Students’ furry friends can now make other furry friends due to the efforts of a student who founded a community walking group to allow dog owners to get together and spend time with their pets. 

The group began March 1 with only Campus Walk tenants. Campus Walk’s new ‘Dog Pack’ is being extended to residents of the Walk2Campus houses. 

The ‘Dog Pack’ allows dog owners at Campus Walk to safely train, exercise and bond with their dogs, founder Mariah Houser said. 

Houser, a junior creative business major, said she started the pack after she realized she and her dog, Whiskey, became “bored” of the same walking routine.

Whiskey is an active 2-year-old Miniature Australian Shepherd, Houser said. Houser said Whiskey is very active and “learns quickly.”

“On hikes, he likes to run ahead about 20 feet then wait for us,” Houser said. “If he thinks we’re taking too long to catch up he’ll run to the last person in our group and walk with them to help get us moving along—a true shepherd.”

Although Houser and Whiskey enjoy hikes together, Houser said she did not feel safe leaving the Winthrop area to walk her dog alone. 

“This all sparked the idea for the community dog walking group. It’s a great opportunity for owners not only to connect and form a community with one another, but also to further their bond with their dog,” Houser said.

The ‘Dog Pack’ is not just a group for dogs to play together, but a chance for dogs and their owners to train together, explore other areas and learn how to remain calm and attentive around other dogs.

Campus Walk resident Shelbie Broach is a puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, a service dog organization who forms partnerships between dogs and disabled veterans or people who are visually impaired. 

Broach is raising a one-year-old lab named Amanda. She is responsible for Amanda’s basic training, daily care and social development. 

Broach said she joined the ‘Dog Pack’ because it would help Amanda learn how to behave around other dogs.

“I like that the ‘Dog Pack’ gives us an option to walk with other owners who are working on getting their dogs out for exercise and to help them get better on a leash and around other dogs,” Broach said.

Amanda will live with Broach for just over a year before she returns to Southeastern Guide Dogs to complete her training and be paired with a new owner. 

In the meantime, Broach and Amanda are enjoying the ‘Dog Pack’ community.

“It is great to be able to meet up, work with our dogs and just chat and have a good time,” Broach said.

Houser said Campus Walk has been supportive of the ‘Dog Pack’ by providing essential materials for the dogs and their owners including pet waste bags and pop-up water bowls.

The ‘Dog Pack’ meets twice a week, one weekday and one day during the weekend, but meetings are not mandatory and this may exclude holidays. 

Houser said there a few guidelines to ensure the safety of all dogs and their owners. 

All dogs should be on a leash of six feet or shorter. Owners should remain aware of their dog’s body language at all times. 

The dogs must have updated vaccinations and female dogs who are “currently in heat” should wait until their menstrual cycle has ended. 

Houser said she encourages dog owners to bring an extra pop-up water bowl, waste bags and training treats for their pet.

If Campus Walk and Walk2Campus dog owners are interested in joining the ‘Dog Pack’, contact Houser at houserm2@winthrop.edu. In the email, add the dog’s name, any accommodations they may need and the email you use for GroupMe so you can be added to the ‘Dog Pack’ group message.

Houser said she encourages new members to introduce themselves and their dog to the group once they are added. 

“Walking dogs together is actually the best and safest way for dogs to meet and get to know each other,” Houser said. “Exercised dogs are happy dogs.”