I occasionally see dogs being walked, in our neighborhood and I think, “sorry, little dog.” Don’t get me wrong. The dog owner means well. They are out there walking with their dog and that’s more than many dogs get. But I see these dogs being marched down the street with no opportunity to “stop and smell the roses.” Still, rain or shine, we take our dogs out for a walk so they can get exercise, a chance to pee, and some enrichment. But a lot of dogs are getting only one of the three of those things on their walks. Sure, they peed and pooped. If they could speak our language, they might tell us, “well, it’s better than nothing, but really, that’s a very disappointing walk.”
So, what could make a walk more fun?
First, start remembering that the walk is for the dog – not for the human. Try to see things from a dog’s perspective. Our dogs perceive the world through smell MUCH more than we do. Their noses are truly amazing. For instance, you can tell when your spouse removes their sweaty socks in your bedroom (it’s a confined area). Dogs can do the same task “in a room bigger than the gargantuan vehicle assemble building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, made to put the space shuttles together. Any dog in the nearly four million cubic meters of Space Center would be alert to sweaty astronauts.” (Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell, Alexandra Horowitz, 2016 – a fascinating read!)
I could go on and on about how well they smell things, how their noses actually work, how much enjoyment they get out of smelling things. But I won’t. Just trust me – it’s far more important to dogs to smell things than it is to humans who are so reliant on their eyesight.
So, take your dog on a sniffary. They get to go anywhere they want (as long as it’s safe). There’s no set route. No specific length for the walk either. Sometimes, you may not make it very far off your porch. Other days, you might find yourself wandering a longer distance. When the dog wants to stop to smell, allow them to do it as long as they’d like to. This walk will be FAR more interesting and enjoyable to a dog than the one that covers a much farther distance with opportunities to “see more.”
Yeah, but the dog won’t get the exercise it needs. Well, I have some news for you. Most dogs aren’t getting the exercise they need from a leash walk anyway. We walk too slowly and we don’t go far enough for it to count as good exercise for the average (healthy young/middle-age) dog. Older dogs or those with health problems might be plenty challenged by a walk around the block. But most dogs are under-exercised by well-meaning and diligent owners who take their dogs out rain or shine. The lack of sufficient exercise sometimes shows up in behavior problems (there IS some truth to the old adage that a “tired dog is a good dog” even though it’s not the solution to all the world’s problems). So, how can you get the dog more exercise? One option is longer walks. Another is jogging alongside you while you run or bike. And then there are options like long hikes, dog parks (assuming your dog runs and plays instead of just standing around), swimming, and dog sports like agility, fly-ball, racing, and lure coursing.
I’m NOT suggesting you stop walking your dogs. Please don’t. But please keep in mind that a walk a) can be better with more chances to sniff and b) might not be sufficient exercise for your healthy non-senior dog.
Give some thought to your walks. Your dog may thank you.