Saturday, November 30, 2013

How To Walk Your Dog

This isn't an article about how to teach your dog to walk on a leash, but rather how to decide the best of type of walk for your particular dog. I work with clients whose dogs have all sorts of behavior problems. How and where they walk their dogs can greatly impact the dog's behavior. I have realized that most dog owners don't realize that all dog walks are not created equal. It is important to offer your dog the best type of walk for his or her personality and temperament. There are several factors that go into whether or not a particular walk is good for your dog including the amount of noise, vehicle traffic, big trucks, people, other dogs and maybe even more depending on the individual dog. A walk that constantly has your dog anxious, stressed out, over stimulated, frustrated or upset is not the best walking scenario for your dog. You can be creative in finding the best walking situation for you and your dog. Here are a few ideas to help you out...

Neighborhood walks
Basically, a neighborhood walk consists of walking your dog through a neighborhood. Most people walk in their own neighborhood while others may go to other neighborhoods that are safer, more dog friendly or for whatever reason, a better option for them. Neighborhood walks are usually a good option for dogs that need to be kept on leash and are comfortable with passing vehicles, trucks and seeing other people and dogs. For some dogs, busy neighborhoods are too much for them. If you have a dog that is sound sensitive or dog or people reactive or fearful or worried, a walk in a busy neighborhood may be too much. This is when going to another neighborhood, or perhaps considering trail walks may be a good option. In my opinion, all neighborhood walks should be done ON leash. Most neighborhoods do not allow dogs to run freely and rightfully so as it can be very scary for dogs that are on leash to be accosted by off leash dogs, even if their owners declare that they are "friendly". I do not walk my dogs in areas where we are likely to run into off leash dogs when they are kept on leash.

Depending upon where you live, good walking trails may or may not be readily available. Living in Northern California we are lucky to have many wonderful walking trails available, both on leash and off leash ones. If you have a dog that is okay with other dogs and people and has a good recall, you may like off leash trails. If your dog is not reliable at coming when called or is not good with other dogs or people, an on leash trail is probably a better choice for you. The great thing about trails is that they are generally pretty quiet in terms of traffic which can be great for sound sensitive dogs. Also, may trails have an off leash option which may be fun for your dog. Trails have lots of great sniffing and exploration opportunities for dogs as well.  However, trails can mean ticks, so do watch for that. If you want in an area where there is a high risk for rattlesnakes I recommend you keep your dog on leash.

Hiking is similar to trail walking except that you may choose to go further off the trail on a hike. Off leash hiking is great for dogs that are athletic, have lots of energy to burn and come when called. Depending on where you hike, you may find areas that have a lot less dogs and people which can be a good option for dogs that are not as comfortable with other dogs. And again, like trails, there is less traffic noise and things that can spook dogs that are sensitive to that type of thing.  Again, watch out for ticks!

Parks are sometimes overlooked as a great way to exercise dogs. Many parks have nice walking trails, grassy areas and paths to walk along. Most of the time parks do not have as many hills as trails making them a great choice for senior dogs or dogs that can handle a lot of hills or rougher terrain. They are also generally paved, so if you have a dog that you don't want to get dirty or pick up stickers they can be a great option. Walking my dogs at local parks in my neighborhood is one of my favorite ways to exercise them.

If you are lucky enough to have a dog that is a candidate for going to the beach AND an off leash, dog friendly beach in your area than go for it! It is a fantastic way to interact with and exercise your dog.

If you have a dog that is comfortable with cars, noises, people and other dogs walks in your downtown area can be a good option. Some dog friendly towns will allow dogs to come into stores with you, at coffee shops and outdoor seating restaurants so you can walk and then hang out. Downtown walks are generally not a great choice for dogs that are sound sensitive or uncomfortable with people as they are likely to run into a lot of that.

Sniffing Walks
Living with and working with a lot of scent hounds, I have found sniffing walks to be one of the best ways to exercise and burn energy on my dogs. A sniffing walk consists of taking a dog to an open area, such as a school field or a park, putting them on a long tracking line (not a retractable leash, an actual long line) and allowing the dog to simply sniff the area. The owner follows behind the dog, allowing him to go and sniff where he wants. I feel it is important during sniffing walks to allow the dog to really use his nose as he chooses. It is fine to stop and doing a little training here and there, but really use this opportunity to provide enrichment and mental stimulation to your dog and allow him to work his nose well.

Alternate Options
I frequently meet people that want to take their dogs on walks, but have dogs that are so stressed by neighborhood walks or downtown walks, that they are really not a good option for their dog. If some straightforward behavior modification does not help the dog to feel comfortable, perhaps walks are not the best way to exercise a dog.

My cattle dog Bill is reactive to sudden changes in the environment, including but not limited to people, dogs, other animals, etc. I did sufficient desensitization that he was able to go on walks, but I still felt like he was hyper vigilant and not really having a good time so we made a large ball play area in our backyard for Bill and we play ball with him every day. Playing ball in the yard, going to the park to play ball, going for car rides or visits to other places, training classes have all been excellent ways to get Bill out without putting him through the stress of walking around in our neighborhood.

My good friend has a busy Pointer that is dog and people friendly. She is a wonderful dog that has energy to spare. Taking her for leash walks is not fun for anyone as she wants and needs to run! So, she goes to local off leash areas where she can really run.

The main thing is that you find a way to walk your dog that not only offers him the exercise and enrichment that you are looking for but also is enjoyable to both of you. Of course, obey all leash laws and be respectful of people and other dogs.