One of the great pleasures of being a dog owner is going out for the daily walk; yes, even in the rain! This is a special time in the day that you and your dog can spend quality time and share experiences with each other. The walk is the time for physical cardiovascular exercise for your dog however it can be so much more; it needs to also be the time for mental activity and stimulation for your dog. We regularly hear in the news how it is important for us humans to keep our brains active to aid good long-term health and the same applies to your dog.
Local canine therapist, Lucy Tyrell, shares some simple tips to make your walks more interesting.
Let your dog sniff. For dogs the sense of smell is the strongest; 60 + times stronger than the human sense of smell. It really is their way of making sense of the world. For this, all you need is time and patience! It is so important for your dog to be allowed to stop, smell and smell again. I can speak from personal experience when I say, a walk full of sniffs truly tires the dogs out more than a fast walk without any sniffing.
Let your dog choose the route
Now this has to be done within reason as safety is key. However, how many of us go on the same walk, following the same route on a regular basis? This can become slightly mundane for your dogs, so try to add variety. When you reach the park/common/woods where you are planning to walk, let the dog chose which direction or path to take. If you have a limited number of routes, mix it up by reversing it. If walking along a street, walk on one side of the road then cross over the road for the route back.
Exercise the mind
Challenge your dog by hiding some treats or a toy when you’re out and about together. Choose to walk cross country encouraging your dog to climb over obstacles such as branches and tree stumps. I sometimes play hide and seek with my girls. When they are distracted I go behind a tree and then call them to find me. This helps with recall as it is the dog actively trying to find you rather than you having to keep checking in with your dog.
Vary your speed
Very few dogs walk slowly and some don’t even actually walk at all as they spend their walk trotting along. Slow walking is vital to help muscle development especially those deep core muscles. We know this ourselves ~ 5 fast squats are much easier to do than 5 slow and controlled squats! So start off at normal walking speed, then slow it right down and try to encourage your dog to walk slowly with you. If you have a dog that is used to doing everything at 100 mph they will find this hard but persevere, it really is worth it!
Do some training
It is all very well having a dog who can follow commands and do tricks at home but can they do it in a far more stimulating and exciting environment when out on a walk? You may need some high value treats or a toy to make this worthwhile for your dog. You can practice this both on and off lead. Continue reading for some fun training ideas and tips.
“Excessive ball throwing sadly provides me with a lot of business!” says Lucy. Please be aware that throwing balls over long distances repetitively can have huge repercussions on the muscles. It becomes a type of repetitive strain injury as the dog is often going from a standstill to a flat out gallop and then coming to a sudden stop. The concussion and stress this puts on the muscles and joints is huge and damaging. It is also important to note that tennis balls are bad news for dogs’ teeth as they can wear them down really quickly. If you are going to use a ball or let your dog carry a ball, a soft rubber ball is best.
Points to consider
- Dogs do not need to go charging around on long walks to tire them out – this is not what they are designed for. Short bursts of running are fine but we must make sure they don’t overdo it.
- Mental stimulation is more tiring!
- Variety is the spice of life
- Stimulate your dog’s breed tendencies
Training ideas to use on your walks
Doing some training on your walk shouldn’t be arduous, it should be fun and really is a fantastic way to build that bond with your dog. Lucy suggests just 5 minutes of training and then occasionally throw in the odd on-the-spot command and see if and how your dog responds
You also need to think about rewards. It is important to mix it up a bit; if a reward is to be rewarding, there has to be a bit of variety and anticipation. If the reward is always a piece of liver they will know that is what they get. However, if you take a variety of tasty treats and vary the amount you give them it will make the anticipation and reward so much greater.
Stay and Come
Ask your dog to ‘stay’ walk a few paces away from them but looking at them and then call them to ‘come.’ Once they have come (all the way) to you, give the praise and reward. As your dog improves, you can lengthen the distance between the two of you and you can turn your back as you walk away.
Put a favourite toy or treat on the ground or on a log tell them to ‘leave it.’ They can only ‘take’ the toy or treat when you give them the command. You could use the command ‘take it.’
Get your dog’s attention, make sure they are watching you and get them to catch a treat; give them a command to follow such as ‘catch it.’ This is a great way to distract your dog from something such as deer as they will learn that when they hear the phrase ‘catch it’ they will be getting a reward.
Teach your dog left and right
This takes some repetition! It is usually easiest to start this on lead. Guide your dog with a treat to your right side. Once he is there say ‘right’ and give him the treat. Do this multiple times and do the same on the left. The aim is to get your dog to follow the commands of left and right and go to the correct side without being guided. Once they pick this up, they should be able to do it off lead.
This is a fun one! Your dog needs to know the ‘down’ command. Once they are on the floor coax your dog forward with a treat in your hand; he has to stay in the down position. Repeat and once they are crawling confidently add the command of crawl (I actually use wriggle with mine!) and then treat.
If you would like any more information on anything written here, Lucy invites you to get in touch. You can also find out more about Lucy and Galen Myotherapy here:
Lucy Tyrrell is a Galen Myotherapist working in SW London and Surrey. She treats dogs under veterinary referral who are suffering from chronic muscular issues and pain. She treats dogs suffering from arthritis, hip/elbow dysplasia, spondylosis, intermittent lameness, neck/back pain, post trauma as well as repetitive strain issues and behaviour changes. She is also qualified in exercise physiology and is passionate about helping our dogs to stay happy and healthy by ensuring type and amount of exercise is appropriate for optimal joint and muscle health. She lives locally and can be often found in Richmond Park with her Westies.