To Walk or Not To Walk

Photo Courtesy A. Koenig

To Walk, or Not To Walk – It’s Not Even A Question Is It?

All responsible dog owners walk their dogs once/twice/for two hours/three hours/45 minutes… per day.

Everyone knows this, it’s what responsible owners do.

But have we sometimes lost track of what purpose a walk actually fulfills – I think we frequently have.

A walk is an opportunity for your dog to stretch his legs, to get some fresh air, to see the sights and hear the sounds and smell the scents. This is some great change of scenery, stress release and quality time with you, the owner.

IF that is actually what is occurring on your walks, that’s fabulous, amazing, carry on!

For many of us and many dogs however, walks are a battle, a stress filled part of the day, there’s pulling on the lead, reacting to other dogs, people, traffic , worrying what other people will think, apologizing for your dogs behaviour, hoping nothing awful happens, hoping you just get round the block and back home in one piece.

Or, it’s a mundane chore, to be completed as fast as humanly possible. A head down, stare at your phone boring trudge around a set loop, dragging the dog behind you. Get it done and get home fast so you can get on with the rest of your morning or evening.

If these last two paragraphs describe your dog walks, it’s time to re-evaluate why you are walking your dog, who is benefiting from this, and what you can do to change that without too much stress.

Why?

It isn’t really about physical exercise – a shocker to some but you will not physically tire out your dog on their daily walk, unless you actively increase the amount and type of exercise they do every week, your dog will reach a peak fitness level where the walk you offer is not a physical challenge and does not tire them physically. If you DID increase the exercise every few days, you would just create a canine athlete who needed more hours per day in exercise than you have time to provide.

Walks are about mental stimulation, a bit of gentle exercise, not physical exhaustion but more, physical and mental satisfaction.

It is also not a bad thing if you have to skip a walk, or even switch out walks for training sessions .If your dog has training or behavioural issues that make attempting a full length set route a nightmare, then it is almost certainly not benefitting your dog either.

If you are having a hard time yourself, due to physical illness, or plain having a bad day – it may be better to skip the walk than risk you and your dog having an unpleasant experience out there. Now it may be that walking your dog will calm you down and make you feel better, but if you think that’s probably not the case, and you’ll just get annoyed or frustrated with your dog, that won’t benefit either of you!

So if a walk is NOT the answer today, or for the longer term, what can you do?

Instead of trying to walk your dog for that 1 hour you feel you ‘should’ achieve, break it down into 6 x 10 minute training sessions just outside your front door. Much easier to teach what you need to teach, work on the problem behaviours, nearer home to safely ‘abort mission’, and far easier for everyone to concentrate and remain focused for just 10 minutes at a time rather than a solid hour!

If you need to skip walks short term, then take up that time doing some fun training at home, get out the clicker and do some free shaping or work on a new trick. Maybe build your dog some puzzle toys, get him to scent out his meal hidden around the house or garden. There is plenty you can do on a stay-at-home day.

Sit with your dog on the sofa or floor – maybe he will bring you his favourite chewy toy and ask you to hold it whilst he chews.

Let him look at and sniff new items you bring into the house – you can get a good ten minutes interaction and relaxation simply letting your dog sniff and examine the goodies you bring back from the supermarket – no need to let him actually eat them of course!

If you ARE going for walks, remember these walks are for his benefit first, and yours second. Talk to your dog, engage with him, show him things to sniff, take toys and treats and pop some mini training sessions right there on the pavement.
Try having a walk where you let your dog decide where to go – obviously you have the right to veto for safety reasons but it’s sometimes nice to let your dog follow their nose!

Just altering where you walk, even if that is simply walking on the other side of the street or completing your normal loop route in reverse, can change the view and the scents available to your dog, making the walk more interesting and novel, and giving them more mental satisfaction.

Never feel pressured into forcing yourself and your dog into a set routine or pattern purely because ‘it’s what responsible owners do’ because the real truth is this.

Responsible owners listen to their dogs, and provide what their dogs need, not what the books say they should want, or what the neighbors think you should do, or what Auntie Mary used to do with her dog 9 million years ago.


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authorname

Positively Expert: Emma Judson

Emma Judson has over a decade of experience owning and training a variety of dogs from rescues, crossbreeds and pedigrees. She currently owns five dogs and is the founder of Canine Consultant in the UK. Emma has written for Dogs Today magazine and is a proud member of the Pet Professional Guild, which promotes force-free training.


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