Let’s talk about walks and how misunderstood the purpose of this time with our dogs is. Before we dive into why, I want you to remember that the walk should be for the dog first and foremost, not just for you both mindlessly completing a certain distance. As humans, we tend to focus on a particular route so much that instead of being a quality experience and a wonderful training-bonding opportunity, walks often become a source of frustration for both ends of the lead.
You’ve probably heard that dogs experience their world through their noses. They have nearly 40 times more scent receptors than us, so nearly any time of the day, if you look at your dog, their nose will be working. Outdoors is not an exception.
I want you to imagine or remember yourself visiting a country you have never been to before. You’re walking around, slowly, trying to soak in everything: people, architecture, nature… You notice the smallest details such as a funny looking yellow building in the middle of the street. You stop to look at it and smile. Next up, you see a poster that has a dog picture on it. As the daft dog lover you are, you stop to read it. Ahhh, there’s a pet shop just around the corner – you’ll want to visit that! You’re enjoying your time.
Now, imagine the same situation and the same things happening, but I’m holding your hand and pulling you to walk faster. Anytime you stop to admire a building or read a postcard I nervously shake your hand and say “come on!” through gritted teeth. I have a goal in my head. I know the distance I want to walk and have zero patience or time to slowly finish that distance. This is how our dogs very often feel when we focus on how far we need to walk.
Allowing our dogs to sniff on walks and explore is so vital. A lack of this type of mental stimulation can easily lead to boredom or anxiety behaviours like digging, excessive barking or chewing. Even if you walk the same 500m every day, there will still be new smells and new places to sniff – allow your dog that experience! Instead of the distance or route, try to leave your house with a preferred time in mind and know one or two relationship building things you'll want to work on. Will you work on calm behaviours and focus outdoors? Will you practise your recall?
I always say that the outdoors is like a huge social media platform for dogs. They send and receive obnoxious amounts of information there just like we do every time we sit down for a scroll. I often see dogs so desperate to be allowed these stops that they’re pulling like sled dogs trying to reach the forbidden cupcake first before the other end of the lead yanks them to continue walking again.
Slow down. Soak in. Observe.
Get a longer lead, let your dog sniff and you might be surprised how much more responsive and tired by the end of their walk your pooch will be.