A quick guide to making dog walks more fun
Hello all and welcome to the new blog!
Walking your dog doesn’t just have to be attaching a lead and wandering to the same old park every day. It doesn’t have to be a chore that needs doing. The change for me and my dogs came when I stopped seeing their walks as something just for them that I should be doing, and switched the thinking this was a time and opportunity for us all to have fun, spend valuable time together and bond.
I also realised that walks aren’t just about your dog getting a little exercise, they are also a chance for your beloved pooch to get valuable mental stimulation from the enriching environment around them. Getting out into nature is an opportunity for your dog to get their needs met and express a lot of their natural behaviours like running, sniffing, digging and exploring.
Enrichment is key to helping our dogs live a happy, healthy life and studies have shown it can decrease the likelihood of behavioural issues, or support a decrease in behavioural issues. There are many ways to add enrichment to your dogs life, but mostly through using nature and our walks.
Any walk can become an adventure and here are my top tips to make it happen!
There are so many amazing places to visit and explore with your dog, it surprises me that so many of us end up doing the same walk again and again. There is so much to see and experience, and I have to admit that I myself get pretty bored going the same places all the time.
Admittedly, time can be a real difficulty. Obviously travel time increases your walk time and I know for many of us that makes it tricky to get to some of these amazing destinations. So on the days where the local area must make do, think about if there is a different route or area you can explore. If not there are other things you can do to spice up your walk.
Location is absolutely one of my favourite ways to make our walks more interesting. Theo comes alive when we visit somewhere new, his whole body changes, his nose goes and his eyes light up! Think of all the new scents and sensory experiences a new place brings, not just for our dogs, but for us too.
I love scentwork and dogs do too. Why? They are naturally good at it because their bodies and brains are built for sniffing! This is how dogs see the world, and 30% of their brain is dedicated to analysing odours – that’s 40 times more than in a human brain.
This is why I love changing location so much, new smells! Let the environment do the work for you.
If you can’t change location, or want to spice it up even more try some scent games. Some easy ones are scatter feeding – so throw a handful of treats/kibble on the floor. Make it easy – sprinkle the food on flat ground, or make it hard – sprinkle food into long grass. It does not have to take long for a task to be enriching. The other game I love is hiding a few treats in a ‘search’ area and allowing the dogs to go find them! You could switch out food for toys if that’s what your dog loves.
People often seem really surprised that canine parkour is a ‘thing’, but it is, and it’s a really fun thing too. Parkour is like urban agility and looking at different ways to use the environment around us. It involves climbing, balancing and jumping. The way I always explain this to clients is for me it is about encouraging dogs to explore their environment in different ways and from different perspectives. That goes for us too, instead of walking past that tree stump think ‘how could we use this?’. Dogs should never be forced to climb onto anything they are uncomfortable, but rewarded for interacting with different things and exploring and learn to conquer different challenges.
I love seeing dogs confidence grown and the different moves they manage. It’s also interesting to see how they will begin to jump up on, or over things without batting an eyelid as they learn what they can do. IT sounds cheesy but it really does open up a whole new world.
Parkour is a non-competitive activity, but you can achieve titles. To find out more visit https://www.dogparkour.org/home
When I talk about play I am not talking fetch, or busy work. I am talking about those quality and meaningful interactions where you are playing together. Even a short game of tug that is positive and ends on a high is a great way to build a relationship with your dog. If you are a source of fun and positivity you may also find things like recall and loose lead walking improving.
When I think of play I think of everything I have learned from Craig Ogilvie who specialises in Interactive Play. I will be featuring more about him in a later blog. Or check him out https://craigogilviedogtraining.com/
There are so many games you can play with your dog to make your walk more interesting. Here is just a couple of ideas to keep him on his toes!
Change direction – for no reason and without warning! Watch them come running when they realise. Keep doing it, it sure gets them watching intently.
Freeze! Like changing direction, just stand still and see how long it takes them to notice you are not coming with them.
Hide and seek. I like this best when I am out with my husband. I will duck behind a tree whilst he watches the dogs and shouts ‘where’s mummy?’, it’s so fun peaking out to see them searching me out and the look on their faces when I am found.
Search – hide a toy or a ball and send your dog to find it. This takes way longer than fetch and gets your dog using their nose. Make it easy, let them see where it goes but wait before you release them. Make it harder, let them see where it goes but into long grass/shrubs, wait a while before letting them go. Make it hardest! Hide the item without the dog seeing and let them go hunt. Mix it up, it does not always have to be easy or hard.
NOTE – know your dog. The aim of walks is to be a fun and enriching experience for both of you. The aim is not for your dog to feel worried, scared or frustrated. Know your dog’s limits and how much is enough. You do not have to do all of these things every time. Most of all though, let loose and have fun.