This is a bit of a follow up to my last blog about leash greetings and why I do not think dogs should greet others while on leash. Some folks may read that and think, “then why bother walking him at all?” Often people who are having leash difficulty with their young or reactive dogs and those with older, arthritic dogs may also think it’s just easier not to walk their dog at all. They figure they have a big backyard the dog can play fetch in, or run around playing with his doggie friends. Why bother going out for a walk? He gets plenty of exercise already.
Well, I am here to tell you, your dog needs a walk and not just for the reason you may think. Most people consider their dog’s walks to be for exercise. While, yes, he is getting exercise on a walk I think the more important reason your dog needs a walk is found in his NOSE.
A dog’s sense of smell is his strongest sense. It is roughly 4000 times as great as ours. Your dog needs to get out there and smell the world! Can you imagine how amazing and stimulating his daily walk is for his psyche? Can you imagine what he must experience on every walk? I can barely wrap my little human brain around it. Can you then also imagine how boring his life is if he spends all of his time within the same square footage, indoor and out, smelling the same old things over and over?
One of the reasons I don’t teach a strict “heel” (meaning dog’s nose to my thigh) in class is because I think my dog should have some freedom to sniff on a walk. Does the leash need to be loose and does he need to be within 2 feet of my body unless I give him a cue to “go sniff” or “go potty”? Well, yes but I am also not on a military mission and walks should be enjoyable for both of us. I don’t want to get pulled around but I also want him to be able to enjoy some brain stimulating sniff time.
When I do evaluations and take histories on dogs people often feel badly when they tell me they do not have a fenced yard, they think they are denying their dog of some great yard life. Actually, I am often pleased because when folks don’t have a fenced yard they are forced to walk their dog. Dogs who live in apartments are usually better socialized and desensitized to the world. Dogs who have yards are often sitting at the back door waiting to come inside, not out there exercising themselves and definitely not getting any new sniff-stimulation.
Take the time to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash. Take your senior dog out, even if it’s a short trip down the block. In fact, your senior dog probably needs it most to combat depression as well as stiff muscles and joints. I can think of few more pleasurable things in my life than when I’m on a nice, leisurely walk, just me and my dog, exploring our world.