While waiting for my dog walking class date to arrive, I received an email that there had been a cancellation in an earlier class. Would I like to fill that spot? Uhhhh….YES!!
I arrived at the three hour training 15 minutes early. For those who know me (and those who are getting to know me through this blog), you know that this is not atypical! I sat on a bench outside the education room waiting anxiously.
When everyone was there, we introduced ourselves and learned about the ins and outs of dog walking. This beginning class would prepare us to walk adoptable dogs only, not the dogs in isolation or holding. We were also restricted to walking those dogs without a blue dot designation, meaning that they needed a walker with more experience or training for one reason or another.
Some of the adoptable dogs still had specific walking needs, however, so we learned how to interpret their kennel notifications, such as if they required certain walking tools like a harness (for strong pullers), a metal leash (for leash biters), a special treat (to distract jumpy dogs while leashing them), or a leash wrap (a way to wrap the leash behind the front legs and then back through the dog’s collar…a sort of makeshift harness for pullers). On occasion, dogs would have exercise restrictions, such as if they had recently had surgery or if they were undergoing heartworm treatments. We learned where to find this information and how to apply it.
A very handy large stuffed dog served as our first model for placing a harness and leash wrap. I made my first dog walking mistake (of many to come!) while placing a harness on the stuffed dog: I only clipped the leash to the harness, having missed the instruction to also clip the leash to the collar for extra security. Mental note! Then a very excited, real life dog joined the class and we learned how much more difficult it was to harness and/or leash wrap a moving, wiggling, jumping dog than our handy, stationary stuffed canine!
After all this practice, it was time to venture down to Dog Town! We toured the volunteer station and learned where to grab an apron in which to stash tasty treats, a soft toy, and poop bags. We reviewed the information book, where volunteers can make notes about a dog that may be helpful for other walkers.
“He’s a puller!”
“She was nervous at first, but after spending some time together in her kennel, she was happy to go for a walk.”
“She is dog reactive. Move away from kennels quickly.”
“He didn’t want to go back into the kennel. Make sure you have treats handy.”
Then, we checked out the walker log, where each dog is listed and their walks for the day are listed in subsequent columns. This log is handy for figuring out which dog most needs a walk next. Dogs with a red circle around their kennel numbers are house broken and will not eliminate in the kennel; these dogs should be walked first in the morning, and last in the evening. The goal is for each dog to get four outings each day.
Next, we took a scrap piece of paper and writing utensil from the counter and previewed the adoptable dogs. We were told a very important piece of advice: if a dog makes us nervous for any reason, just skip him/her and let the staff or a more comfortable volunteer take that dog out. Walking down the kennel aisle, we recorded the dogs’ numbers and names that were not blue dot and that we were comfortable taking out. To be honest, despite having the trainer and an experienced volunteer on hand to help that day, I avoided the leash wrap dogs!!
We returned to the volunteer station and selected a dog from our list and checked him/her out for a walk. I selected a medium sized black and white pitty that required a harness, Renalda. My pre-walk checklist was long: apron, treats, stuffed toy, poop bags, read info book (Renalda is a puller and is sometimes moderately dog reactive), sign her out, grab leash, get the harness, put training in action!
Finally, it was time to walk a shelter dog! I let myself into Renalda’s kennel. She greeted me enthusiastically with full body wags! I let her sniff me and then leaned over to put on her harness. Blessedly, she let me slip it over her head with minimal wiggling and hopping. I clipped it (the right way!) and attached the leash to BOTH her harness and collar. Holding the leash loop with my left hand and the leash somewhat taut with my right, Renalda and I proceeded with confidence out of the “red zone”, the area close to all the other kennels. We walked around the back trail loop and then around the front; each trail takes about 5-8 minutes depending on how much sniffing the pup wants to do. Renalda and I decided to take another loop around the back trail before heading back to the kennels. I returned Renalda confidently, having had a wonderful, uneventful first walker experience.
Once each of the new dog walkers returned their pups, we all heading back to the conference room to review. Some questions were asked:
“What do we do if a dog gets loose?”
“What do we do if we have a medical concern for a dog?”
Finally, the training drew to a conclusion with some last words of wisdom. We were encouraged to sign up for our first independent dog walking shift soon, within the next week if possible, to solidify the knowledge we had gained in training. I left excited to do just that!
To learn more about volunteering at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, check out their information page online.
Not local? No problem! Find a shelter near you!
Want to read more about fostering? Check out the first post “My impatience leads to great things” and follow along from there. Also, please “follow” the blog to read more about the next furry friends we invite in!