At last! It feels as though Spring has arrived, the days are longer and milder, flowers are appearing and walking the dog isn’t the chore it was a month ago!
There are so many benefits to a good dog walk; providing mental stimulation, and physically tiring them out are two that immediately spring to mind. However it is also a really good opportunity to improve your relationship with your dog, which can help in other areas of behaviour.
Ensure that you speak positively to your dog at frequent points throughout the walk, as often the only spoken words are those telling dogs to “leave” items, to come away from something, or to go on the lead.
When they are off the lead and busy nosing about in the undergrowth it is easy to just let them get on with it. However it can really help with recall (getting them to come back to you) if every so often you call them back just for a fuss and a treat, before sending them away again. Otherwise it can seem to your dog, accurately enough, that you only ever call them back when you are going to put them on the lead, and that isn’t very motivating!
When you are walking along, dogs will periodically look up at you, just to “check-in”. Make sure you are aware of it, and acknowledge it with praise, so that they are rewarded for paying attention to you. If they are constantly ignored, albeit unintentionally, then they will check-in less often and so you may find levels of obedience suffer.
If you only have time for a short walk, you can make it more interesting by occasionally scattering a few biscuit kibbles in the grass or plants as you walk along, and encouraging them to find them. This is fun and stimulating for your dog, and again rewards them for paying attention to you.
Occasionally there is only time for a quick walk on the lead, and you may feel that it’s hardly worth doing, but actually there is a whole world out there that we as humans are completely unaware of! Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and so sniffing all the lamp-posts and street corners is their equivalent of Facebook! Try not to rush them along, but give them plenty of time to sniff and take in all that information. It may not be physically tiring for them but it’s a mental work out, which is just as valuable!
Many dogs are uncomfortable meeting others when they are on the lead. This is very common, as they feel trapped and realise they have no way of getting out of a situation. If you want to let your dog approach another on its lead, then always ask the owner first, but often it’s best to stick to off lead interactions.
If your dog encounters another, on or off lead, and you are not sure how they will react but they are currently not behaving aggressively, then try not to speak or interfere at all – just watch. So often we can inadvertently make things worse by calling our dog away, or tugging on the lead, and that can add to the tension and spark off an incident.
Above all get out there and enjoy sharing a lovely walk with your dog!