I was chatting with a friend about what they consider the purpose of a dog walk to be and it got me thinking, most people might centre the purpose around the physical exercise aspect which isn’t necessarily the best use of a dog walk.
Let’s have a look at the different types of dog walk.
1. PHYSICAL exercise. Generally, the number one idea we walk our dogs is to physically exercise them. This generally involves lots of running, maybe chasing a ball, haring around the park like a lunatic and ending the walk in an exhausted heap.
This isn’t the best use of a dog walk and can inadvertently create a whole host of issues later on. Running around creates a lot of adrenaline, which is the thing that makes us feel wired after we have been on a roller coaster or have just won a football match. It is generally a state that isn’t sustainable and can be detrimental to other areas if frequently experienced.
So, for our dogs that are having an adrenaline rush every time they go for a walk, day in, day out, it can have negative effects on their mental state and their ability to learn.
It is great for us owners when our dogs are KNACKERED, this means we can get our work done in peace without having to let the dog in, let the dog out, let the dog in…. you see where I’m going.
BUT we can achieve this in a healthier way.
2. MENTAL exercise. Our dogs’ brains are incredible. How many times have you been CONVINCED your dog understands what you just said? I’m pretty sure Archie is a human in disguise half the time! It is SO important that we use their brains during our walks. There is also a pretty important organ attached to their brains which is FAR better than our measly version. Yep. Their nose.
Watching a dog use its nose is an incredible sight. They can see the world in a completely different way, and it takes a lot of calm focus for them to do this well.
Encouraging our dogs to use their nose on their walks is really important. It means they are engaging their brains, thinking, problem solving, and using an amazing organ which they are designed to use. Its like flexing a muscle that you don’t use much. If your anything like me and go for a run once a year, after that run I’m KNACKERED and am really paying for it for days. That’s because I’ve used some muscles that I don’t usually use. If I kept at it and built those muscles carefully, they would get stronger and more efficient, meaning I would be better at running. It’s the same with a dogs’ nose. If we encourage them to use it, it will get better and stronger and become a very rewarding activity for them.
Why do we want dogs sniffing instead of running I hear you say? Well, this ties back in with adrenaline. As we’ve seen, a high level of adrenaline on a frequent basis isn’t healthy, and dogs generally don’t have an adrenaline rush when they are mooching and sniffing, meaning we can balance their adrenaline rush out to avoid creating any detrimental effects.
Other ways we can look at engaging their brains on walks includes training. We will come back to this in more detail later, but it is SUPER important to engage with your dog on walks, and ways of doing this is through training. Get them using those brain cells!
3. What about the SOCIAL side of things? A lot of dog owners think the sole purpose of a dog walk is for their dog to play with as many dogs as possible. Wrong! Yes, the social aspect is important to a degree, but it most definitely isn’t the main purpose of a walk or something that a dog even needs every walk. Allowing your dog to hare across a field to play with every dog they see, invited or not, isn’t beneficial to your dog, your street cred as an owner or your relationship with your dog. Let’s refer back to that adrenaline rush we were talking about. If your dog expects a game every time it sees a dog, that adrenaline will kick in and create a ‘wired’ state. This isn’t beneficial for your dogs’ ability to use his brain and therefore read the other dogs signals or hear you when you are calling. Your dogs’ sole purpose is to get that much desired game, whether the other dog wants to or not! If our dogs are allowed to practice getting into this state and therefore ignoring other dogs’ communicative efforts, it can create a bit of a bully and even worse, get your dog in a lot of trouble. This is also something they can happily achieve without you, meaning you become… spare parts at best on a walk. This won’t help with your bond or your dogs’ obedience when out.
Dog socialisation definitely has a role to play. It is important our dogs know how to greet other dogs, play if the time is right and read the other dogs body language. But we need to add this in in a CALM state of mind to build our chances of success!
4. Our walk is about you as a TEAM, not just your dog. It is so important that your dog understands they are out to explore the world with YOU, not just do as they please. This means engaging with them, so put down the phone, save your call with your mum until later, grab a coffee after your walk and don’t always go out to meet Karen down the park for a natter. Be present, be in the moment, have fun with your dog! Have a plan for each walk. For example, Mondays walk is for finding new sniffs. Scatter one of their meals in the grass for them to find, or take a toy/ball out with you and place it in some long grass then send your dog to find it. Help them, tell them they are the coolest dog ever for using their nose and finding the holy grail of toys. Kneel down and engage with them when they find it. Give them a cuddle, talk to them, give them some treats, play with the toy… BE PRESENT.
Tuesday’s walk might be for some training. Say, we want to work on his recall because lots of play with other dogs has made his recall a bit… crap. So, we pop a harness and a long line on him and bring out his favourite treats or a toy with us. As soon as you get out of the car, its game on! The second he leaves your ‘bubble’ you leg it in the other direction and call him! When he comes with you he gets the biggest praise, toy, treats, cuddle and engagement he could imagine. Again, BE PRESENT!
Wednesday might be all about calm greets with dogs and walking on. As we did our recall walk yesterday his brain should be geared to his recall cue. You might go to a wooded location so he can’t see dogs at a big distance, keep his long line on and allow a few seconds of a sniff with a dog before calling him on and giving him the biggest reward for coming with you. Yep, you guessed it, BE PRESENT!
Thursday might be about meeting Karen with her dog and going for a walk. Finding a dog friend that is well matched to yours can be really helpful in developing good interactions, communication skills and play skills. It teaches dogs how to have pauses in play and allows you to control their behaviour and interactions as you can pop them on lead if you need to for a quick time out. Reward the good stuff and encourage ‘mooching’ together.
So, you can see how this is going. Each walk has a different purpose, tying in all of the above types of walks but with YOU dictating which one on each day.
It is SO important that our dogs know that the walk isn’t just about them, but about you and them! That way we are engaging their brains in a healthy way, building our bond, and tiring them out so we can have an afternoon of peace!
So, have a think about the types of walks you have been doing with your dog, and whether it is the best use of you time.
We don’t need our dogs to act like a lunatic to tire them out, as I write this mine are passed out next to me after 20 minutes of scentwork. So, they used their brains and their nose, not their legs, and are as tired as they would have been chasing each other around a field for an hour.
If you are having issues with your dog not listening to you when you are out, getting in trouble with other dogs and their owners, chewing things at home, excessive barking, or grumpiness, try changing up the types of walks you are doing, it’s all linked!
If you’re finding your dog likes running around like a madman every time you let them off lead, take things back a notch and introduce some calm to their walks.
Equally, if you are a new dog owner and are struggling to decide what the point of a walk is with your new pup, try out some different engagement games with your dog on their walks. That way you won’t be the owner having to break the 2-meter rule as you go in and grab your puppy from under the feet of every person you come across.
Good luck, and happy training!