The “group walks” that Sam organises have been a saviour to me in many ways. As a newcomer to South Africa, they have provided a safe and fun opportunity to get out and meet other “doggie” people; I moved here from Sweden for a two-year contract in April 2012, and brought my then 4-year old Belgian Shepherd dog with me.
Miro, the dog, had been well socialised with people and in many different environments before he came here, and is a pleasure to travel with and have in the house, likes children etc., but we had unfortunately had less opportunity to socialise with other dogs. Miro’s exposure to other dogs had mainly been in various formal training situations, when dogs are generally not encouraged to interact. The fact that Miro was attacked by two different Doberman dogs on three different occasions when he was around a year old did of course make matter worse; Miro started to be very anxious when he met other dogs, particularly when on the lead when he would give off many and mixed signals, including wagging his tail, pulling towards the other dog(s), raising his hackles, howling, jumping up and down and chewing on the lead, me or whatever was in his line of vision.
By chance, we heard of Sam’s “Group walks” shortly after we arrived in the country and we were invited to join. Sam guided us through the first few walks, paying close attention to Miro’s behaviour, providing tips and generally being very patient with him. Miro has never shown aggression towards other dogs when he is not constrained by a lead, and so he was allowed to be loose very much from the start, enabling him to handle the situations and the different types of dogs as he saw fit. He would rush up to other dogs, constantly keeping an eye out at what was happening around him, and while I think he enjoyed the experience from the start, he was clearly not relaxed. It was a great help and safety to come to each walk, as Sam would always advise on what dogs were on the walk, and whether I had best keep Miro on the lead for the first few minutes, for his sake or for others as he was a very intense addition to each walk – I should perhaps add that Miro has not been neutered.
As the walks and months went by, a remarkable change could be seen in Miro; his whole body language changed from constantly being on his toes and looking around, to comfortably greeting the other dogs, run with them and starting to just minding his own business. Nowadays, almost a year down the line, both Miro and I are so much more relaxed around other dogs – and my being relaxed has of course helped Miro too. If there are any newcomers on the walks, after the first few minutes leashed up, he will run up and check them out, and that will be it. He generally has his favourite companions, who he enjoys running with. He is very good with puppies and has acquired many dog-communication skills.
Miro is still anxious when he meets other dogs on the lead when out walking under other circumstances, but Sam has also provided advice for how to work on this, to make the encounters less confrontational for him, and the group walks have clearly helped to build up his confidence.
Thanks Sam. I don’t know where we would be here in South Africa without your walks!