Whether you just acquired a puppy or own a dog presently, dog walking should be a part of your daily diary in the life of dog ownership. Of course, if you live in an apartment or condo, it’s mandatory that you leash up and get Fido outside for necessary potty breaks. Hopefully, you incorporate that daily necessity into something wonderful for your dog in the interest of outdoor exploration.
Walking your dog provides a myriad of benefits for both of you. Not only does it keep you both physically fit, but it also provides for your dog’s critical mental stimulation, training, socialization and love connection with you.
While younger dogs and active breeds may need a more rigorous foray, a 30-minute walk every day will help entertain your dog and eliminate his captive indoor frustration (which can lead to destructive behavior due to boredom). Leash training is always recommended, and should start very early in a young puppy’s life. Patiently padding by your side is desirable, yet it’s also important to allow your dog to stop, sniff and water the fire hydrants. This isn’t a marathon to race through, and unless you are training your dog for service work or the show ring, let them spend periodic moments nosing around.
Every dog has a superior sense of smell that far surpasses human “whiff and sniff” abilities.
According to Alexandra Horowitz, psychology, animal behavior and canine cognition professor at Barnard College, Columbia University:
- “Human noses have about 6 million sensory receptor sites; sheepdog noses, over 200 million; beagle noses, over 300 million.”
Putting this in context, she further states:
- “We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar; a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water.”
Scent detection for drugs, bugs, bombs, cancer in humans and missing persons is employed by dogs professionally trained to detect and alert their handler in these specific circumstances. Your dog has the same ability to perform similar scent assessments.
Imagine then, the fascination and sheer delight for your dog when given the chance to mentally process all those outdoor smells when out on a walk. Don’t be frustrated when they stop to smell a certain spot or bush (or mark it). It’s a chance for them to employ the encyclopedic-like knowledge they were born with.
Of course, be careful that your dog doesn’t dive head-first into a dense bush, as there might be other critters hiding within that pose a risk (or a poke) to their nose or decide to eat that yummy-smelling fertilizer, discarded chicken bone or dead bird laying on the grassy ground.
Training your dog to walk politely on a leash requires consistent effort and patience. If you’re starting out with a new puppy, easy-to-employ leash training advice is offered by the American Kennel Club in their article: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/teach-puppy-walk-leash/
If your dog is dragging you down the street with every walk, or constantly weaving back and forth, you might want to bone up on these tips from the Animal Humane Society: https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/teach-your-dog-walk-loose-leash
The worst offense is assuming that a shock or prong collar is the solution. Your “love connection” (your bond) with your dog is weakened by the painful response when your dog is choked by a prong collar or shocked by one. Positive reinforcement and treat training (“force free”) methods will help both of you safely enjoy your daily walks together.
Most pet care professionals believe that retractable leashes promote bad manners as the dog learns to pull on their leash, with up to 26 feet of extension before the leash runs out of cord. With all that distance between you and your dog, if a car –or aggressive dog- appears; how quickly can you respond if your dog is too far away from you?
The cord itself acts like a bull whip if you are suddenly required to pull on it to get your dog back to you, increasing the risk of possible neck injury or damaging his trachea. Should the cord break, if your leashed dog is strong enough to reach the end of the leash’s length and not stop, you now have a loose dog several feet away from you. How good is his recall?
Regardless of the potential danger to your dog, you can become tangled in the cord while Fido is running free and in circles…insurance for a nice leg burn or cut in the process.
A simple, 4-6 foot nylon leash is better; a well-fitting harness attached to the leash is best. Other supplies needed, especially for longer walks, include a water bottle, extra poo bags, sanitary wipes (in case his paws pick up unwanted debris) and possibly citronella spray or an air horn (should you encounter an unleashed dog in attack mode).
Once properly outfitted for your walks, socializing with other leashed dogs should be approached with cautious optimism. You know your dog best and if they are the “party animal” type that love to greet other dogs, make sure the other dog and owner feel the same way. Always inquire well in advance of your advance and don’t be offended if they prefer to avoid nose-to-nose contact. Observe the body language of the other dog; if they are snarling, snapping, growling, whining, lunging, rearing up and showing curled lips or teeth, turn around and walk the other way. If your dog is reacting this way to another leashed dog, turn around and call a professional dog trainer to help curb your dog’s reactivity.
If you have an older dog with diminished mobility, moderate exercise is still o.k. if not recommended to keep their limbs nimble and the weight off. If you have a pool, swimming is ideal exercise for all dogs, especially seniors.
If you’re at work all day, consider taking your dog to doggie daycare, hiring a dog walker or asking a friend to take your dog out during those long hours you are away. Your pet will not enjoy the company, but you’ll come home to a happier dog waiting to greet you.
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside Of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know (Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2009)