The dog doesn’t care about making good time.
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog
In a previous post, we looked at how dog walks aren’t just good for our dogs, they also can make us happier. But there’s a catch: we want to know that the dog is having a good time, too. The more your dog loves his dog walk, the more of a happiness boost you get.
So how to make sure your dog is having the best time on his dog walk? Look at the walk from the dog’s perspective! That’s what psychologist and researcher Alexandra Horowitz suggests in her book, Inside of a Dog:
Dog-walks are often not done with the dog’s sake in mind, but strangely playing out a very human definition of a walk. We want to make good time; to keep a brisk pace; to get to the post office and back. People yank their dogs along, tugging at leashes to get noses out of smells, pulling past tempting dogs, to get on with the walk. Instead, consider the walk your dog wants.
With that in mind, here are five fun dog walks to try, all created from a dog’s point of view.
Let’s slow things down….waaaay down. A smell walk lets your dog take the time to do thing he wants to do the most: smell the world outside his fence line. We tend to appreciate the sights of a walk, but our dogs are all about the scents. While we have a few million scent receptors in our nasal organs, dogs have hundreds of millions. And the part of their brain that processes these scents is (proportinoally) about 40 percent larger than ours. In other words, dogs were made for this. Choose a path and lead the way, but stop when your dog stops. Let him sniff as long and deep as he wants. By putting nose to ground, your dog can tell who has been nearby, how they’re feeling, how long ago they passed through and get a general sense of the status and hierarchy of the neighborhood. He’ll return home feeling fulfilled instead of frustrated.
Dog’s Choice Walk
My dog Tyler knows where all his friends live. When we get to the corner that leads to Ladybird’s house, or to the fun cul-de-sac with all the dogs, he stops, stands at alert, and turns his head in the direction he thinks we should go. He also knows where the off-leash trail is, because he’ll pull the same trick at that corner. Very rarely do I let him pick where our walks end up, but when I do, I wait for his sign, and then say, “Ok!” He nearly leaps the next several steps in excitement, and of course he enjoys the destination. He comes home extra-satisfied because he got to do the very thing he was in the mood for, whether that was play with his friends or romp off-leash through the muddy trails.
Instead of leading your dog, let your dog lead you. This is a variation on the dog’s choice walk, except that your dog gets to lead the whole way instead of just at intersections. It’s okay to still encourage good leash manners, especially since you’ll probably be crossing streets and running up to strangers. If you’re in a field your dog probably won’t need much encouragement to lead the way, but if you’re sticking to the regular route, consider introducing a word such as “lead!” (followed by a reward when she does) that lets your dog know it’s okay to break the heel. Once your dog gets the hang of it, it can be really fun to see where she takes you!
This is a simple variation when you’re short on time or creativity. If you tend to go the same direction and cover the same route on every dog walk, simply turn it around. Either walk your route in reverse, or better yet, walk it in reverse from the opposite side of the street. Either way, you’re introducing a whole new sensory experience for your dog.
In the competitive sport of tracking, a scent trail is laid down hours ahead of time. The more advanced the course, the more turns and scents there are. Handlers follow their dogs’ noses to the end of the track, where a scent article, such as a glove, shoe or liquid is waiting. Mimic this sport–without all the work–by tossing treats out ahead of you or into the underbrush for your dog to track down and find. A walk full of smells and snacks, what could make your dog–and you–happier?
If you’re thinking you don’t have time to fit in different types of dog walks, take heart. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, consistency is more important than quantity. She recommends dogs get walked at least every three days, as long as the dog’s heart rate gets elevated for 20 minutes at a time. I know a lot of us take daily walks, or even twice daily, but if you’re struggling to get motivated to leash up your pup, start small and focus on making it fun. Your dog will thank you, and you’ll get a big happiness boost in return.
What would you add to this to this list of dogs walk ideas that make your dog happier? Comment on the post, share your story, join the Facebook group or follow @thehappydogmom on social for more info on how to create a happier, healthier life for you and your dog.