I do two types of walks with my dogs. First is “We Must Get From Point A to Point B while ignoring things like trash, other animals, things in a hotel lobby or hall, pedestrians, etc.,” walk. Then there is the “It’s OK To Be A Dog and Sniff” walk. Many of our walks are a combination of the two. Why do I do this when for decades trainers have pushed teaching walks where dogs are next to you, not sniffing, and being perfect? Simple, what many dog owners and some trainers think is a good walk or run with their dogs can be frustrating for the dog.
I worked with a dog belonging to a runner. The dog was a high energy, working breed. The owner was giving him more than ample exercise. However, he could not understand why the dog was developing undesired behaviors especially when on walks. They had no yard, so the dog had to be walked or run. The owner’s idea of exercise was a deliberate walk or run with no stopping unless the dog had to potty. It was fast and deliberate and long. The dog was never allowed to poke or sniff as dogs need to do. Several times a week they would run for several miles. Again, no ability for the dog to be a dog. No ability for the dog to meet certain needs he had as a dog. There were social and behavioral aspects to walks the dog was not getting.
What do I mean by social and behavioral aspects? I am not referring to expecting the dog to meet and greet every human and dog he passes. For me, having a dog who demands to meet and greet everyone without permission is risky. I am talking about allowing a dog to sniff and poke and gather information about his environment.
“Sniff, sniff, sniff. Hmmm, Sparky may be developing a urinary tract infection. Sniffy sniff-sniff… Oh, I do not know that dog smell, he must be new here. Sniff. What did Buster eat for dinner last night? Ok let’s sniff over here! Wow, a coyote walked past here last night! Deer! And what’s over here? Whoops, Billy dropped his ice cream here and rats cleaned it up. Hey human I want to sniff over here now! I think I smelled the Jacobson’s cat out again!” Being able to sniff is a way dogs gather information. When we deny dogs this chance we are removing something important for them to do. Imagine being cut off from an important part of your world. Imagine no ability to check on what is going on around you. Dogs need to have sniffing time while on walks.
Does this mean I allow my dogs to haul me all over on walks while they sniff? No. This means I walk them to places where it is OK for them to sniff. I check the area for things that may be a problem like trash. If the area looks good they are told they can go sniff. During sniffing I follow them. After a good sniff they are cued again to return to the walk and we move on to the next sniff. In some areas I may use a long line, so the dogs can range out but still be leashed to me.
While on walks, make sure your dog has ample time to stop and smell the roses and other things. He will be happier for it.