Updated: May 24, 2020
All too often, I see dogs going for what the owner may call a "walk" but what the dog probably considers more of either a drag or a forced march.
Many dogs spend 8 or more hours completely alone, with very little to do, inside a house or even a box, waiting for the humans. Finally, they get outside with all the sights and smells and sounds but aren't allowed to check any of them out! The human is exhausted from thinking and working all day so, irritated, he yanks on the leash with a "come ON!" After all, they need to get this chore over with so he can sit at home and not think.
Just like the dog did alllllll....daaaay...looonnnnnnng.
Have you ever been really sick? Like, can't leave the house for days, sick? Perhaps mono or recovering from surgery or the flu has you couch or bed ridden for nearly a week (or more!) Most of us start to get stir crazy and just need to get out of the house. Others are close to losing their mind, while some can stand it for a few more days. Dogs are no different, except they are couch or bed ridden every day.
Now picture a dog “walking” tail tucked, crouched body, ears slicked back. The owner drags the dog across the street as she finds the perfect Insta filter for the perfect selfie of about how blessed she is to be enjoying the day with her best friend Ralph. Unfortunately, Ralph is trying his best to keep up in a crawl position, not feeling quite as blessed. I see scenes like this every day, and it makes me wonder: when did taking dogs on walks become less about the actual dog and more about checking an item off the "to do" list? What's the activity called again? Texting while outside? Talking on the phone while walking? It's called a dog walk - so let's put the dog back into the walk!
Walks can the biggest part of most dogs' days - for may it's the only interesting activity they will get, and their far superior sensory abilities are screaming for stimulation.
I urge you to take a moment, put yourself in your dog's paws, make their walk an enjoyable and stimulating event.
Put the phone away. Have it for safety reasons, but otherwise it's out of sight. Live in the moment with your dog. Forget about social media and texting and Snapchat. You can do that later. Pay attention to what your dog is doing and learning and experiencing. Look at what is going on around you.
Train. Bring treats with you to help encourage the dog to work during the walk. Practice training skills, like "sit" at every mailbox or every third tree and "down" next to all the rocks you see. You can also encourage your dog to work various muscles as well as the brain by turning his world into an obstacle course. Go up, under, and over rocks or benches. Make figure 8s around mailboxes or trees. Balance on curbs or logs. Praise and encourage your dog to try new things, and reward them for a job well done.
A formal heel should only occur in the obedience ring or when walking on a very busy sidewalk. The heel has absolutely no place in the everyday walk. I've never trained a dog how to heel, I don't even know how to, and honestly I don't care. I like dogs to participate in a mutually enjoyable activity with their companion, on a loose leash. I don't think fear of stepping out of line, military style marching, with no option to investigate the world or experience joy is necessary or kind. My dog and I have an agreement: if you yank me to that spot, you don't get to sniff. But if you walk away from the spot with me, then approach on a loose leash, I will stand there as long as you want.
Change it up. When you begin your walk, does your dog know which way to turn next? Do you do the same route, same pace, same time very night? Uh – BORING! Start the walk in a new direction, then let the dog take the lead. I don’t mean he gets to pull you around like an Iditarod participant. Leash manners, of course, are still part of the game. But let Fido decide which direction to go, how fast to walk, where to turn, when to stop, and when to start again. This is most easily done in more rural areas or wooded hikes, but you urbanites can do the same thing right in your neighborhood.
Now I'm not saying let your dog just run wild and do whatever they want. I do think manners, check ins and impulse control are important. Every so often, when your dog is not actively engaged in sniffing: stop. Check in with each other, get some eye contact and perhaps a sit so they remember who's at the other end of that leash.
Get their sniff on. I know, it may feel like the dog is sniffing forever. But guess what - their ability to smell is about 40 times better than ours. We can’t possibly imagine the information in a lone turd or drop of pee. Boy or girl? In heat or not? Familiar or stranger? Big or little? Scorpio or Pisces? Sniffing is something dogs HAVE to do and sniffing on walks can be a real good time. It’s mental stimulation and exploration and a major part of their brain power. We aren’t big smellers, so we can’t appreciate it. It’s like taking me into DSW and telling me I can’t look at any shoes. Are you kidding? That’s just inhumane! Let your dog sniff. Talk to your dog! I know, it’s weird and I get more than a few stares. But frankly, I could not care less and my dog loves it and that’s all that matters. I tell her about my day, ask her about her’s, ask her which way she wants to go, what she thinks of the hideous lawn ornaments at that house, what that wall smelled like, and I encourage and praise her for good choices. I often have a running commentary during my walks – all alone – just me and my dog. And we are having a blast! No ear buds, no phone. Just me and my dog.
So tonight – or maybe tomorrow night – try one or more of these tips. Stay safe, have fun, let the day melt away, listen to the world, take notice of what your dog takes notice of, and participate in the walk as much as your dog does. You might just discover things about your best friend that you never knew, or spot new things in your area you had never seen before. No matter what, you'll strengthen one of the most important bonds in your life. Happy walking!