When we think of what it means to give our dogs a good life, a walk is usually a must. Everyday without fail the dog needs to go for a walk... Or do they?
Most dogs that struggle with controlling their emotional outbursts usually express these feelings when out and about. A lot of the time they simply cannot help it. It's a reaction to something triggering to them.
Let's unpack what a walk looks like and decide whether it is a good thing for your dog or a bad thing for them.
So first of all, how does your dog benefit from the walk?
Exercise is typically the first thing that pops to mind. Yes it is exercise, but a 30 minute or even 60 minute street walk where you cover 5 maybe 6km isn't a huge amount of exercise for some dogs. For us if we want to give our dogs a solid bit of physical exercise we typically use the flirt pole or play an intense game of tug. With Adira, we will usually run with her for up to an hour sometimes.
If you do take your dog for a stroll and they're happy as Larry and just plodding along. There's no issues.
But what if this isn't the case? What if your dog typically reacts to people or other dogs out and about? Does the benefit of the exercise they get outweigh the negative experience that is being created to certain things?
For me it doesn't. Now let me be clear. If you're working through some issues with a dog but the behaviours you are trying to modify or change are being practiced on a regular basis, you're not going to get long term successful results.
If you take the dog for a walk and can be sure that they won't behave in that way, then there isn't a problem. This could mean changing where you walk the dog. So instead of walking them round the block you take them on quiet trail walks instead. But if you take your dog on the same walks and they react or behave in the negative way you want to change, don't expect them to grow out of it, expect them to grow into it and watch as the behaviour intensifies. To change behaviour, we first have to change or modify the environment.
The walk is there to enrich your dog's life.
If it adds too much stress, then it's not enriching at all. You're just adding a stressful activity into your dog's life which will ultimately make you stressed too. So then we have to ask ourselves what is the point?
When we first brought Sunny home she was petrified of leaving the house unless Hannah took her and even then she would just be glued to Hannah's side. From the untrained eye, Sunny looked like she was super 'obedient' and very well trained. When the reality was that she was so scared that the safest place to be was as close to Hannah as possible. We didn't take her out for many walks back then on the street. We opted for taking her on less walks and only ones that would add more quality to her life. Instead of 7 street walks a week, she probably got 3 or 4 bush walks instead. Quality over quantity is definitely what you want to think about here.
This is not to say that things will always be like this. It might mean that just for the time being, certain walks are not conducive to the welfare of the dog who is struggling. Things always change. But for things to change for the positive we have to allow the animal the time, the help they need and we have to change the environment they are struggling in.
Dog training is all about teaching dogs skills that help them cope in our society. We can help dogs cope better in these situations and we can teach dogs not to do X and do Y instead but initially we can't put dogs with zero skills in situations they find too stressful.
So, the next time you're going for a walk, ask yourself how does this benefit my dog's life? If you can't think of too many reasons just do something else.
The walk is only important for your dog if it makes their life better, easier, more enriched or it simply adds joy to their life.
Here are some video links to help with your walk: