Think about the last walk you and your dog shared. Does anything stand out? Probably not, as dog walks are just a regular, everyday part of pet parenthood. They’re usually something to hurry through and check off the to-do list.
But that’s just your take on it.
Your dog likely experiences an entire world that you’re oblivious to, from the scents along the ground to the sounds of wildlife too faint for you to perceive. And that’s the disconnect in this daily activity; we endure walks. Our dogs revel in them. Walks are a chance for your dog to connect with a primal part within them, to tap into senses they aren’t called upon to use often enough in our busy daily lives together. There’s more to walks than just getting a little bit of exercise and emptying the chambers. With some attention, you can turn this chore into a lively and enriching experience for both ends of the leash.
The Importance of Dog Walks
When it comes to dog walks, job number one is, well, number one and number two. Pet parents without yards have no choice but to leash up for a potty walk, but going for a walk is necessary for more than just elimination. Walks help our dogs keep their socialization muscle strong by exposing them to new sights, sounds, and people, plus if they’re done correctly, they help to maintain leash manners. That said, dogs shouldn’t be required to maintain heel position right next to you as you stroll. Dog-friendly leash manners mean that your dog has the freedom to move about, explore, and mark but not drag you down the street!
Daily dog walks help put a dent in our dogs’ exercise needs, but it’s important to recognize that a basic walk doesn’t meet all of their physical requirements. In order to keep your dog healthy and happy, make sure to include some play and games that tax your dog mentally as well.
Why Do Dogs Like Walks?
Our pooches enjoy getting outside for the same reasons we do; a chance to connect with nature, blow off steam, get some exercise, and catch up on the neighborhood goings-on. But there’s an important facet of walks that’s easily overlooked; walking together gives your dog a chance to get your undivided attention. (It should go without saying that your phone should remain in your pocket during walks.) Life gets busy, but when you’re out walking together your pup knows that it’s all about one-on-one attention, at least for a little while.
Four Fun Dog Walks to Try
You don’t have to pack up the RV and head to the country to give your dog a unique and enriching walk. The following suggestions are easy to incorporate into your everyday life, and even though they’re simple, they’re super fun!
Walks are usually a means to get our pups from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible, but doing so prevents our dogs from engaging in an important enrichment behavior; scenting the world around them. Encouraging your dog to stop and smell the roses (or more likely, read the ‘pee mail’) allows them to fully connect to their environment. Dogs gain a wealth of knowledge from scenting, but it can only happen if we allow them enough time to take in the aromas.
So how do you go for a sniff walk? A sniffari is one of the easiest “fun walks” to incorporate into your daily routine because all you have to do is slow down and wait while your dog breathes in the world.
Instead of hurrying your dog along when he inhales a mailbox pole, give him all the time he needs to get a sense of the scent. Keep in mind that a sniff walk isn’t about covering a ton of ground with your pup. In fact, you might not travel very far from your launch point when you make your dog’s nose the priority during a walk. But rest assured, tapping into your dog’s scenting abilities is still an important form of exercise. And a scent walk doesn’t require a major time investment! If you’re tight on time but still need to put a dent in your dog’s daily exercise, dedicate your walk to scenting and you’ll likely end up with a mentally exhausted pup!
Choose Your Own Adventure
Who’s the captain of dog walks? Nine times out of ten it’s the human end of the leash, but this type of fun walk lets your dog chart the course for adventure for a change, which means that your daily “here to there then home” walk might morph into a meandering stroll that takes you down the road less traveled. A “choose your own adventure” walk encourages dogs to follow their senses wherever they may lead.
Rather than walking the usual route you do every day, allow your dog to take the lead and follow along as he decides where to go. Instead of charging ahead at a crossroads, pause and let your dog pick which way you’re heading. We tend to get wrapped up in our daily routines and forget how much more enriching a walk can be for our dogs when they get to cover new ground.
This type of walk requires flexibility and a little extra time since your canine navigator will likely take a roundabout route. The enrichment it provides is well worth it.
What’s more fun than hitting the road? How about doing it with a furry friend and their person! A buddy walk is yet another way to turn an everyday stroll into something special by inviting a well-matched dog and their guardian to go with you.
Unlike yard play dates, buddy walks aren’t about chasing and wrestling. Instead, the furry besties can enjoy the fun of covering territory shoulder-to-shoulder (or nose-to-tail!). There’s something inherently bonding about zeroing in on a new scent together or barking a warning at a bold squirrel as a team.
The best co-pilots for a buddy walk are dogs that are already friends and are able to focus more on the walk than ruff-housing with each other. Buddy walks might require a little extra space, particularly if the dogs like to walk next to each other, so a busy sidewalk probably isn’t the best choice. Find a space where they can enjoy the discovery together without crowding.
There’s nothing quite like the freedom of an off-leash walk because it allows dogs to be fully “doggy” outside the confines of their usual tether to you. That said, off-leash walks should only happen in spaces that are safe for dogs (like a fenced field) and where it’s allowed by law.
True off-leash freedom is earned through team training, where you and your dog work through basic manners until you’re confident that he’ll come whenever you call. Nothing will ruin a fun off-leash session quicker than having to chase your dog down at the end of it! However, not all dogs are right for this option, so it’s important to be honest with yourself about your dog’s behavior. Aggressive dogs and dogs with strong tracking or prey drives aren’t a good fit for being off-leash in communal areas.
If your dog is right for this type of walk, once the leash comes off he is empowered to explore at his own pace, which means all of the sniffing, rolling, and racing he can handle. This type of autonomy doesn’t happen enough in our dogs’ lives since we essentially control their access to everything. Allowing your dog to decide what he wants to do when off-leash is a wonderful type of enrichment. Plus, it provides your dog with mental and physical exertion.
If there are no safe off-leash areas close by, you can mimic off-leash freedom by investing in a fixed-length long line that gives your pup more freedom. A thin, strong all-weather leash will allow your dog more space to engage in all of the activities he loves!
Tips to Make Fun Walks Successful
Going for a fun walk with your pup is simple but there are a few points to remember before heading out:
- Equipment: Keep your dog safe by using a fixed-length leash. Extendible leashes might give the illusion of more freedom but they can cause injuries, and can even break with enough pressure.
- Hydration: Don’t forget to pack a bowl and water if you’re taking a longer than normal walk or if the weather is warm. Make sure your dog has had a chance to get used to your water dispenser before trying it out on the trail.
- Treats: It’s always a good idea to pack a pocket full of goodies, so you can reward your dog for good behavior.
- Manners: Fun walks are all about having a good time, but not at the expense of being a good partner. That means not requiring your dog to walk directly next to you, and letting your dog know that pulling isn’t an effective strategy.