We can agree that walking our dog is an important part of pet ownership. A stroll around the block is a nice way to spend some time outside, get some fresh air and exercise. But is that enough? Your dog should return home tired and relaxed, content to get some rest and recharge. If they are not, then an ordinary walk isn’t enough. It is time to take it to another level.
In a world full of time constraints and couch potato pets, our dogs don’t always get the time or attention they deserve. We often fall short of providing the mental and physical requirements our dogs need. But we can make the most of our walks and make sure we are expelling as much of our dog’s energy as possible by changing the manner in which we walk our dogs.
A dog is capable of walking at a regular pace for hours in a day. Almost like a programmed mode with the brain switched off, a walk uses minimal effort and becomes a rather mindless activity. In this mindlessness, our dogs lack a key component to ensure their walk is successful in creating a fulfilled body AND mind. To create a truly tired dog we must meet their needs for mental and physical stimulation. This is important because dogs who have an excess of pent-up energy and frustrations will find their own way to expel this energy. Often, in a way we consider undesirable, such as barking, digging and chewing.
Dogs have been selected and purposed bred to serve humans and to perform duties and tasks that were based on their natural abilities. Selective breeding has led to different shapes, colors, and breeds, all of which were chosen to perform physically demanding jobs. Herding breeds must be able to outrun and outsmart a flock of sheep. A German Shepherd working a track to find a missing person must be able to maneuver all types of obstacles while staying on target. A Jack Russel will want to dig as his job entailed flushing vermin from their dens during hunts.
These are physically demanding jobs that require mental focus and exertion. When we can create the environment, or in this case our walk, to allow our dogs to perform as nature intended, we will not only have a satisfied dog but a mentally and physically tired one as well. Dogs need a natural release for these types of instinctive behaviors. It is no wonder why a simple stroll around the block will do little to burn off that excess energy.
With that in mind, it is time to kick things up a notch, or two, or ten depending on the activity requirements of your dog. By involving our dogs in higher physical demands, and include brain engagement, we can see a release of a notable amount of pent-up energy. Some ways to enrich your dog’s walk are easy to do and can include:
Dogs need to run. Even short bursts of speed can result in stress release and better focus. Running is one of the best ways to hit the reset button on a frustrated dog and make a dog’s soul happy again. Going for a quick run or being allowed to run off-leash in a safe environment is ideal.
A quick game of fetch will appeal to your dog’s prey drive and desire to chase.
Use those muscles that walking alone will not engage. Dogs are athletic machines. Their workouts need to include the entire body and all the muscles. You can up the ante by asking your dog to jump up, on, or over everyday items, you encounter on your walk. Large rocks, tree stumps, benches, retaining walls, cement barriers are all great examples.
Dogs love a good game of play-n-go-seek. If your dog is good off leash or you need to build your recall command, next time your dog isn’t paying attention to you, try hiding behind a big tree. When they realize you’re missing, they will come searching for you. This can also help build their need to watch you closer and build a more attentive mindset.
You can add to the challenge by adding a mental component by using some training commands. Instead of simply jumping on the picnic table, ask them to sit or down on the top before releasing them to jump down. You could also try some commands at scheduled intervals like stopping to sit at the curb or laying down while you pick up the mail. Now, we not only have a dog out for a walk but their brain is engaged too.
An important part of the walk is to allow your dog to smell and use their noses. Dog’s will instinctively breathe in their surroundings as their brain goes into overdrive working to decipher what all the smells are. This is especially important for hounds and other breeds that rely more heavily on their nose. Next time your dog asks to stop, take a moment to smell the flowers.
Some other tips to change-up your walking routine include:
- Try new routes. Your dog will encounter new scents and sights which are exciting.
- Try walking at a different pace. Dogs natural walking speed is a little faster than ours. By slowing things down or speeding things up will cause them to pay more attention to their own bodies rather than going into the walking zone.
- Practice walking casually and leisurely for a while, then having a more structured walk like a heel at different intervals. This will help keep your dog’s attention alternating between the surroundings and you.
When you have multiple systems working harmoniously together you start to see the effects of a hard workout, both mentally and physically. The result is a happy, content dog, who have reached their natural instinctive release and is now finally able to relax, body, mind, and soul.