Jack and Oscar on a walk together.
It’s amazing how often and how easily we, as dog owners, tend to forget exercise as one of our dogs’ essential needs. This concept isn’t anything new in the dog community: a dog needs a walk, a trip to the park, a good game of fetch or tag, or even a romp around with his pup pals at least once a day. It isn’t optional. Of course you could choose not to walk your dog or let him play outside, but that is known to decrease the number of years you have to spend with your best friend. “But Fido doesn’t walk on a loose leash, and he ends up pulling me the entire way,” you say. “Buddy barks at anything that moves,” you moan. “Lady reacts to other dogs, and even gets aggressive as soon as you attach her to her lead.” “I simply don’t have the time.” So how do you have a successful walk that will leave both you and your pup feeling better for the experience? Following are a few simple tips, tricks, and walking alternatives to get started.
1. Be in control of you. Never start any activity with your dog when you’re feeling down. Every interaction they have with you should be as positive as it gets. Relationship and trust are key to living successfully with a canine. Remember: your attitude is everything. If you are feeling stressed, angry, anxious, high-strung, or any other kind of intense, negative emotion, it is not the time to walk or play. Because it is so important to a dog’s health, exercise should be highly enjoyable to all involved. If you have to do something everyday, you might as well get the most out of it.
2. Your mood travels down the leash and into your dog. Your dog is already bonded to you and is an expert of all of your emotions and what body language you use to express them. Now that you’ve got him attached to you with a physical line, you have successfully created a direct energy flow between the two of you. If you stay calm and in control, that energy will be passed to him, and he will stay calm and in control.
3. Mid-Walk Socialization: Do you know that dog?
- First things first. Do you know the oncoming dog? When I’m on a walk with my cattle dogs, my first reaction to another dog is to cross the street. Socialization is a fantastic thing to allow your pooch to have access to, but it needs to be done the right way. Remember: you don’t know the dog’s personal history, his triggers, if he’s been properly socialized, his behavioral struggles and the intensity of such, and you certainly don’t know his owner. What was he trained to do? Attack, guard, growl, simply to be friendly? My point is, you don’t know. The only thing you really do know is YOU and how your dog usually responds.
- Two dogs meeting face-to-face on lead can be extremely dangerous to both animal and handler. Leads can get tangled, and if a fight were to break out, even skilled hands are slowed down by trying to separate the lines. My advice? If you’re going to meet a dog on a walk, do so at a distance and educate yourself on what postures to look for.
- Postures to Look For:
- Offensive: any staring directly in the eyes for more than three seconds (this is an open challenge to the other dog), ears straight up or straight back and flat to the head, lips raised to show front teeth, tail straight up slowly wagging or still, legs straight standing forward on toes, any growling barking or snarling, hackles raised, standing in front of owner with a tight leash
- Defensive: ears straight back and flat to the head, lips raised to show all teeth (fear grimace), tail tucked between back legs, legs bent in a crouch (or cowering), any growling barking or snarling, hackles raised, hiding behind owner
- In general be on the look out for over excitement or arousal (pulling on leash, scrabbling around frantically, etc.), and shaking of the back legs (indicates fear), eyes wide enough to see the whites , or excessive licking of the lips. These show that the dog is either very uncomfortable and needs to move away from the other dog, or that the dog is too excited and is making the other dog uncomfortable. Either way, you must take responsibility of the situation and control your dog accordingly.
- Don’t let your dog’s personal space be invaded. Protect Fido. If you see a dog so eager to meet your Fido that he is straining at the edge of the lead, move on or wait for the dog to calm down. And remember, this goes for Fido too. The proper way for two dogs to meet is calmly. They should each be sitting at a distance and attentive to their handlers, waiting for the cue to greet a possible new friend. If Fido can’t calm down, he should not be rewarded with the interaction. Instead, move on and try again next time. Usually practicing the “Sit” Cue in distracting environments helps to strengthen calm meeting behavior.
- Fences: If a dog is behind a fence and is exciting your Buddy, simply encourage him to move on. Dogs who continuously live behind fences encounter several different dogs a day passing their home and their family and their space, and as a result, they tend to become a bit territorial. On a walk with my dogs, they are extremely curious about the mysterious snout sniffing at them through the planks; it’s not easy to redirect their attention. However, it’s exactly what I suggest. Territorial dogs can easily become aggressive about their space. They feel an immense pressure to protect by being allowed to guard day in and day out. It is best to not add to the stress and get you and your Buddy out before any damage is done.
4. Meeting Off-Leash Dogs: While on your daily walks, you may encounter an off-leash dog without accompaniment. He may or may not have a collar, and he very well could be a stray. In any case, remember that you don’t know that dog. If walking alone, the best thing to do is to ignore the animal and get your own out of his range. If Fido is getting excited, try to redirect his attention (it is always a good idea to walk with treats). Never run away or exhibit any quick movements-continue to carry on as if he’s not there. If he continues to follow you, stay calm and allow him to do so. It’s better to let him go about his business than to start a fight. Your dog could be in danger of injury and disease if you aren’t careful. Keep in mind that if a scrap starts, there are two dogs and only one you, and you have absolutely no control over that situation. The key here is prevention.
5. Other Adventures For You and Your Pup:
- Dog Parks: Off-lead dog parks are a perfect place for a pup to get out some energy. Most dogs love to run, play, and socialize. Make sure to bring your own potty bags, water bowls, treats, and of course toys. If you’re having a hard time getting your pup excited about play, vamp up your energy! Remember, attitude is everything: your dog is tuned into you- you’re his favorite radio station and he is always listening. If you start to act crazy excited, so will he. In the process, you may even attract some friends for him to play with!
- Dog Beaches: I don’t know many dogs who don’t love a good beach. Same as with dog parks, make sure to bring potty bags, bowls, treats, and toys. It also may be a good idea to pack a couple of towels: one to dry off Buddy and one to protect your seats.
- Hiking: Dogs are the best hiking companions! Most dogs have a ton of unused energy stored up. Hiking is perfect for expelling it. Not only does Lady get practice in responding to your voice (especially for off-lead hikes), she also gets a buffet of outdoor smells to ponder. Believe it or not, when a dog is thinking and processing smells, they are using as much stored energy as going on a walk. And what’s better, on a hike, they are climbing and running at the same time. Bring all of the necessary supplies: bowls, potty bags, and treats. If you have a big enough pup (at least 25 pounds), you can have him carry his own supplies in a pup-pack. Many dogs, especially shepherds, love to have an extra job to do. I would also bring a standard whistle, just in case Fido gets out of range. *Always make sure your pup is drinking water while on a hike. Since dog’s don’t sweat, it’s easy for them to become overheated or dehydrated.
- Camping: Same with hiking, bring all of your necessary equipment, including a long line (to stake in the ground for evenings), a whistle, extra food and water, a dog mat or bed, toys and chews, booties (You never know what’s going to be on the campsite grounds. Broken glass is especially important to look out for.), an extra collar (with extra tags) and leash, and a first aid kit. Before camping, make sure Spot is up to date on all of his vaccinations and shots. Any medication he needs should be packed in advance, and you should make familiarize yourself with pet emergency services in the area. Never let Buddy drink out of any puddles; there can be worms and other small organisms cultivating there. A few laps should be okay, but try to always have clean water on hand. Camping can be an incredible experience for you and your pup! You just want to make sure you are prepared.
Although owning a dog may seem like all snuggles and kisses, exercise is a vital part to a dog’s life. There are so many activities that you and Buddy can participate in! Listed here are just a few of my personal favorites. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what you and Buddy are doing, you have to be having fun while doing it. If walking or hiking isn’t your thing, go outside and play a game of fetch: Spot will do all of the running for you.