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Ellie has done Africa | The West Australian

Twenty-year-old Manjimup dog walker Ellie Rhodes is a familiar face around town as she happily laps the streets with several pups in tow.

Ellie started walking dogs when she was 14 and longing for some canine love in her life.

Six years later she had become a full-time dog walker, averaging around 25km a day over seven hours of walking.

“I got a (Fitbit) notification today that I’ve walked the length of Africa,” she said.

Ellie said she had always wanted to work with animals and her passion for dogs grew over the years as she studied dog psychology online, focusing on the work of famous “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan.

Last year Ellie spent two weeks working with one of Milan’s trainees at Pack Leader Dogs in America.

She planned to live in the US and work at Pack Leader Dogs for a longer period this year, but COVID-19 travel restrictions put those plans on hold.

However, Ellie was not deterred by the chaos of 2020.

“My plan is to move out there for as many years as I feel I need until I can come back to Western Australia and start my own dog psychology centre, where I can then help people with their dogs and the relationships they have with them,” she said.

Ellie said having hands-on experience with dogs had been extremely valuable to her not just professionally, but also on a personal level.

“You have to be calm and confident with them, because they don’t follow unstable energy, so that’s been a good lesson for me because I was always quite nervous…it’s a good confidence builder,” she said.

“They can be frustrating, but you just have to take a deep breath and realise that if you’re getting frustrated, they’re just going to amp up even more.”

Ellie said walking was a fantastic way to foster a relationship with a dog, and explained people should strive to lead their dogs while walking, not the other way around.

“Walking is something that is so instinctual for them, that they love to do, and so every time you walk a dog and they’re following you it’s just a really good bonding experience,” she said.

Ellie said while her legs did sometimes ache, she always enjoyed her walks and tried to stick to routes which took her through streets in the centre of town.

“Most days I do the two main streets because it’s more interesting for me and it’s a good challenge for the dogs to walk through town, especially when there’s lots of people out… it’s a good challenge for them to stay focused,” she said.

To maintain that focus and manage the behaviour of her pups, Ellie follows three key principles from Milan: exercise, discipline and affection.

Usually Ellie walks three or four dogs at any one time and she said she must stick to careful routines to introduce them calmly, such as not letting them directly sniff one another until they are acquainted by walking side-by-side.

“Let them walk together because walking, especially in a pack when they’re next to each other, is the best way to introduce dogs, because it’s instinctual for them — they migrate by pack-walking, that’s what they do together, so its less confrontational than them sniffing nose-to-nose,” she said.

Ellie said dog owners should always remain assertive and calm to use dog walking to tap into a dogs naturally relaxed natures.

“Dogs naturally live a calm, balanced lifestyle…you want to keep it calm,” she said.

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