Four times a week, dog owners and a pack of playful pups dash through the trails of Susan Peel’s Gelert Road farm.
Peel hosts off-leash pack walks, group walks that help dogs learn social skills.
“It’s been a great joy for humans and dogs,” Peel said.
It’s a popular program at Killara Station, Peel’s farm, which is home to initiatives such as dog training, breeding, a kennel and community gardens in the summer. She began to host pack walks to help owners who may not need kennel services or oneon-one help.
“It’s not a training session, but we do watch behaviour and correct it,” Peel said.
“Sometimes if you go to a dog park, there aren’t experts there to say ‘hey that dog isn’t doing what it should be doing.’ Sometimes owners can’t see that themselves.”
During COVID-19, Peel said she’s seen dogs’ mental health and socialization skills take a hit.
“The anxiety in the humans, dogs are feeling it too,” she said.
“Seeing people, seeing new dogs, even reading body language, it doesn’t translate well for them.”
The pack walk can help a pup get used to normal dog behaviour such as sniffing, playing, socializing and more. For many attendees, it’s been a special experience.
“It was delightful to find you could go for a walk in the woods off-leash,” said Marta Hubbard, who moved to the County in 2021. For her two young labs, Murphy and Penny, pack walks have helped them learn how to make friends and play well with other pups.
“It is really important for them to have that balance in their life, to have that release of energy for socialization and for development,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said that the owners of each dog tend to look out for the whole pack, and having Peel or another Killara Station staff member leading the walk adds a layer of comfort too.
“You know your dogs are safe. Sue is a natural leader,” Hubbard said.
She added that it’s not only the dogs who make friends: she’s gotten to know other regulars during pack walks and said she felt lucky to discover the opportunity.
“For us this was like a complete lottery,” she said.
Pack walks begin Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with routes on Peel’s property picked depending on group size and capability. It costs $5 per dog to attend. For more information visit pawsatks. com