Skooby and I loved walks, his recall was perfect, he had good manners around other dogs and yet we had a big problem.
I could not trust his behaviour when he was out alone with my Husband. He could not be off the lead as we were pretty sure he would just head back home to me. In this blog, I share our experience of using Steve Mann’s Ruck Sack walk to build their bond and how the investment in the dog/owner relationship paid off.
What you will need,
Harness and Long Line
Treat pouch – filled with treats
Two Plastic box/pots;
1. Containing an item with an interesting smell in it.
2. Something that your puppy /dog has not eaten before
A quiet location, a short drive away
15- 20 mins for you to be totally present with each other – no mobile phone or stopping to chat with people, this is your time together.
During those 15 -20 mins for you are calm, speak in a quiet tone
With your dog in their comfy harness with the long lead attached and the rucksack on your back wander slowly to an area about 5 minutes away.
Let your dog or puppy investigate the area as they go. If the lead becomes tight or if they run, stop until it goes slack then wander on again.
If they check in with you on the long line, maybe looking back to you, reward them with a treat from your treat bag. Throw it out to the opposite side of where they currently are so they have to walk across your path to get the treat.
Step 2. When you are in your chosen location do a few recall games (still on the long line) but keep this within a small area. (Mr. P let Skooby wander on a loose long line then would call him back reward and then throw a treat out in another direction as soon as Skooby picked it up he would call him back, reward, and then repeat) Now move to the next step.
Step 3. Sit down on the ground with your puppy. Slowly start to unzip your rucksack. Using a calm voice, whisper the introduction to the plastic box containing the interesting smell as you bring it out of the bag.
Open it for a couple of seconds and let them sniff. Then open it a little bit more so that they can have another sniff.
Stay in control of the box this is about experiencing the smell/scent they don't get to have the item.
Share the experience investigating the box together building the relationship. Then slowly close the box and put it back calmly in the rucksack and zip it back up.
Step 4. Start to unzip the backpack again. Can you imagine what your dog is thinking now.. ? wow there’s more!
In Skooby’s case, it was probably wow Mr.P is a good guy to hang out with. In Steve Mann’s book Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy ( Link) he says
‘if your dog likes hanging out with you then 90% of your problems are gone’
Now it's the turn for the ‘interesting thing’ to come out. Again, with slow movements and a low voice hold the item, gently turning it in your hands so that your puppy can sniff, and explore it. Once they have done this calmly place it back in the rucksack.
Using the same approach as you did with the ‘interesting thing’ bring out the box that contains something new to eat. When that has been eaten slowly put the box back in the backpack and as you remove your hand – ta-da produce the chew!
Whilst your puppy is enjoying the chew gently touch them to create more feel-good chemicals and closeness between you both
When you are ready, and there is no rush pop the chew back in the rucksack, and head back to your car with your puppy on the long line.
Take the same route back so that you are not coming across new smells that could distract them.
As you head back reward your puppy for checking in with you and reward them with a treat close to your leg this time rather than throwing it out as you did at the start of the walk.
When you are back at the car, safely secure the puppy in your vehicle and head back home.
Skooby's relationship with Mr. P was was stronger after their rucksack walks.
Alongside bonding and creating your relationship with your puppy this approach is perfect for those very early walks when you are sticking to the 5 mins exercise per month of their life (to protect joints and growing bones) These photos were taken on our first rucksack walk with our Springer Spaniel pup. We are looking forward to many more!
Steve Mann goes into far more detail in his book and gives great ideas for different recall games you can play. His book Easy Peasy Puppy Squeeze is an easy and amusing read, more about the book here