Many of us pet-parents take our pups out for a walk with the intention of arriving at a certain destination, for example, the park. We have this notion that arriving at the destination is more important than the journey. For our dogs however, this simply isn’t true. If you haven’t already, why not re-consider the purpose and importance of a dog walk, from your dog’s perspective…?
The Importance of Walking Your Dog
Obviously, dogs need to get out every day to do their business. Just having a garden or yard satisfies this need though and, sadly, all too many dogs never get to see beyond their garden gate. Just like us, our dogs want to explore the world around them and when confined to the house for too long, boredom sets in. Very often, destructive behaviour and behaviour problems are consequences of that boredom.
There are many good reasons not to take your dog out on a walk – reactivity issues, physical injury or recovery, and being in season, to mention just a few. However, there are also many equally good reasons why dog walking is important to your pooch – mental stimulation, socialisation, exercise and to engage in natural doggy activity, for instance.
A Chance To Read Their Pee-mail
Several of my friends refer to their dog walks as giving their fur baby the chance to read his pee-mail. It’s a lovely concept and it encapsulates beautifully what a walk can mean to our dogs if we let it. Just as we might like to spend a lazy Sunday morning with the ‘newspaper’ (or facebook / instagram / online news), so do our dogs.
The Need To Exercise
One of the problems is that for a long time we’ve been given to believe that dogs need a certain amount of time ‘exercising’ each day and we have come to interpret that as implying constant and vigorous walking for that entire time.
Of course, dogs and humans alike do need regular physical exercise. However, dogs don’t need to be running or walking non-stop for the entire duration of their ‘walk’. Also, if necessary, there are plenty of things you can do to exercise your dog – both physically and mentally – from the confines of your house and garden.
Being frog-marched to the park though deprives dogs of some great entertainment and mental stimulation along the way, not to mention the ability to do what they do naturally – sniff.
How Sniffing Is Good For Your Dog
Studies show that sniffing benefits a dog’s physical health: it lowers their pulse rate. This was shown to be more effective when on a longer lead and even more so when loose. Whats more, the more intense the sniffing, the more the pulse rate dropped.
Sniffing lowers the dog’s pulse, even whilst walking.
The higher the sniffing intensity, the more the pulse will lower.
Regardless of age, size or gender, all dogs in the study experienced lower pulse rates when sniffing. You can see just how effective it is in this short video by Dog Field Study.
Our sense of smell isn’t as strong as that of a dog – for a dog, smell is the primary means of exploring the world around them. By discouraging them from sniffing, we are depriving them of a basic need. Imagine being someone who loves to cook and eat really tasty food, just to be told that you can only ever eat one thing for the rest of your life!
The ability to sniff is crucial to a dog’s well-being. You can read more about the science of sniffing and how to incorporate more ‘sniff-time’ into your dog’s life in this article.
Other Ways To Walk
We are creatures of habit and very often we do things automatically without even considering the alternatives. But let’s think about how we can make dog walking better for us and our dogs. Here are some ways to switch up the dog walk.
The Change Of Scene Walk
Do you always take the same route on your dog walks? Could you take a different route sometimes to give you and your dog some variety, some new places for her to smell and explore? If you don’t have this option, could you just do the same route but in reverse, on the other side of the road, for instance?
If you have a car and your dog is OK travelling in cars, why not take her to a different park, or the beach, or some local woods? Find somewhere that you’d like to explore too.
The Ambling Walk
Right now, writing during the coronavirus lockdown, it isn’t good for any of us to go to places where we’re likely to be in close proximity to others, so over-populated public parks aren’t currently good for us humans either.
Whats more, going to a place that is heavily populated by others, such as a park, isn’t always great for your dog – for instance, if you have a reactive dog.
Just wandering happily down the street, allowing our dogs to choose direction and set the pace, are perfect anecdotes to both these problems. It might be boring for us to stand in one place for 5 minutes while they smell every blade of grass, but who is the walk for, us or the dog?
If the walk is for you too, why not allow your dog to have the opportunity to sniff to its nose’s content for the first part of the walk and then do the rest of the walk at the pace you’d like? It can be what you both want.
And while your dog is enjoying sniffing, you could take the opportunity to observe her more closely. Or take a moment to look around you and appreciate nature. Did you know that nature is good for our mental and physical well-being?
The Training Walk
My fur-daughter spent the first 6 years of her life living on a remote farm, so the only time she needed to be a on a lead was when I took her to the vet. Now we live on the edge of suburbia and I have to take her out on a lead every day – something she still struggles with sometimes.
Because of this, I occasionally take her out with the intention of purely improving her lead walking. If she wants to sniff, I let her, but my main goal is to reduce her pulling. I might spend 10 minutes doing leash-walking training, covering a distance of no more than 1 block. I make sure I have some of her favourite treats with me and we break the training up with some fun games too.
The Exercise Walk
Given that both we and our dogs need exercise, doing a ‘power walk’, or going running together is a great option for some of our walks. It doesn’t have to be every day. The guidelines for exercise for a healthy dog are similar to those of a human: three times a week at an intensity that raises the heart rate for 20 minutes.
Since we both need the same level of exercise to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and muscle tone, why not do it together? If either you or your dog are out of shape, you’ll need to start slowly. Try speeding up your walking for a minute, then walk at your normal rate for a minute, then repeat. Build it up gradually to 20 minutes of power walking or jogging.
The Socialisation Walk
Some dogs love to spend time with other dogs, and some get stressed by it. Socialisation walks can help with both of these situations. My fur-daughter loves to play with other dogs – those she knows – but gets nervous when on the lead around dogs she doesn’t know.
She likes the dog who lives across the road and often we will walk together. Once on the open field, the 2 of them run around and play together to their hearts content.
However, given her struggle with reactivity when on a lead, I also take her on weekly, structured socialisation walks. These are designed for reactive dogs. We walk as a group, with a good distance between dogs, and we do training activities to help our dogs manage being around other dogs.
Turn your walk into a dog-led sniff-fest. If that means standing waiting while your dog intently checks out the smells on one particular tuft of grass, so be it! Let her choose the pace, the direction and the duration, according to her nose!
Walking is an important part of our dogs’ lives and it satisfies many of their needs. There are lots of ways we can make the walk more interesting for them and for us. Letting our dogs indulge in sniffing more is great for their health and makes them happier.