Spice Up Your Walks!

Oct 24, 2018 | Animal Behavior, Pet Guardians, Training

Daily dog walks provide opportunities for increased enrichment, engagement, bonding and fun © Susan Nilson

Long explorations in the country, splashing around in the sea, trekking up hills, they’re the reasons we love having our dogs and enjoy their companionship.  From time to time though, sometimes things become just a little bit ‘samey’! We can use this special time together as an opportunity to be more enriching and engaging and overall more bonding and fun!


I know this is easier said than done because we are all short on time, but where possible, allow that extra time for both of you.  I’ve fallen into the trap where I find myself constantly urging my dog to come with me and hurry along and neither of us particular end up enjoying walks as we should.  If I can allow that extra 5 minutes, I can allow my dog time to stop and look around and watch and absorb the environment.


Yes it can be irritating, following on from the above when time can be an issue!  Consider though that dogs have an estimated 125 million plus sensory cells in their nasal cavity compared with 5-10 million in humans (Kidd, 2016).  That means that they have the ability to detect so much more than us.  Dogs are sniffing to find out information about which dogs have been there before them, male/female, reproductive status, age etc.  It’s completely normal to sniff another dog’s genitals, faeces/urine etc.  Try not to get cross with your dog, it’s part of your dog’s sensory enjoyment of his/her walk.


Do you notice your dog glancing back at you, coming back and forth when off lead?  That’s all great stuff that should be rewarded and is easily ignored.  These are signs of your dog ‘checking in’ with you, so reward positively – if your dog knows that this behavior has a good outcome, he/she will repeat it and that’s good for you.


Select a venue to walk where you know your dog will be happy and can respond well. If you know that your dog will become very distracted and over-aroused and you can’t get him/her back, simply don’t go there for a while.   Select another venue where there are lower numbers of competing distractions and where your dog will be under threshold.  Your dog’s stress level (and probably yours) will be reduced and he/she will be better able to respond – don’t set your dog up to fail.


Social time is so enriching for dogs.  Ideally social interaction with conspecifics should begin during the formative weeks, but of course not every owner has this luxury if they are re-homing adult dogs. Play should be balanced and appropriate with no bullying of either party. If your dog displays symptoms of over-arousal at the sight of other dogs or bullying behavior, seek help from a qualified behaviorist.


Playing ball, frisbee, ball launcher etc. is great fun and fun is what you should have with your dog, but keep an eye on arousal level.  Sometimes this rises so high that it tips over that threshold and means that your dog cannot engage with you appropriately.  Symptoms may include very boisterous behavior, jumping up, nipping, vocalization, inability to focus, reactivity with you/other dogs etc. It is important that you don’t allow play to continue so that arousal reaches sky high levels – stop before this point.  Bear in mind also that continued play with ball launchers/frisbee places much repetitive stress on joints.


We get sick of going to the same place and the same is likely true for our dogs. Vary the walk location and if time is an issue, go the other way around, things look very different back to front!


Dogs learn much better when learning is fun, so save your training for walk time. ‘Recall’ can become a quickly incorporated game, your dog can ‘stay’ before playing with other dogs/ball, throw in ‘sit’/’watch’ prior to game play or carrying on walks as impulse control or focal behaviors.


Keep watch on your dog.  This is a big bugbear for many of my clients and also a common issue I think.  In order for everyone to enjoy walking, there has to be an element of respect. If we don’t keep watch on our own dog’s behavior, it can become problematic for others.  Similarly if we see other’s struggling or put their dogs on lead, it is sensible to do the same with our own, rather than to allow our dog to bound up. The most frequently frustrating comment I hear is ‘my dog’s friendly…..yes but mine isn’t! A little mindfulness goes a long way for everyone’s happiness.


Kidd, R. (2018). The Canine Sense of Smell. Available at: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/7_11/features/Canine-Sense-of-Smell_15668-1.html