especially good for dogs or whose owners are on restricted exercise, newly homed dogs, dogs in kennels, hyper dogs – and actually probably every dog from time to time.
All it needs a peaceful place or quiet corner in a park or field, an area no larger than the size of a tennis court. It’s possible even a neighbour’s garden could be used if large enough. The dog won’t be running free through the bedding plants.
It helps if you are a bit of an actor.
You need a long line and a treat pouch. You also need, unsurprisingly, a rucksack. In it should be two small Tupperware-type tubs – one containing a different novel scent each time and the other a novel food. In the bag is also a chew and a ‘thing’ – just anything.
Then you need just fifteen minutes.
There are seven things to fit into the fifteen minutes in a non-rushed fashion which could be a challenge perhaps. I don’t see the actual process as being set in stone – more of a concept.
So here it is:
Enter the space with the Rucksack on your back, dog on long line and treat bag around your waist. Preferably grass is best for smells and you will be sitting on the ground but I imagine an empty car park could do. Most importantly the environment should feel pressure-free and worry-free for both dog and human.
Mobile phones remain in the rucksack.
Any speaking is in a… w h i s p e r.
- Start with a MOOCH (mosey), dog on the long line. Follow. Ideally he will have a sniff about and maybe a pee. If he runs and it goes tight, slow down to a stop. Encourage checking in with a little sound then chuck the treat (slowly if you can chuck slowly) the other side of you.
- TRIANGLE RECALLS next. Dog near you – drop treat and jog or run backwards away from the dog to encourage connection and following – within the length of the line. Gently call if necessary, drop treat at your feet and back away again. Do this in a triangle so you retrace footsteps and avoid being in competition with ‘novel’ ground. How many you fit in depends upon the speed of the dog, how preoccupied he is and so on.
- Now sit down. Everything is done slowly. Remove the rucksack and open it deliberately. Act like there is the most exciting thing in the world in there. Take out the tub containing the SCENT. Hold it slowly and gently like a precious baby bird. Give it so much attention that if the dog wasn’t paying attention to you before, he will now. Allow him a sniff. Perhaps sniff yourself. Be tender with it. Return it slowly to the rucksack. Placing the tub containing the scent back in the rucksack is part of the ritual
- Now, in the same manner, get out the ‘THING’. Take it slowly out of the rucksack. Act like it’s a very big deal but calmly and quietly. Milk the moment! Allow the dog to lick/sniff/hold it. Return it to the rucksack.
- In the same manner, bring out the FOOD. Open the tub slowly and allow him to sniff. Sniff it yourself. Yummmmm. Feed in little bits. Make a real meal of it. Perhaps share it. Return tub to rucksack.
- Now introduce the CHEW. Again, get his interest. Chewing releases feel-good hormones. Sit close and touching one another. Stroke the dog gently as he chews – but only if he seems relaxed with that.
- Pack everything away, put the rucksack back on, stand up and MOOCH back to the car, covering the same ground as before.
I would be looking into what happens before and after the walk too. It would somewhat defeat the purpose if it was a half-hour walk there and back with a nervous dog, passing scary dogs barking behind gates and hissing pneumatic brakes on trucks. He would need to be taken there by car. By car also if the nearest suitable spot took more than a few minutes to walk to.
One definition of ‘mindfulness’ is: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
Mindfulness is what the Rucksack Walk is all about. It doesn’t lead to anything. It is what it is.
NB. A message from Lyn Ridley The scent object Steve used was a teabag but you could use a drop of an essential oil (just a single drop) on a piece of cloth. I would suggest that you don’t let him/her actually have it, just sniff it in your hand. Lavender for a first time might be good as it is quite calming. For an object Steve used a piece of hose but anything that they can explore the shape and feel of that is safe. Also a tuggy only becomes a tuggy if you tug it. Braided fleece could be interesting to be explored it doesn’t have to be pulled. Try and think of something that your dog might find interesting in terms of shape or texture.
Here is another lovely blog about the fifteen-minute Rucksack Walk from Lyn Ridley ‘Clickerpaws’ who was also at the IMDT conference.