All I have to do is say, “It’s walkin’ time!”, and my dogs are ready to go. Loki will run out to the front gate and pace until I get there. Lugh will run to the gate, run back to me, run to the gate, run back to me, run back to the gate….until I finally get to the gate myself. I imagine this ritual plays out in about every house where a dog gets a walk. If you don’t walk your dog regularly, you should. There are several benefits a nice thirty-minute walk will bring your dog and you.
What are Some Benefits of Walking a Dog?
Some people don’t walk their dogs because they have a nice, fence-in yard that their dogs can romp in all day long. It’s wonderful when dogs can have such a gift. It’s especially nice if they have someone who can play with them in that space. But playing in an enclosed space is not the same as being out in the world. Consider what it would be like if you had a magnificent house to live in, but you were not allowed to go outside it. It might feel like you are under house arrest. There are certain life-enriching benefits that you simply can’t get in the confined space.
Yes, dogs need physical exercise. Just like people, they need to move around for good blood flow, muscle development, endurance, and overall physical health. Regular exercise is great for maintaining a healthy weight and burns off excess energy. As the saying goes, “a tired dog is a happy dog”. Perhaps the reason that some people think that backyard play is enough for a dog is because they only think of their dog’s physical needs. After all, these benefits can come from playing a variety of games, such as fetch or chase, in the yard or in the house. But dogs need more than just physical exercise.
Consider your own experience of getting to go on a hike or to the big city. Through the woods, you might walk paths, cross a river, hop over a fallen tree, and have a picnic. In the city, you could go window shopping, see a museum, and eat unusual food in a new restaurant. There are so many fascinating sights and sounds to process on the trip that it can leave you mentally exhausted. And better yet (assuming you’ve had a good trip), it can lead to a feeling of being fulfilled.
Dogs need this kind of stimulation, too. The term “sniffari” refers to taking a dog on a walk (loose-leash walking) during which the dog primarily follows her or his nose. The goal of the walk isn’t to get down the road and back again. The point is enrichment for the dog. By taking time and letting your dog explore the world does wonders for wearing out the dog’s mind and relieves the boredom of the day (and boredom can indeed lead to behavioral problems). A sniffari isn’t the only way to walk a dog. But if you are looking for enrichment for your dog, it’s certainly something you should consider every once in awhile. For more about their importance, here’s an article by Kristi Bensen, “Why I DON’T Train My Clients’ Dogs to Heel”.
Your relationship with your dog is the foundation of your training. Every time you go on a walk with your dog, you are going on a special adventure with him or her. You never know what you will encounter. I remember one day while walking young Loki I counted fourteen squirrels on the path in front of us. You can probably imagine his expression. We made it through, but not gracefully.
I love to watch my two dogs on walks. They get so excited over things I cannot even perceive. They spend what seems like forever sniffing the same spot. They bounce from one smell to another together. I can really see how close they have become as they share the moment. And I’m reminded that I’m sharing the moment with them from the other end of the leash.
Dog’s don’t generalize training well. If you teach a dog to sit in the kitchen, it doesn’t necessarily mean the dog will understand that “sit” also means put your butt on the ground in the bedroom. And going outside is really disconnected.
When you go on a walk, you have the opportunity to strengthen your training that happens inside the house. Imagine what it would do for a “sit” if you asked the dog to “sit” every twenty paces. Then, when the dog sits, you both get to resume the fun and go forward again. How many times could you practice “sit” this way if you want around the block? What if you were to begin each corner with a “down”? Maybe, you could ask for a “down”, and once the dog does that she or he gets an extended “go sniff” time? If you are creative, you can work on several behaviors and work on leveraging life rewards as behavioral reinforcers.
A Note about the Weather
During times of extreme heat and extreme cold, you don’t want to turn a healthy walk into an unhealthy one. Make sure to keep your dogs safe.
If it is really hot outside, make sure to limit the time you are walking. Try to go on your jaunts during the cooler parts of the day. Take water with you in something like a Gulpee. Protect your dog’s Paws from hot surfaces by allowing them to walk in the grass as much as possible. If it looks like your dog is being adversely affected by the heat, get your dog inside into the air conditioning as soon as you can.
During times of extreme cold, you will also want to limit exposure to the outside. If the dog needs it, make sure to get her or him a cold weather coat. Protect your dog’s paws with a covering, such as boots or Mushers Secret. This will place a barrier between your dog’s Paws and the frozen ground, as well as sidewalk salt which can hurt your dog’s paws.
I Can Help
If you are looking for a modern, science-based trainer who does not use intimidation, fear, pain, or violence to motivate a dog, I would be glad to work with you. If you live in the Beloit, WI area, I can come to your house. If not, we can work over Skype.