The Rucksack Walk

I am 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.

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Pack everything away, put the rucksack back on, stand up and MOOCH back to the car, covering the same ground as before.

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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.

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About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs-ABTC - AAB) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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40 Responses to The Rucksack Walk

  1. Dale Ward says:

    I absolutely love this idea and will be implementing it immediately!!! Thanks Theo!!!!

    Like

  2. Gwen Matear says:

    Theo it’s great to see it written down but it was before his Peru visit he came up with this as he shared it with us in Scotland at events last year. It’s still a great concept!

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    • Theo Stewart says:

      Thanks for the heads up – I shall make a change to it. At the conference it sounded like it was something to do with his Peru visit.

      Like

      • Lyn says:

        Theo, I was there and it’s great to see it written out – I was just about to start doing it on a Forum I post on, now I may just write a summary and give a link to this. I think the Peru bit was just to describe how dogs that are free to chose often choose to just mooch about. To give context rather than to say one idea grew out of the other. I thought the conference was brilliant

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      • Theo Stewart says:

        Hi Lynn, yes – at the time I thought Steve had devised it after Peru but apparently he had done it earlier in Scotland, but I have been put right about that and changed it! Yes, it gives it a very meaningful context doesn’t it (contexts and concepts – thanks Nando!). I like things written out for my clients and I do my regular Paws for Thought blogs whenever anything useful or to question gets into my head! I would be very interested to see your summary if that’s possible. Are we FB friends?

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      • Lyn says:

        One small addition – he called it the 15 minute rucksack walk

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      • Theo Stewart says:

        I will amend! Possibly a bit late now!

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      • Lyn says:

        No, we haven’t been FB friends, I just googled Steve Mann Rucksack walk to see if he had posted anything because I just wanted to check that I’d remembered everything – a training friend has swiped my conference notes LOL
        I can send a FB request.

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      • Theo Stewart says:

        I checked my notes quite carefully and haven’t found anything online from Steve about it. He’s aware of my blog. A few people have helped me make a few changes. I can’t wait for some more videos to come out – didn’t Steve say he would put his up?

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  3. Caroline Tonka Too says:

    This is very timely for me and my dog, as he has just had a TPLO operation and will be on very restricted walking for 6 weeks. I’ve a couple of weeks before he can up to gentle 10 minute lead walks, so I can practice with my other dog to find out what works best for each smell and treat! He is already a tad sad and crate bored, so anything to cheer him up and not risk that knee is a massive bonus! Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

    Like

    • Theo Stewart says:

      I wonder whether, if you put your other dogs out of the room, you can do the same thing in the kitchen – or in your garden – adapting to suit?

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      • Caroline Tonka Too says:

        Yes, I plan to try this with my recovering dog in the garden, as that is the limit of his excercise until the end of July. I think spending 10 minutes pottering on a long lead and the stimulation of the rucksack contents would make it more interesting than the usual ‘pee and poo potter’. The only benefit of this happening now is that I have managed to sit outside with him on the grass for a while to make his day more fun with fresh air and outdoor smells. Shame I only get alternate days of fine weather, mind! 😎

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    • Lyn says:

      Caroline, have you come across a little book called ‘No Walks No Worries’? Also Donna Hill has done a great video of crate exercises for convalescent dogs

      Like

  4. Pat Almond says:

    Interesting description of what things to gather together and what to do with them. I’m not clear what this exercise Intends to achieve in terms of dog behavior and experience nor human behavior and experience. Is there a link or description? If so will you post that? what is the goal or purpose?

    Like

    • Theo Stewart says:

      It’s about just ‘being’ together, stress-free. It doesn’t intend to achieve goals in terms of behaviour, training etc. It is what it is. I can quote Steve’s introduction: What is a Rucksack Walk? Learning to be ‘with’, safe, pressure-free, unconditional (it’s not if you do/tolerate X, you get Y), opportunity to develop bond….

      It’s fifteen minutes of time. It is what it is. It’s about giving the dog 100% full attention with no pressure. It’s not about goals.

      Like

  5. kirstrose says:

    This sounds wonderful.

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  6. Pingback: The Rucksack Walk | glasgowdogtrainer

  7. Joyce says:

    I have several dogs who I think would enjoy our time together in this manner. Thx for sharing!

    Like

  8. Beth says:

    MOOCH??

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Deanna says:

    It seems to me that a Rucksack walk would be a great way to develop a connection and foster a strong bond with a new puppy. At the same time, the puppy can explore a new environment in a safe and supported manner.

    Like

  10. Jenny Haskins says:

    ?????? Fine, I know for my German Shepherds and Kelpies. (like the dog pictured) OT for mad Millie, the Speagle (beagle/cocker spaniel). She is a ‘see ya!’ dog and would be over the horizon in a flash. Doesn’t run???? Cor lummy, take her into the safely fenced paddock and she runs for joy, ears flapping wildly. Not that the German Shepherds and Kelpies don’t also enjoy a good run, but in general they come back every now and then to check on me 🙂

    Like

  11. Lhanna says:

    What a great idea! 🙂

    Like

  12. sally says:

    sounds really great. definately gonna try this with my very excitable terrier. just looking for ideas for scents & things tho. if Scent is something edible & Thing is something possible to play tug, then it’s not gonna be calm! i have a young very energetic terrier!

    Like

    • Lyn says:

      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.

      Like

  13. Lyn says:

    Thank you very much for adding the PawsitivelyTerriers.com blog link, that’s very much appreciated 🙂

    Like

  14. I’m a bit puzzled as to why this needs to be a ‘thing’ plus I’m puzzled as to the reasoning behind it. Yes, dogs that are given space to roam around, like farm dogs, are generally calmer. No, fifteen minutes of letting your dog roam around isn’t going to duplicate that. Just do scentwork with your dog, rather than teasing them with things they can’t have. Also, this won’t replace regular exercise for any dog. Still shaking my head over this.

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    • Theo Stewart says:

      I think you may have missed the whole point of this. Some dogs with anxiety and other problems find walks a nightmare – every dog and person they meet being a challenge. It’s not teasing – it’s about sharing. It’s been proven to be really helpful with many dogs and with many trainers so the proof is in the pudding as they say. Maybe read both explanations – the one by Lyn Ridley may be better explained than my own.

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  15. Lyn says:

    My thoughts are that it is, as Theo said, about helping dogs who find life a challenge and also about building your personal relationship with your dog. I agree that it isn’t about teasing, it is about giving your dog some safe ‘mooching’ space and time and also about building up his interest in you, what you are doing and what you have to share. It isn’t something that will be for every dog or handler but can be a rewarding experience for both.

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  16. vectishams says:

    This sounds a great idea for my nervous lad. I’m always interested in other things to mix it up for him as a plain ‘walk’ every day is too much for him and increases his nervousness. This will be another thing in my selection box of doggy entertainment to add to scentwork, brain toys, ‘hunt’ walking (a technique from our INTO behaviourist), going on a sniffari, and obedience training. My dog and I do love a good mooch with no set distance or place in mind!

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