Let’s go for a walk!” ranks as my dogs’ second-favorite phrase, topped only by “Are you hungry?” We walk almost every day. A vigorous walk provides good exercise, both for the dogs and me. The fresh air, green grass and blue sky invigorate us. When we walk, I see neighbors I might not otherwise see, and we talk and share news, renewing neighborhood ties.
My dogs seem to enjoy the walks as much as I do. Creatures of habit, they like walking the same route each day, sniffing the same places, checking to see who has been by this way. But when we walk someplace new, their excitement shows. Recently we went for a walk along a sidewalk parallel to the beach. Dax’s nose was going full-speed, sifting through all the different smells: rocks, seaweed and sand. All had to be investigated. Kes was more visually oriented and fascinated with the seagulls flying overhead and the pelicans diving into the waves offshore.
A lot of other people walk their dogs along the beach, too, and it was nice to see so many well-behaved dogs. Most of the dog owners acted responsibly, picking up after their dogs and keeping them on leash. Unfortunately, there were a few rotten apples. One young man released his dog on the beach even though signs mark this as a “No dogs” beach. I understand he enjoys giving his dog some freedom, but change comes from working in and through the system, not from breaking the law. There were also a few dog owners who did not pick up after their dogs. When I saw one, I offered a plastic bag for that purpose.
If you haven’t taken your dog for a walk recently, you’re missing out on an activity that can be very special. If you haven’t walked your pet because of behavior problems, such as aggression or excessive pulling, enroll in a dog training class or seek the advice of a professional trainer.
If your dog usually walks nicely but occasionally gets excited and pulls, you can use a few tricks. First of all, if your dog gets excited in predictable situations, be ready. If your dog starts barking and leaping when he sees other dogs, look ahead for other dogs while walking. When you see one, tell your dog, “Leave him!” and turn around so you walk back the way you came. Top your dog facing away from the other dog, and have him sit and be still. When your dog has calmed down (and only when he has calmed down), turn around again and start walking toward the other dog. In the beginning, you may turn around again and again and again. That’s ok! Eventually your dog will learn to approach other dogs calmly.
If your dog gets excited but is not controllable, simply have him sit. Make your dog concentrate on sitting. For example, if your dog loves children and gets excited when he sees kids, tell him to sit and stay as children approach. This way he is concentrating on being good and not jumping on the kids. Keep your hands on your pet to help him, and praise when him does sit still.
If you want to walk your dog but haven’t done so recently, start slowly. Keep your walks short and at a relaxed pace. Sore muscles are no fun for dogs or people. In addition, your dog’s pads will need to toughen. As your dog becomes conditioned to exercise, gradually increase the time you walk, the distance and pace. You may want to clock off a distance using your car’s odometer, perhaps a quarter mile out and a quarter mile back to start. Or you might like using a pedometer. I find he helps me set goals to walk a little bit farther each time we go out.
Walking is a recreational activity you can totally control. You can walk fast and vigorously, at a steady pace, or you can stroll. You can walk alone with your dog, or you can invite a spouse, kids or a dog-owning neighbor. Walk first thing in the morning, at lunchtime or in the evening. You can exercise and train your dog and enjoy spending time with him. You can look at the world through your dog’s eyes as you watch him react to his environment. Best of all, walking is free.