Often when we picture ourselves walking our dog, our vision may be one of our dog sticking with us, head high, and keen to get their walk done. The leash is always loose, and our dog is always diligently by our side with no dillydallying. But is this actually what your dog wants and needs?
As loving dog owners we mean well and want to take good care of our dog. We know that this means providing them time to exercise and having enrichment in their lives. A walk can provide this, but we have to start thinking like our dog. If they could talk I think some of them would sigh and say “it’s better than nothing, but really, I wish there was more.”
Firstly, the walk is for the dog – not for the human. Our dogs perceive the world primarily through smell in ways that we can’t really understand due to our lack of keen nose. Their sense of smell is similar to what vision is to us. Imagine if you got to go to the movies, but had to experience the whole thing blindfolded, and you only were there long enough to get through the previews. This is what walks are like for some dogs. They are hurried through the environment and not allowed to gain any real enrichment from the event. No wonder so many of them pull!
If we restrict them from sniffing and otherwise exploring scent, we’re cutting off a major source of stimulation for our dog. Sniffing is natural and a very valuable part of a dog’s world. It just isn’t fair to take that away when it is so vital to a creature.
To combat this, break up your walk a little. Let your dog sniff what they want(safety first!) and don’t go on a set route. Let your dog follow their nose, and take your time. You don’t have to make it far, but you don’t have to stick close to home either. Go at your dog’s pace, letting them stop and sniff things they find interesting. Sniffing is meditative to a dog and one of the most enriching activities that we can provide them.
The average dog isn’t getting the exercise they need from a leash walk. We tend to walk too slowly, don’t go far enough, and of course are more susceptible to weather and our schedules. Lack of sufficient exercise and enrichment can show up in behavior problems.
Giving your dog better exercise opportunities is often better for us as well! Longer walks are generally always welcome by our dogs. Jogging, biking with your dog, hiking, these are all great options. Swimming, frisbee, and dog sports like agility, fly-ball, racing, and lure coursing can be fantastic alternatives as well. Giving your dog play dates in safe environments with buddies is also a good course of action.
Walks aren’t bad, and every dog should have them. But sometimes we need to think on whether or not we’re doing it the way that would be best for our dog.
Take a little extra time to smell the roses. Your dog will thank you.