5 Ideas to Make Over Your Daily Dog Walk
Walks serve a greater purpose than a potty break and way to burn off a little extra energy. They also serve as a form of socialization and mental stimulation, and they have the power to positively impact a dog’s emotional state, behavior and bond with people.
Incorporating a few additions to your walk can have a big impact. Here are five ways to help unleash the full potential of your dog’s walk:
Let your dog enjoy the smells.
Instead of rushing through your walk, allow your dog time to sort through interesting smells he discovers. For senior canines or those with limited mobility, the activity can allow enrichment without needing to cover much ground.
Just what kind of smells can interest a dog? One popular activity is checking their "pee mail" (other dogs’ eliminations) and leaving behind their own messages. When a dog sniffs a spot, he is figuring out the history and current state of the area, including information like who has been there, what they were doing and where they went.
We may not understand what’s so intriguing about certain smells, like animal droppings in the grass. But finding such smells is part of being a fulfilled dog. Allowing your dog to sniff provides mental stimulation and can even calm him in the process. Of course, not all walks are opportune for long bouts of sniffing. But providing some opportunities to stop and smell the roses (or fire hydrant) is important.
Many dogs may ignore the person on the other end of the leash because in the moment, their surroundings are more interesting than their human. But one of the precursors to a dog’s inattention can be the distraction and disconnect of his human. When a person is on a cell phone, talking to someone else or mentally elsewhere, important moments can be missed.
If your dog engages and the moment of connection is missed, such as giving you eye contact or orienting to be closer to you, these rewardable moments can go unreinforced and subsequently become more infrequent. Being present with your dog, free of distractions, is essential for expecting the same from your pooch.
Once you’re engaged, getting your dog’s attention can become easier by rewarding moments of focus and therefore adding interest to the walk.
One way to engage your dog is by occasionally changing directions. Use a word like "turn" to inform your pooch you’re moving a different way, then slowly turn and reward your dog when he catches up at your side. Additionally, reward any moment when your dog is looking in your direction or giving eye contact. This can increase your dog’s willingness to check in with you.
Do something new.
Routine can be boring and restrictive for dogs. One way to change things up is to venture outside of your regular routine and try a new route or neighborhood. Or change up your normal route by walking it in the opposite direction and adding in jaunts down a different street or block as you move. For an exciting field trip, take your walk to a pet-friendly location, like a dog-friendly shopping street, park, hiking trail or beach. Allowing such exploration with new sights, smells and sounds can stimulate and challenge your dog’s mind in a healthy manner.
Walks are a way to keep up your dog’s social skills. Greeting every person and dog along the walk isn’t necessary, nor advisable. But letting your dog see, smell and walk by other people and dogs provides ongoing experience with how to read body language and respond to others.
To provide interaction for dog-friendly dogs, try walking in an off-leash area with your canine. Or join a friend and her dog or a dog-friendly walking group for a walk. For dogs who love human interaction, invite friends to join your walk or scout out a pet-friendly store or restaurant for a visit.
Add an exercise routine.
Adding physical challenges to a walk doesn’t just help to slim your dog’s waistline. It also provides a mental challenge and an outlet to release excess energy. Before adding in a new exercise routine for your dog, talk to your veterinarian, especially if your dog has physical limitations.
The environment on walks is often full of natural challenges. Hills and stairs can be conquered to work their muscles on an incline. Or, add resistance by walking on something like sand. Do speed intervals by varying your normal walking pace with the occasional speed walk or jog. Benches, stumps, logs, playground equipment and large rocks can function as obstacles to practice coordination, balance and strength by rewarding your dog for jumping on or over them, depending upon the size. Dogs can be asked to do their own version of push-ups by going into the sit position, the down position and then standing for rewards on various points during the walk. For those needing an extra challenge, talk to your veterinarian to see if your dog may be a candidate to carry or pull extra weight. Weighted vests, doggy backpacks and joring harnesses attached to a weighted item can add extra oomph to a workout for especially fit dogs.