Walk This Way

The art of dog walking.

You wouldn’t think there would be any need for a blog post about walking dogs, but here I am writing one anyway. Dogs and walking are synonymous with each other; many people get a dog in the hopes that it will get them out of the house and walking more, and obviously dogs need walking…don’t they?

We walk our dogs for a variety of reasons, with the main one being that dogs need to go toilet, and we definitely do not want them going toilet in our homes. So we walk our dogs so that they can relieve themselves but also because we think dogs need walks for the sake of walks. There are more important things that dogs get from walking aside from the simple motion of putting one foot in front of the other: mental stimulation, the physical benefits of exercise, and often also socialisation (assuming that they have a chance to meet other dogs on some of these walks). So, it’s not the “walk” per se that they need; what they really need is all of these other important things that are often just a side effect of walks.

These “side effects” should be the main event of dog walks. Dog walks should happen on the dog’s terms, not the human’s terms. Dogs should be allowed to explore their environment, to act upon and fulfil their instincts, and to feel comfortable while doing so.

“The human’s main role in the walk is simply to ensure the dog’s safety.”

First things first, there are a couple of key pieces of equipment needed for dog-centric walks; a well-fitting harness, and a long leash (3 metres is a minimum, but 5 or 10 metres would be ideal).

Why these? Let’s start with the leash. A long leash allows the dog to explore the environment without the accompanying human needing to venture into every patch of forest, lake or mud patch along with the dog. It also allows the dog to vary pace comfortably and independently while the human counterpart can walk along at their own pace. The human’s main role in the walk is simply to ensure the dog’s safety; keeping an eye out for possible hazards, such as traffic, bicycles, scooters, dangerous terrain or anything the dog might try to eat that they shouldn’t.

Speaking of safety…that is where the harness comes in. A harness provides better control for the owner and more comfort for the dog. While the need for pulling your dog or even walking with a short, tight leash should be very rare in dog-centric walks, it’s understandable that it may be necessary in certain situations to ensure the dog’s safety. Long leash walks and allowing the dog to explore freely may also result in the odd encounter with rabbits, deer, or other wildlife, which could consequently trigger the dog’s instinctual prey drive causing it to give chase to said “prey”. If that does happen, the leash would run out of length eventually…if you were running after something while tethered to a rope, when the rope runs out of length would you rather have the energy of your velocity snap at your neck or your torso?

To drive home my point about harnesses, I’ll pose another question; have you ever seen a piece of safety equipment for humans, which attaches at the neck? I hope not. Rock climbers, parachuters, or anybody who has to ascend to high places for work or hobbies all wear safety harnesses, not safety collars. Just like the long leash is primarily a piece of safety equipment for your dog, so is whatever the leash attaches to, so please do not attach it to the dog’s neck.

“When the dog wants to stop and sniff, allow him or her to stop and sniff.”

Now that you have the right equipment for the walk, you can actually go for a walk!

Contrary to popular belief dog walks don’t need to be fast-paced and high-energy in order to tire a dog out. Mental “exercise” is much more tiring, and often also more beneficial, to dogs than physical exercise. One very simple way to provide mental exercise for your dog is to allow them to sniff. The sense of smell is such an important and integral part of a dog’s anatomy, instincts, and behaviour; dogs explore and evaluate their environment more through smell than sight. Not allowing them to sniff could perhaps be equated to a human walking around blindfolded and only being allowed to take the blindfold off for only a few seconds at a time. When the dog wants to stop and sniff, allow him or her to stop and sniff. Studies have also shown that the simple act of sniffing lowers a dog’s heart rate – it’s one of the best types of relaxation and stress-relief for dogs!

In addition to stopping for sniffs, don’t be afraid to stop for simple, pure moments of calm, reflection, and observation. Being still with your dog promotes calmness, in both parties, and that calmness will also translate to other parts of life; a dog that is used to constant activity and engagement will be more likely to experience stress, which will often exhibit as problem behaviour. By encouraging your dog to practice calmness, he or she will be more likely to use that experience to calm down independently in new or stressful situations. Go out and enjoy calm, long-leash walks with your dog with plenty of opportunities for sniffing and exploring!

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