When I was growing up, I had a Miniature Schnauzer named Pepper. He was a wonderful dog that I loved with all of my heart. Still, when I look back on the time we spent together, there is one thing that I regret – I never took him for a walk! Why? Well, we lived in a house with a big backyard of course! I figured that was enough, since I played with him in our backyard every day. I believed it was enough that he was exposed to the outdoors on a daily basis for his potty and play breaks. Why bother with a leash when I could just open the back door and let him outside in a safe and leash-free environment?
I know I am not alone in making this mistake, this notion that letting our dog roam the same backyard every day is enough for them. The reality is that an apartment dwelling dog that gets walked in the neighborhood at least 3 times per day is much better off than the dog that is only exposed to their own backyard.
Look at it this way: would you want to read the same magazine article every day, no matter how interesting it may be? If you answered no, then why would you want your dog to sniff the same things every day? Research shows us that allowing dogs to exercise their noses is good for them. In the article Allowing Dogs to Sniff Helps Them Think Positively, the take home message is clear: “not allowing dogs to sniff and to exercise their nostrils and other senses could be a form of sensory deprivation.” As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life! Dogs need a variety of smells that can only be achieved by walking our dogs on different routes throughout the day. The next time you walk your dog in the neighborhood, give them the opportunity to choose which way they want to go. You may be surprised to discover that they do not want to take the same route over and over again. Better yet, take them to places outside of their familiar neighborhood (dog beach, dog park, etc.) to give them even more new things to sniff. Give them a sensory smorgasbord!
“Some of our greatest historical and artistic treasures we place with curators in museums; others we take for walks.” ― Roger Caras
Now, ask yourself this question: how do I walk my dog? Are you fully focused on the path ahead and your surroundings along the way, or do you have your eyes glued to your cell phone? It saddens me to see more and more people walking their dogs with their faces bathed in the glow of cell phone screens. I walk two little dogs of my own and have had countless encounters with oblivious phone obsessed humans walking their dogs. No matter where we choose to walk our dogs, there are always potential hazards we must be on the lookout for. Things like broken glass and sharp objects, substances they may try to pick up and eat, other dogs, etc. As dog walkers, our first duty is to the safety and security of the dog at the other end of the leash. How can we expect to notice such hazards when our eyes are focused downward on our phones?
“Perhaps one central reason for loving dogs is that they take us away from this obsession with ourselves. When our thoughts start to go in circles, and we seem unable to break away, wondering what horrible event the future holds for us, the dog opens a window into the delight of the moment.” ― Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
In the article Health Benefits of Walking Dogs: Ten Steps for Pups and Pet Owners, the take home message is clear: walking our dog can be just as beneficial for us as it is for them! Dogs can teach us many things, including how to walk and experience the world. They teach us to live in the Now, that the point of the journey is not to arrive, but to experience the sights, smells and sounds along the way. Walking your dog can be a Zen-like experience, a state of calm attentiveness in which movements are guided by instinct rather than by conscious effort - you become one with your dog, lost in the flow of the walking adventure. Walking your dog can be very meditative as well, allowing you to forget about the distractions and stressors of the day by focusing all of your attention on your dog and their sensory reactions. Walking your dog is also a great form of shared exercise and a healthy bonding experience.
One of the most important aspects of dog walking is the window into their health status that it can provide. Watch your dog closely as it walks. Does your dog have an unbalanced gait? Is it limping or favoring a particular area? Does your dog seem lethargic or tire easily? Does your dog want to cut the walk shorter than usual? By being an attentive dog walker, we can catch our dog’s physical problems in their early stages. Besides being a good neighbor and picking up our dog’s poop (10 Reasons to Scoop Your Dog’s Poop), we can also ascertain their digestive health by inspecting their poop when we pick it up. Things like color, size and degree of firmness can give us insight in to the quality of their diet as well as alert us to other more serious conditions like internal bleeding (black stool).
Going outside for walks are high points during our dog’s day. Just rattle that leash and see how your dog responds. Exclaim “who wants to go outside for a walk?” and see how fast your dog finds you! So, grab your dog’s harness and leash (don’t forget to bring poop bags), put that silenced phone in your pocket (for emergency use only), slip on your favorite walking shoes and enjoy some focused quality time with your dog. You will both be delighted that you did!