The One Thing All Dogs Need – Adventure Style Walks
What I’ve noticed since I’ve started dog training is that there is one thing that all dogs truly need that spans across size, breed, and energy level, one thing that all dogs benefit greatly from, and sadly a thing that many owners don’t do enough of.
Adventure style walks.
I don’t think that this is something that owners purposely neglect, I think it stems more from a lack of knowledge, especially when the consequences of not taking your dog on walks like this are concerned. If I had to name a thing I wished all owners did more of, this would be it.
Why is This the One Thing All Dogs Need?
To get a better idea why this is so important, let’s have a chat about your dog’s origins. We all know that they descended from wolves and over time have turned into the dogs we know and love today, but what does that have to do with how we keep them?
Being a hunter, being bred for a certain task, or living on the outskirts of humanity favors a certain type of skillset in our dogs. All of them have a wonderfully keen sense of smell, capable of smelling things completely intangible to us like people who are suffering from cancer, and most all dogs have some level of desire to explore and experience places that are new and interesting to them.
The key thing here is the “interesting to them part”. Many dogs get more than one walk a day that is both too short, but also in the wrong type of area. Dogs naturally perceive the world primarily through scent, but this can be changed if the dog is walked mostly through concrete/asphalt areas. These manmade materials do not hold scent well, and so there is no real need for the dog to put their noses down much to sniff. It is a scent desert.
Our dogs are scent based creatures as much as we are sight based ones. To take this away or make this a very scarce occurrence is to take away a vital part of what it means to be a dog experiencing the world.
Instead, these dogs typically learn to keep their heads up and use their eyes more to gather information, which creates its own issues. The dog is not decompressing and practicing normal dog behaviors, they instead are scanning the environment which puts them in a more alert and on edge state of mind.
In my experience dogs like this tend to be more tightly wound and potentially more reactive to things, which is a stressful way to exist in the world. That is why I think to be behaviorally sound this is an activity that benefits all dogs.
Symptoms of a dog Without Exploration needs Met
As I previously mentioned there are major downsides to dogs who are NOT getting adventure style activities.
The most common I see are dogs who have a failure to thrive outside of their homes and are reactive or hypersensitive to normal every day life occurrences, like the presence of strangers, other dogs, other animals etc. These dogs struggle to keep it together; they may be barking, growling, lunging, or they might be fearful and avoidant, or they might be so overexcited they spiral out of control.
None of these things are normal. None of them are healthy. All of them can be improved on if not totally eliminated by changing how the dog experiences the world, and with the proper training.
Another thing that I see is dogs who are tense and on edge. The slightest sound from outside sets them off. They can’t stand the sight of people walking past their home. They struggle to settle when there are guests in the home. They might also struggle with their interactions with other dogs, some bullying, some timid or avoidant. Not really able to cope well due to their overall stress levels being high.
This tension causes even more issues and makes it much more likely that a dog is going to develop sensitivities or unwanted behaviors in the future. Stress in our dogs is not good and makes everything more difficult overall.
Escaping, door bolting, digging out, these also are symptoms of a dog who has unmet needs, and these can be especially dangerous for your dog, not to mention stressful to you! The good news is that adventure style walks can help cut down on some of these things and improve your dog’s behavioral and mental health, which in turn makes them easier to work with and train.
What is an Adventure Style Walk?
Adventure style walks do not really happen in highly urban areas. They’re much richer than just a walk around the block, and they take into consideration the one thing that all dogs need, which is to sniff/explore scent. There are three main differences between an adventure style walk and your regular walk around the block.
Firstly with an adventure style walk the location should be somewhere that is more of a natural setting. A park, a field, a forest. Where the ground is dirt, and there are some trees/bushes/plants. All of these things are chock full of scent and can be highly interesting to your dog because of this. Your dog can (and will!) gather a lot of information about the area via scent.
Second, an adventure style walk doesn’t really have a goal of getting from point A to point B. It’s not about the physical motion but instead about the sniffing and exploring. That is what every dog is fulfilled by. Letting your dog enjoy scents as they find them, really getting their nose in there and moving from one scent to the next, that is what these walks are about.
Thirdly, you might want a longer leash. 6 foot leashes are very constricting, and while in urban areas you do need them shorter for safety, they don’t allow a lot of freedom of movement from scent to scent and will contribute to your dog’s pulling habit.
On an adventure style walk, go with the flow! Leave the path and walk in the fields, follow your dog as they zig zag around taking in everything they can from scent to scent to scent. You will see them content and truly in their element, which is exactly the type of memory I know I want to make of my dogs.
You will pretty clearly see when they’ve had enough and their energy level is waning. They won’t move so quickly from place to place, might be doing less sniffing, and might also be turning their feet back towards the car. Those are you cues to wander back and head home, with a dog that is ready for a nap after all of that stimulating activity.