We walk our dogs for a variety of reasons the main ones being exercise, toileting and stimulation, with the latter being probably the most important. The world of the average canine is driven by smell, for dogs, a new smell is a Birthday and Christmas all rolled into one!
With an olfactory sense 5X more acute than ours, dogs see the world in a kaleidoscope of scents. Consider it doggie gossip, a veritable soap opera of the ins and out of the canine neighbourhood.
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The ideal walk for any dog would be off lead, coupling constant movement with mental stimulation and learning. But this might be difficult depending on where you live. So it might be worth locating a local enclosed dog park, these can also be hired for private use which is handy for training or if you just want to allow your dog room to run without worrying about other dogs. Looking for ideas? Try https://dogparksnearme.co.uk or www.dogwalkingfields.com.
The next best option to off lead is the use of a “long” lead. A nice 15 meter nylon or cotton lead works well and allows some autonomy for the dog but keeps you in control. These can be purchased cheaply from many pet or tack shops.
When walking on trails or in open areas, using a long lead allows the dog to walk in a natural Zig Zag pattern while you can stay on a straight path.
This type of lead length is great for many different sized dogs and levels of training. It can be easily and quickly shortened for control, is lightweight and the unused portion can be looped and held easily in one hand. Best of all it’s perfect for recall training so even an older dog can be taught safely.
It’s really the most important trained behaviour and can dramatically reduce the number of lost dogs and road traffic accidents. It’s definitely worth effort and very easy to teach if you have some tasty treats with you.
For many walkers, access to open fields or parks is restricted, so for these situations it is important to focus on mental stimulation during walks.
Although it can be very frustrating for the walker when the dog appears to stop every few feet and sniff or mark, it is very important from the dogs perspective. Remember it’s Coronation Street for the canines and they appreciate having time to “see” who, where and what is occurring locally.
Consider taking more frequent short walks or simply walk the same route twice, once can be slow to allow for sniffing/marking and then re-walk the same route at a quicker pace for exercise.
Adjustments that might be needed
If your dog has any medical conditions you may need to adjust your plans for walking.
One of the most common medical issues is arthritis and not just in old dogs. Many are undiagnosed and, due to the nature of the condition, it tends to manifest the day after a walk when the dog becomes painful. This is often mistaken for tiredness or stiffness.
In general, it’s best to exercise in short but more frequent sessions. So for the older or arthritic dogs keep the walks to under 30 mins. The dog will be more comfortable with multiple shorter walks rather than a single long walk.
So what’s a problem?
This is a good time to mention some common practices that are now considered bad for joint health and cause repetitive strain injury. Dogs can easily become obsessive with having the ball thrown but this can cause joint and ligament damage. So the new recommendations are to restrict throwing the ball to just a few minutes and to not throw far.
The damage occurs when the dog chases the ball long enough to gain speed and then has to de-accelerate suddenly. An alternative to those plastic ball throwers is a Frisbee. Because the direction of the flight is curved, it reduces the fast deceleration phase.
Keeping safe in the countryside
Another habit that can cause injury is throwing sticks, it is now recommended not to throw any kind of stick you find on your walk. This is because they can splinter and cause injury to the mouth. These fragments can be inhaled and there have been serious accidents where the dog has been impaled on the stick.
Plan for enough time once you have finished the walk to towel dry the dog or wipe mud/salt from their feet and do a quick tick check.
Enjoying walks on the beach
For beach walks, it’s very important to offer fresh water, even if the dog has not entered the sea. The sand is just as salty and easily blown into their mouths and eyes on windy days. Do not throw balls/toys into the sea for the dog to retrieve as this allows the dog to ingest an abnormal amount of saltwater. This can cause vomiting and possibly more serious harm.
It is good practice to rinse the dog in fresh water after a beach walk. This will remove any salt which they may later ingest when grooming themselves.
If you need to drive to a suitable place to walk, practise good biosecurity. Wash both your dogs’ feet and your boots after walks especially if visiting new places.
Please be aware it is now law to secure dogs in the car either with a dog harness/seatbelt, in a secure crate or behind a Hatchback type barrier. A name tag attached to the collar or harness, is also a legal requirement for all dogs when not on their own property.
It is always good manners to avoid walking on any playing fields or areas close to children’s play equipment. You should always attach a lead when walking on public highways or crossing the road.
Plan for the conditions
In hot weather, check the temperature and shorten the speed and duration of the walk. Where possible, try to stick to grass which is always cooler than pavement.
During the winter months, make sure you have a torch or light on the dog’s collar and wear a hi-viz jacket. If you suspect rock salt has been put down, wash the dogs feet once at home and apply a protective balm to the pads.
If you are walking alone, always leave an itinerary and contact info. Have your phone with you and have the number and address of your veterinarian in case of emergency. It’s a good idea to download the “What 3 Words” app. This will give your exact location for the emergency services.
Walking the dog can be considered as both a bonding and training opportunity.
For the less straightforward canines, it’s fine to take a few treats and dole them out when you need to distract/gain the dogs attention.
For example, reactive dogs that become overexcited/aggressive when approached by other dogs, ask for a “sit” and gain the dog’s attention with the treats. You can ask the fellow walker to keep walking past, once your dog has settled you can continue walking. As with any retraining, it will take time but well worth persevering to develop a confident dog.
If you have a dog that pulls excessively, changing to a harness where the lead attaches at the front or using a halti-collar may help.
If not… try a Sniffari!
Finally when you can’t exercise the dog, try a Sniffari! Provide environmental enrichment with Snuffle mats, Lick mats, Food Puzzles and simple tricks to encourage engagement. The goal will be having the dog work/hunt for most of their food which is closer to a natural lifestyle rather than the free bowl of food. This requires more planning but the dog benefits 10 fold from the new routine.
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