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‘It’s natural for them’: How 4 people walk 45 dogs at once

Heads turn and fingers point as Jessica Gollnick and three other women walk through a park or along a street with as many as 45 leashed, calm, mannerly dogs in tow.

Though Gollnick prefers not to stop and chat but to stay focused and on task, she’ll happily share after the walk that the dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages that follow en masse behind the few humans are right where nature would have them.

In a pack.

“They find safety in numbers,” said Gollnick, who’s 37 and founder-owner of the Sebastopol-based Bonehemian Wags dog-walking and socialization service.

The Monterey native and former professional horse trainer has learned that many dog owners don’t believe their pets would behave if expected to walk in unison with and close proximity to other dogs, and to sit at once when the human leader stops walking. But, Gollnick said, dogs quickly adapt to the behavior of the pack — “because it’s natural for them.”

She said a dog in a pack looks for cues to what it must do to survive. In the Bonehemian Wags walks, those cues come from the strong, consistent, structured directions from the human at the other end of the leash and from the behavior of the other dogs.

Amid all of the signals from the dog walker and the pack, Gollnick said, individual animals “don’t have to worry, ’What do I do next?’ ”

Freed from decision-making, a dog complies with the guidance of the human leader and the conduct of the pack, and just enjoys the walk. Gollnick said dogs exercising in a pack find satisfaction that they can’t get when alone.

“They’re really happy,” she said. “They’re doing what they love.”

Gollnick has walked and trained a great many dogs, and she recalls only two that she couldn’t accept into Bonehemian Wags. One, she said, had been walked all its life by only one person and tried to bite her. The other was simply too overweight and physically limited to function with the pack.

When Gollnick created Bonehemian Wags in 2015, she’d processed all she’d learned as a horse trainer, a student of college-level animal science and a keen observer of people who work with dogs.

Each weekday morning, she and her employees — she now has four — start up minivans and head out to pick up the generally 20 to 45 dogs whose owners have registered them for the day’s pack walk. The crew members fetch dogs from throughout much of west Sonoma County and the Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park areas.

The pet owners will be billed $40 for a day’s walk, less than that if they sign up more than one dog. The owners commit, for the sake of consistency, to send a dog to Bonehemian Wags at least once a week.

Each day, Gollnick and her crew agree on a location for the walk, often a park. Typically, each of the four humans leads 10 or 11 dogs.

The dog walkers will have the pups for four to six hours per day. They walk, taking shade and water breaks.

If the walk doesn’t look to be terribly exciting for a dog, Gollnick said that’s a good thing.

“People think that excitement is fun for dogs,” she said. But she has found that in unstructured, nonpack situations, dogs often become anxious because they don’t know what to do. That anxiety can lead to reactivity, she said, and that to aggression.

In a guided pack, Gollnick said, dogs aren’t made to decide what to do. “They can look to us,” she said.

There’s more information on her service at its website, bonehemianwags.com.

A highlight of each day’s walk is picture and video time. Gollnick and her crew have the dogs sit shoulder-to-shoulder in a long line, then snap photos for themselves and the canines’ families. Adorable.

As with her clients, Gollnick finds that there’s much more to a daily walk when it’s taken with a pack.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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