Given the choice, what exactly would a domestic dog choose to do?

Dogs in Peru are owned, but not in the same way as dogs are owned here.  They sleep in the house, but otherwise are left to their own devices during the day.  When observed, this is what the dogs chose to do:

  • Touch: they liked to ‘be’ with people.
  • ​Smell: they liked to investigate any new smell.
  • Be curious: given the opportunity, all novel items were investigated. ​
  • Eat: of course!
  • Watch: just be still, relax and watch the world go by.

This is where the Rucksack Walk, developed by Steve Mann comes in.

You will need:

  • A rucksack.
  • A long line.
  • A harness (ideally).
  • Lots of treats, preferably in a treat bag/pouch.
  • A filled hollow chew toy such as a Kong.
  • A bed/mat/blanket for your pup.
  • Something for you to sit on, such as a blanket.
  • Something safe for the pup to investigate, touch, sniff and lick; a shoe, a comb, a brush, a book, anything at all as long as it’s safe for the pup.
  • A Tupperware box with a novel scent that’s safe for the pup; a clean cloth that’s been rubbed on an animal, a mint teabag, herbs from the cupboard, catnip are some examples.
  • A Tupperware box with some food that the pup hasn’t tried yet – be creative! Avoid foods not suitable for dogs.

The point of this game is to take your time; be slow and deliberate.  Any speaking is in a… whisper.

  1. Start with a mooch, with your pup on the long line. Follow him. Ideally he will have a sniff about. If he runs and it goes tight, slow down to a stop. Encourage checking in with the positive interrupter sound then slowly throw a treat to the other side of you.
  2. Do a bit of calm recall.  With the pup near you – drop treat and jog or run backwards away from the pup 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. How many you fit in depends upon the speed of your pup, 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.  Avoid using a high, squeaky voice. Take out the box 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 box 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 do it 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.