How stimulating is your dogs walk?
Is it round the block or the same park once a day?
Do you always take the same route?
Has your walks become predictable and stagnant?
The best way to know if your walk has become stagnant is by looking at your dog, does he avoid being put back on the lead, when you reach the car or a certain point on the walk? Along with predictable walks often comes poor recall. Does your dog on the walk, stick there heels in and want to go in a different direction. Does your dog know the route off by heart. If your dog pulls you all the way to the park, again the walk has become predictable as your dog knows you always go there.
Our dogs lives are very much dictated by us humans, we decide when they eat, play, at worse; when they have to sit and lie down and of course when they get the privilege to leave the confinement of the house and garden, and go for “their” walk. You may have a lovely big house with a large garden but it is vital that dogs as well as us get out the house and get stimulation from many different environments too. When we think of walking the dog, the main thing we often think about is exercise. For our dog however it is much more than that. It’s a chance to finally get out of the house, no matter how big or small your home is, it is still the same four walls your dog sees day in and day out, they cannot decide to leave, its all dictated by us, when and if we decide to take them. Think about it from a human perspective, when you are stuck in the house for one reason or another you can end up getting cabin fever. A walk for a dog means a chance to explore, take in new sights, smells, meet people, other dogs and much more. When you walk your dog try and keep one thing in mind “The walk is for your dog and he/she might need it more than you”. How we walk our dogs can have a huge impact on there mood state and can cause all-sorts of on lead problems, lead frustration, reactivity to other dogs, people and more.
When you start taking your dog just on round the block walks, you make the walk boring for your self, in turn the walk then becomes a chore “I have to walk the dog” exercise is important for dogs but so is the quality of walks, if your dog is not allowed to sniff, it’s not being naturally stimulated, studies have revealed that dogs get a lot of information from scent, such as when the last dog was about, what sex they were and more. If we constantly interrupt the sniffing, this makes the walk unpleasant and could make your dog anxious as its is not getting full information about the dogs that are around. Let the walk be about them. Variety is the spice of life, keep your walks interesting go to different places, woods, fields, canals, parks, lidos, journey in the car to different places, go in different directions. Walking in the same direction round in a circle in a park two or three times can be frustrating too, you walk round the path meet a dog, you walk on again then repeatedly meet the same dog, this can be frustrating for both dogs.
Now some of you may have a dog that does not like walks, they are fearful of cars, novelty, busy places, you may have a dog that is reactive to other dogs or people, these behaviours must be addressed for the health and well being of your dog, so please seek professional modern advice. These are behaviours that can be changed with the right person helping you, they should work with you at your dogs pace and help you both enjoy getting out again. If you don’t like the idea of letting your dog sniff because you have a dog that constantly picks things up of the floor, this may be because you have accidentally reinforced the behaviour, by making everything they picked up from a pup a big deal or they are not getting the opportunity to forage naturally see my Banish the Food Bowl blog for some ideas. If your dog is a puller find a good trainer to help you teach them to walk loosely on lead. If your dog has a condition which means it cannot walk for long, drive it to different places, if you also have a condition which means you cannot go far again either drive to new places or hire a dog walker
Don’t make your walk all about throwing a toy/ball for your dog either, this can actually keep their arousal levels high, which I typically hear from owners who says they have played for an hour and the dog comes home with as much energy as they went with. This kind of exercise is like going to the gym, when you have finished your work out, you are full of endorphins, which make you feel good and gives you more energy. Ball throwing can make some dogs obsessive and can stop them doing natural behaviours like sniffing and exploring. This in turn can also make them so obsessed that they pull all the way to the park rather than enjoying the journey too. This can then be a dog that is highly stressed out on the lead and can trigger other unwanted behaviour. Although it is vital to play with our dogs, throwing a ball is overused by us and is generally for our own convenience, to “exercise” the dog by us standing still, it is not a natural behaviour for them to be solely focused on a ball or toy of any sort. It often causes conflict/fights with other dogs in the park when your dog becomes possessive of it. It is normal for a dog to resource guard however it is not normal for your dog to resource aggress. I have spoken to a lot of physiotherapists and they say if they had their way they would ban ball play altogether, as it causes many injuries in dogs, sometimes that their owners are not even aware of, dogs are good at hiding pain. Dogs that are injured can act out of character and be more reactive generally. Now as mentioned it is crucial you still play with your dog, but you can play hide and seek with the ball instead, or hide and seek yourself so your dog has to find you as well, this game is a good way of strengthening recall.
Walks also where you take your dog for a jog/run with you or on a bike ride, also can be unpleasant for dogs, especially if this is the main way you walk them. On these kind of walks they are forced to run with you and can only generally stop when you decide, their arousal levels will also be high from this type of endurance exercise, it’s not particularly relaxing or stimulating, again make sure your dog is getting something out of this kind of walk.
A walk where your dog gets to investigate and explore is much more rewarding than a dog that is marched from A to B in a strict heel, when your dog is looking at you the whole time on the walk, who’s the walk benefiting, this is not the only way to stop your dog pulling their are other techniques out there, in fact in my time working with dogs, just changing the equipment the dog is walked on and allowing them to sniff has made a significant improvement to dogs that usually pull and ones that are reactive on lead. Those of you that know me, will know that for many years I have not taught heel walking and instead have taught loose lead walking, the dog still learns that pulling on the lead gets them no where and they are taught to correct their own behaviour. The compromise is that if they do not pull, they get to sniff what they like pretty much when they like. More about my lead walking technique in my later blog!
Now you can teach two different walks, as I am aware that some times you need to get to places with your dogs, you can teach one where you want there nose off the floor and one where they can sniff until there hearts content however make the no sniffing walk the exception rather than the rule!! Try not to take your dog out when you do not have much time or if you do, make the walk shorter but allowing them to sniff more, they will get more out of this kind of walk than a rushed stressful one.
You may feel you have no time for the kind of walks I am describing but you need to make time for the health and wellbeing of your dog, so miss that episode of Eastenders and make your dogs walk interesting.
Of course for those of you that already provide variety for you dogs, keep up the good work!