Here's a great article that I thought I would pass on...hope you find it helpful! –Kim
What Walking Means to Your Dog
I see all kinds of things that I don't particularly like – dogs getting yanked around on leashes, yelled at, and constantly scolded. I can't recall a single time I've seen a dog in my neighborhood actually get a treat for doing the right thing when out on a walk.
But of all the things I see on walks, one of the most frustrating for me is seeing dogs being punished, incessantly, for being dogs.
Sometimes it seems as though owners take their dogs on a walk and forget what a walk is all about for their dog. For dogs, a walk is about sights, sounds, experiences. It's about checking "p-mail," sniffing hydrants and trees to find out where the neighbor's dog or cat last peed. It's about shoving their faces down the hole of a groundhog and sniffing until they finally pull their faces out, dirty, blissful, nostrils full of the smell of wild animals. It's about munching a particularly tender blade of grass, saying "hello" to a friendly stranger they'd like to greet, lifting a leg on every fire hydrant, sign, or tree you pass, splashing in a puddle or creek, or chewing a stick for a brief moment.
This is what walks mean to dogs. It's a chance to investigate and interact with their environment. It's mental and physical stimulation.
Many owners approach a walk with the mentality that, "We're going to walk x route in y amount of minutes whatever that takes. It will be your exercise for the day and you'd better well like it." It's a "let's just get this over with" mentality, a "you're an imposition to me and I'm doing this because I have to, not because I like to," mentality. For these people and their dogs, walking is a chore. For me, Cuba, and Mokie, more often than not, it's a game.
Let's face facts. For many, many dogs, a half hour leash walk every day barely scratches the surface of their true exercise needs. Mokie, my Chow mix, is a very active dog and for her, a walk is certainly more about mental stimulation than it is about physical stimulation. A 30-minute walk is a drop in the bucket for her. If I want to really tire her out, we need to go hiking, backpacking, swimming, or have a long and adventurous romp with some of her favorite doggy pals.
When we go on a walk, I'm walking for my dogs. It's their chance to just get out there and be dogs, to sniff and explore. If I want to go on a brisk, no-nonsense, let's-not-stop-for-anything-power walk (which happens rarely, I just can't see the point in walking without at least one dog and would feel utterly naked), I would go without the dogs.
Despite the fact that I'm a trainer, I also don't insist on perfect obedience from my dogs when we walk. A colleague once said, "well, my dogs would NEVER pull on the leash, because I'm a dog trainer." Well, la-dee-dah. Dogs are dogs. They move faster than we do and think poop is more interesting than we do. I'm not saying I let my dogs pull me around, but sometimes the leash does go tight. So what? I just stop, wait for the tension to come off the leash, and we start walking again. Easy-peasy. No mess, no fuss.
I do use equipment as a cue for the type of walk we're having. If I'm going on a training walk, where we're going to work on heeling or obedience, my dogs can wear their collars and six foot leashes. If we're going on fun, "for the dogs" walk, they get to wear front-clip harnesses and a long-line or flexi leash. (For dogs — and owners of dogs – that are not already trained to walk politely on a regular leash, a flexi leash can actually be both a safety risk and inhibit the learning of appropriate leash manners.) When they have those "clothes" on, they know they're off the hook. It's dog time – do whatever you want. Sure, I'll still call them back and reinforce them for coming, ask for a few steps in heel and reward with a chance to shove their face in a hole dug by a woodchuck, or ask for a few hand targets and reward with a stick tossed into the creek for retrieving.
But my dogs aren't always "on." They're not always performing, I'm not always rigid. I don't spend every second we're together thinking of criteria, reinforcement schedules, etc. I think of behaviors I like, and try to find ways to make it fun for them to offer those behaviors by giving them the things they want and need. Yes, dogs do NEED to sniff things and interact with their environment.
Sometimes, I'm not even a dog trainer, I'm just She Who Likes to Have Fun with Dogs.
I don't want robots, I want canines. Yes, I find their good behavior rewarding and fulfilling. It makes me proud to know how wonderful my dogs are. But at the same time, I want them to have plenty of opportunities to just do the things that they like to do, even if means that they're sniffing for 30 minutes our of a 45 minute walk and we only make it around four or five blocks instead of walking a few miles. Sometimes, I let the dogs pick the route we take on our walk. Something smells good on Fairview Avenue? Let's go that way instead of taking Riverside today!
Next time you leash your dog up for a walk, ask yourself, "whose walk is it anyway?"
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