So I was out with my boy today and we were enjoying some quiet time in the field, he was having a great time chasing a ball and sniffing for mice (his absolute favourite thing to do - unless there's a squirrel about...), and it got me thinking about the how's, why's and what's of walking our dogs. Now I have 2 dogs and they both need completely different walks .
Walking our dogs shouldn't be just another chore, a quick stomp around the field, a whizz around the block, or if you have a dog that struggles with reactivity, a furtive walk trying to avoid everyone and everything and coming home stressed and frazzled (both you and your dog) . Taking your dog for a walk is a chance to bond and have fun with your dog as well as give them an outlet to burn off energy and, most important of all, sniff.
So here's a basic guide to the how's, why's and what's of successful dog walking . This is not a guide for dogs who suffer with reactivity/anxiety, I'll cover the basics for them in another blog
Lead etiquette : Use a sturdy lead ensure it is the appropriate length for your dogs size and behaviour. Practice loose lead walking to prevent pulling and promote a relaxed stroll. Invest in a well fitted, comfy harness with a front D clip on the chest and avoid harnesses that tighten and punch if your dog pulls.
Exploration time: Allow your dog time to mooch, sniff and even choose the route. Try to allow enough time that you aren't stressed and rushing to get home. Sniffing is crucial to a dogs mental wellbeing and allows them to gather information about their environment
Engagement: Encouraging your dog to 'check in ' with you by rewarding them when they do will help create a 'conversation' between you both and ensure you are walking together as a team
And breathe: Stopping to allow you and your dog to take in the environment together is a great way to calm things down, reconnect with your dog and take in the scenery
Have fun !: Playing with your dog on a walk is a great way to engage and have fun together. A game of chase, fetch or find the treat/toy, exploring new places/holes/leaf piles , depending on your dog's age and physical ability.
Responsibility: If your dog has poor or patchy recall then using a long line is imperative for safety.
Consideration: be considerate to other walkers, do not allow your dog to run up to people or dogs, pick up after your dog and shut gates behind you , keep your dog on a lead around livestock.
2. The why
Physical exercise: Regular walks provide essential physical exercise, keeping your dog healthy and preventing obesity. The intensity and duration will depend on your dog's age, breed and health.
Mental stimulation: Dogs need mental stimulation as much as physical exercise. Exploring new scents and environments engaged their minds, preventing boredom
Socialisation: Encountering other dogs and people helps your dog become more socialised, reducing the likelihood of behavioural issues.
3. The what
Varied routes: Keep walks interesting by changing where you go. This prevents monotony and keeps life interesting
Interactive Toys: Bring along some interactive toys and treats for a mini training session mid walk. This will add an extra layer of engagement.
Weather: Adjust the length of the walk based on the weather and your dogs breed. In extreme heat or cold be mindful of your dogs safety and avoid walking if need be
4. When not to walk your dog
Anxious dogs: If your dog shows signs of extreme anxiety when out on a walk or at the sight of their lead such as hiding, shaking, excessive panting, lip licking or 'whale eye' then do not force them out, after all a walk is meant to be fun not terrifying.
Reactive dogs: If your dog is reactive to other dogs or stimuli then they will benefit from being walked in quite times if the day is secluded areas, or alternatives to walks such as play and enrichment at home and in the garden.
Older dogs: If you have an elderly dog who struggles, is stuff or limping then they may find walks painful. Do not drag your dog out if they are lagging behind and struggling to keep up. Shorter walks or just a potter up the road may be sufficient