Walking a dog is simple, right? Yes, yes it is. But walking a dog correctly? Well, that’s also simple, it’s just that most people don’t know how to do this. Because no one teaches us how.
And I’m not talking about training your dog to walk politely on a lead, but yes, that would also be a good idea. I’m talking about walking your dog in a way that means she gets a rewarding and enriching experience!
The trouble is, most dog owners aren’t thinking about walks in the right way. Take a look at the following points, and transform your dog’s walks.
What is the purpose of your dog’s walks?
If the purpose is to get from A to B, then you’re doing it wrong. Yes, there are always going to be times when you have to get somewhere with your dog, but that shouldn’t be their normal walks.
If the purpose is to physically exercise your dog, then you’re halfway there. But a walk needs to be about mental stimulation as well. But that’s not a difficult thing to achieve. In fact one small thing can make all the difference…
Instead of dragging your dog away from every tree, lamp-post and corner, just let them sniff. That’s it.
Smell is your dog’s dominant sense, and they pick up so much information from sniffing where other dogs have peed, or even just walked. The mental stimulation of allowing your dog to sniff will tire them out just as much as physical exercise, if not moreso. And this is so rewarding for dogs, it’s the equivalent of social media for us – picking up all the news of the area.
The biggest thing I wish I’d known when I got my dog, was that a 10 minute ‘sniff walk’ will tire your dog out just as much as 30 minutes of fast-walking alone.
Who is the walk for?
Sorry, to break it to you, but it’s not for you – it’s for your dog. You may enjoy it as well, but this is your dog’s time. So as well as allowing your dog to sniff where she wants to sniff (within reason) let her have some say in this walk, like where you go…
I often see people coming out of their house, dog straining on the lead trying to go left, when the owner yanks the lead pulling them to the right. And I see the dog looking forlornly over their shoulder back in the direction of where they wanted to go to investigate some amazing smell, or an intriguing sound… And yes, that might be the one time when they are actually on an A-to-B walk, but it still makes me sad.
I let my dog choose (again, within reason) where we go on walks. It took him a while to understand what I was doing, but he now loves it. And when there is occasion when I have to say, “No, we’re going this way”, he’s more likely to listen.
So, how do you give your dog this choice? It’s simple. When there’s a choice of direction, stand still, get your dog’s attention, ask “Which way?” then take a small step in one direction, if no reaction, step back. Then take a small step in a different direction. Now it may take a few attempts for your dog to fully ‘get’ that she’s allowed to dictate the direction, but after a while, she’ll start to go with you on that step when it’s the direction she wants. And soon, she’ll be letting you know as soon as you say “Which way?”. Most of the time, my dog doesn’t wait for the question anymore – he knows where he wants to go, and that most of the time, that’s allowed.
Are we all sitting comfortably?
You’ve probably got a comfy pair of shoes to wear when you go out with your dog, but have you thought much about what your dog is wearing?
Now, in terms of dog-coats, some dogs might need them, some don’t. If your dog doesn’t seem bothered by the cold or the rain, don’t put them in a coat. And if they do, and you do, get them as slim-fitting one as possible. Bulky coats hide a dog’s language, which can lead to miscommunication when faced with other dogs.
But more important than coats is the attire that is connecting you to your dog. I’m talking leads and harnesses. And notice that I didn’t mention collars; that’s very deliberate. When a dog is walked on a lead and collar, even if she’s not pulling all the time, it can cause, or make worse, a range of conditions such as a collapsed trachea, eye problems caused by eye pressure, thyroid disorders and blood flow issues, to name but a few.
A good harness, like The Perfect Fit Harness, puts no pressure on the dog’s throat, allows free range of movement on the dog’s front legs (unlike some other harnesses), has a front clip D-ring as well as a back one, which reduces pulling and aids in training, and also doesn’t have to be put on over your dog’s head, which some dogs really hate!
For a lead, please don’t use an extendable one – they’re an accident waiting to happen in so many different ways. Get a fixed length lead, double ended to make use of both D rings on your harness, and it should be at least long enough for you to hold at the height of your belt buckle with your dog lying down on the ground next to you.
For more info, see our recommended walking aids.
And a last word on comfort; don’t make your dog sit before crossing the road. It’s all very well in nice weather, but when it’s rainy, or snowing, or cold, then it’s just miserable for your dog. Just teach a strong ‘Wait’ instead. It’s far more pleasant.
Are we all present?
On this one I’m talking to you. Are you present mentally? Take out your earphones, put your phone away, and concentrate on your dog.
Watch her, and see what she’s telling you. What’s a good sniff place? Where does she want to go? When she turns to look at you, checking in with you, reward her with treats. Watch out for food on the floor that might do her harm. Keep an eye out for other dogs; she might not want to approach them all, and she’ll let you know that.
You’ll learn a lot about your dog, as long as you’re present and paying attention to her, not listening to the latest podcast or chatting with your mum.
Oh, and obviously, pick up her poop and dispose of it in a bin.