How important are walks in a dog's life?
For some, it is the favourite part of their day, for others, it is a boring duty of having a dog. Of course, we are talking about the daily walk.
Many dog’s guardians still do not understand that a walk is not for the human, but for the dog. We go out with him in front of our house, on an automatic flexi leash, pull when he sniffs, scold when he rolls or digs a hole. In fact, a walk is a very important part of the entire range of basic dog needs (both for physical and mental health) and requires learning. A lot of behavioural problems that I encounter in my work with dogs are due to the insufficient quantity and quality of walks. In today’s post, I would like to draw your attention to the important functions of walking in a dog’s life.
The importance of daily walks for your dog — Photo on Unsplash
Of course, a daily walk is a great opportunity for the dog to take care of its physiological needs. Great… and basically the only one.
For many dog’s guardians, a walk still means the necessity to go outside with the dog so that he can do “it” because it is the only way not to do “it” at home. We go out, let the dog pee, then he will possibly do “something else”, we will walk around the block or yard and go back home. Or the “lazybones” method — if we have a house with a larger property, let us go and let him run around on his own, settle down and come back. Later in the house we get angry and scold the dog that he bites the furniture, is unbearably playful, jumps at us or on the couch, spins under our feet, barking at everything that moves or keeping us awake at night. How does a walk relate to all of this? Well, a lot.
Hiearchy of Dog Needs — www.hierarchyofdogneeds.com
Need to move
Every dog, regardless of breed, age or sex, has a natural need to move. It cannot be satisfied in an apartment or in a home garden. After all, the dog will not run around the garden for an hour … Therefore, we have to go out with the dog at least for one long walk every day. How long should this walk be? There is no one right answer here because every dog is different and will have a different need to exercise. But I can confidently say that such a walk should not be shorter than an hour (when we are talking about a fully healthy dog). When my dog was a puppy, a half-kilometre walk was a challenge for him. Now he can hike tens of kilometres in the mountains without much fatigue. Therefore, it is very important to adjust the amount and quality of movement to the needs and capabilities of a particular dog.
Guardians of hyperactive dogs often hear advice such as “run him out, it will calm down”.
There is some truth to this, because of course we have to satisfy the natural need for exercise also in a more active or excitable dog. However, many people fall into a vicious circle here. It must be remembered that by providing the dog with more and more exercise, we also build its condition. At the beginning, it may turn out that half an hour of jogging by bike will physically tire our dog. However, after some time, this half an hour will be only a small warm-up. I also often hear from my clients about an easy way to get a dog tired: constantly throwing a ball. As I mentioned on my other blog — Do not play “ fetch the ball” — throwing a ball is not as magical as it may seem.
Why are long walks so important?
You probably wonder why walk so long with the dog, if it takes a few minutes? The answer is simple — to enable him to be a dog. The average dog sleeps around 18 hours in its natural daily cycle. The remaining 6 hours he is active. During this time, we can pet him, train him, feed him, go for walks with him, just enjoy his company. With as much “rest” time as the dog needs during the day, he is simply full of energy when active. So for a dog, a walk is an extremely important part of the day, it is a time during which he can discharge his energy and fulfil his natural needs, which is a much broader concept than just a daily toilet. A dog that has the ability to meet these needs, as a result, at home, he will be a calm, obedient and balanced dog, not a madman who annoys us ;)
A walk doesn’t have to be boring! The walk does not have to about two individuals walking alone. The dog finds something to do in the grass and you, somewhere on the other end of the flexi leash, talk on the phone, so as not to waste time during this unpleasant activity such as walking the dog to pee.
Let’s treat a walk as a fun way of spending free time in an active way. Dogs are predatory animals that spend a lot of time searching for food in nature or actively hunt for it. Our dogs tend to lead a rather monotonous and predictable life devoid of any mental challenges. This boredom can create a range of behavioural problems, ranging from destroying objects in the house to compulsive behaviours such as chasing own tail, hunting for lights and shadows, catching non-existent flies or biting his own paws.
That is why it is so important that the walk tires the dog not only physically but also mentally. A daily walk is a perfect excuse to introduce your dog to various intellectual pastimes. Simple nose work games and short learning of tricks or the basics of obedience will be perfect here. Together, let’s look for hidden treats in the grass (of course, we spread them there earlier), look for a previously hidden toy, or play hide and seek. Walking the dog can be a lot of fun not only for the dog but also for its guardian. There is nothing better than brings a dog closer to its guardian as much as playing together. You can find a lot of inspiration for this type of activity in my post “enriching walks for your dog”.
Enriching daily walk for your dog — Photo on Unsplash
Getting to know new stimuli
Imagine that you are sitting at home without access to TV or the Internet for the rest of your life. Sounds like a terrible nightmare? Or even prison? This is more or less how a dog feels if he does not have the right number and quality of walks. The size of your apartment or garden does not matter. Your dog already knows every bush, stone and blade of grass in this garden.
That is why daily walks to places where there is plenty of space to run, smell and explore are so important. It is good if it is not always the same place — let’s take the dog once to the park, once to the meadow, once to the water, once to the forest, once somewhere near the house, etc. The dog needs to explore new places, come back to already known places, learn new smells, objects, etc. Even if we have very limited possibilities of finding new places, even a walk around the neighbourhood should always take a different route — such a variety also gives a lot.
We must remember that the dog has practically no taste (or at least it is very weak), has very poor eyesight, good hearing and an incredibly sharp sense of smell. Hence, the dog learns the world in a completely different way than humans — we are visual learners, while the dog learns the world … with his nose. He can sense his canine buddy 2 blocks away, while he is still out of sight. He is crazy happy even before we enter our yard, returning home because he recognizes our smell. Therefore, let your dog sniff on walks. Don’t distract him from interesting scents. Let him explore, dig holes, nibble sticks, etc. That’s what walks are for. When the dog meets his natural needs outside, he will be much calmer and more polite in the house. Interested? Learn more “About sniffing, smelling and a dog’s nose”.
A walk is also a great opportunity to meet other dogs. You must remember that dogs are social animals and have a natural need to interact with other members of their species.
Of course, not all dogs enjoy interactions with other dogs. Some dogs are by nature more shy and introverted and they are just happy to not bother with other dogs. Others were not properly socialized during their puppy period, and as a result, their social competences are quite weak. Still, others have had bad experiences with other dogs. That is why it is so important to properly socialize dogs at the puppy age and to choose appropriate and conscious partners for playing together.
Just like people, dogs have personalities and motivations that make them either good fits for dog parks/ social walk in nature or not. Just as joining a scouts group is a good match for many people, it’s an equally bad match for others (as it was for me).
And those differences are OK. It is also worth knowing what proper play between dogs looks like and at least know the basics of dogs’ body language. Because, unfortunately, not everyone can readily read the signals that their dog uses to say “Help! I’m afraid, can we please go home?”
build a bond while walking your dog — Photo on Unsplash
Building a relationship with your dog
During daily long walks, we can build a relationship with the dog based on understanding and trust. Remember that dogs don’t understand the meaning of our words (apart from the commands we teach them, of course). On the other hand, they understand our actions and body language very well. There is nothing that unites a dog and its guardian more than walking together. Walking in one direction is great for strengthening your bond with your dog as long as you are present when you walk. If we are constantly focused on replying to text messages or browsing social media on the phone, it is hard to call such a walk valuable in terms of building a relationship with the dog.
During the walk, we can be guides or only participants. If we want to be guides, we should set the direction and pace of the walk. But remember — do not walk too slow. Dogs are so eager to explore the world outside their house and walking is the most stimulating part of their life. The desire to get ahead and discover the world around them is very strong that they might forget that they are attached to you. That‘s why having a walk calmly by a person’s side (when they just dream to run off and investigate all) requires a lot of — self-control. You can imagine the same feeling as what it’s like to impede your gait when you walk alongside an elderly person Or next to a toddler. If you have things to do or places to go, you might end up getting a little frustrated as well. So do not think “oh my dog is so annoying when he/she pulls”. Instead — consider how frustrating it must be for him/her to lose the ability to act naturally because he/she is ‘tied’ to you. Of course, it doesn’t mean to allow your dog to pull you everywhere, but this is a big topic and I suggest contacting a professional dog trainer for some advice how to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash.
We should also keep the dog safe while walking and make the most important decisions. By giving the dog full freedom and responsibility for making all decisions, unfortunately, sometimes these decisions may be, from our point of view, inappropriate. Our pooch, feeling responsible for the safety of the participants of the walk, may, for example, come to the conclusion that he will attack and drive away a strange dog or human … This relationship, of course, carries over to the dog’s behaviour at home or during training.
As you can see, a dog walk is about more than just taking care of physiological needs or running out. Moving in the fresh air also has a lot of advantages for us, dog guardians. It is not without reason that doctors of all specializations recommend systematic physical activity, and dogs are the perfect motivators to fulfil these recommendations. Write in the comments what your dog walks look like? What do you do to meet all your dogs’ needs during walks?
a dog walk is about more than just taking care of physiological needs — Photo on Unsplash