It’s not just the walk

2 black & white dogs in a riverI don’t mean to downplay the importance of providing a dog with exercise, but the reason for getting dogs out for a good leg stretch goes beyond the attempt to tire them out. The frequently heard statement that a ‘tired dog is a good dog’, makes me cringe. A good dog is a good dog whether they are exhausted or not.

Anyone who has walked with an off leash dog has witnessed that although running and movement is a big part of the activity, there’s lots more going on. Walks for dogs are about exploring, tracking, hunting and playing. Exercising a dog on a treadmill or on leash with business-like efficiency, while they have their benefits, is like getting calories from fat by eating a chunk of lard rather than a bowl of ice cream slathered in hot fudge. The job gets done with the lard, but a lot is lacking from the experience.

I notice that during our woods walk that I spend as much or more time encouraging my dogs to move away from me, as I do requesting that they come to me. When I see my cocker put her head down and her little stump of a tail begin to wag furiously I cheer her on, ‘find it Annie!’ as she burrows into rotting tree stumps. When a squirrel chirps and the dogs freeze and look toward the sound I say, ‘go git it!’ because I love to watch them run through the woods and I know they stand little chance of catching anything and they appear so happy doing it. Because I frequently reward and always acknowledge my dogs anytime they look at me, wait for me or come to me, I get those behaviors a lot. Most recalls are followed with an upbeat release.

Dogs need exercise and when no other options are available I suppose any movement is better than no movement, but the idea that we exercise our dogs just so they are quiet and leave us alone the rest of the day, troubles me. I take my dogs out on walks because it’s what dogs like to do. It’s what I like to do with dogs. If after a long run in the woods my dogs settle down nicely and require little to no management from me, it’s a perk of, not the reason for the walk.


21 comments so far

  1. KellyK on

    Good point. I’ll try to remember this when I’m walking my dog and she stops to sniff anything and everything, that it’s more about the journey than about distance covered or energy expended, and that she needs mental stimulation too.

    I agree that the whole “tired dog is a good dog” thing is a troubling oversimplification. If the dog only “behaves” because they’re too tired to get into trouble, it doesn’t sound like they’re very well trained, or provided with appropriate things to play with/chew on. Sure, dogs who don’t get enough exercise or activity get bored and can be destructive, but that’s because they’re bored and restless not because they aren’t tired. And if you like your dog, it should be just as important that they’re calm and happy after a exercise as it is that they’re not trying to eat the couch.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I often watch dogs getting dragged away from interesting sniff spots. Sometimes we have a destination we need to get to, but most of the time it is as you say, the journey, not the distance traveled.

  2. Katie, Maizey and Magnus on

    Another great post Debbie! A chunk of lard?? Yuck!LOL Perfect illustration though.

    We are doing the Walking Challenge right now and this post perfectly illustrates what I see with our walks. Since we are (reluctant) city dwellers off leash walks don’t happen often, so I use long lines and longer leashes to let my pups explore safely.

    We take different walks for different purposes in different areas. Sometimes we take a training walk with much more focus and specific LLW required, sometimes we take a “I’ll follow your nose” walk where I find a space and I follow where the dogs nose takes us. Those are really fun!

    No matter what we make fun the purpose, seeking out new routes with new challenges and opportunities for training and ongoing socialization. With over 1000 miles walked this year by the Walking Challenge members a common thread in all their comments and posts is variety and fun makes for the best walks.

    I would love to use this post in a future post I am working on about how to be successful in the challenge, this goes straight to my point! Thanks again for another great post!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Long lines are great for this. When off leash my dogs usually will sniff something but quickly focus back on me when they see me on the move.

      Glad you found the post helpful.

  3. Frances on

    One of the saddest sights I know is a dog being dragged along on the end of a leash past interesting smells and sights and sounds, while the oblivious owner is glued to a mobile phone. A walk through the fields and woods, or along the shore, or down to the brook for a paddle, gives my dogs and I huge pleasure. It is so very, very easy to make my dogs happy, and so rewarding for me to see their joy. On the rare occasions when they have to stay on leash, I try to stay aware of the world as it appears to them – as a result they will settle down to courteous leash walking which is a pleasure for all of us.

    • fearfuldogs on

      People often seem so rushed that even taking their dogs for a walk has become a burden 😦

  4. Donna in VA on

    I agree it’s not just the exercise. If circumstances require, sometimes our walks are shorter than usual and Max doesn’t seem to mind. I think that the consistency / routine aspect of our 2X daily walks contributes to his stability. When outside with me, he behaves calmly and is very easy to handle. His bathroom habits are consistent and regular. It is our routine. If my husband has to walk Max instead, which he does infrequently, Max is much more rambunctious and vocal and he may or may not eliminate.

    Other people in our Sheltie club have observed that when their dogs are herding, they are usually quiet – they are too busy thinking. Max is quiet on his walks with me, I think he is busy looking, sniffing, and processing his environment because he is relaxed and confident when he is with me.

  5. Michelle on

    I would love to let our dogs offleash in the woods, but their recall is nonexistent if they see a rabbit or a bird.

    How did you properly train all your dogs to come when called? Any tips would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Some dogs are very challenging in this regard. I don’t have beagles for this reason, lovely little dogs that they are. I use a lot of positive reinforcement to get my dogs to come when called, and work on it with distractions. However, whenever I’m in the woods with dogs I understand that they are not robots and may end up chasing things. Where we walk the dogs can run safely, and they have always come back. I’ve been able to get my dogs to leave deer when asked, but mostly I count on their preference to either be with me, or check in with me frequently enough that I don’t worry about them. I realize that my situation is different from where many people live and walk their dogs.

    • Frances on

      The rabbits round here rarely stray far from their burrows, and fortunately my dogs don’t like going into dark places, so the chase doesn’t often last for long! Then they come running back to tell me how this time they NEARLY caught it, did I see?

      When they were pups I always walked with a pocket full of really good treats – and rewarded them frequently for coming to me or staying close to me, then sent them off to play again. They also got treats for coming and waiting while bicycles went by on the cycle track. I still make sure to take treats sometimes, just to reinforce that coming is worth their while. They are not perfect (Sophy in particular has given me a few heart stopping moments!), but are reliable enough for me to feel safe in the fields etc where we walk. Anywhere there is the possibility of traffic they are on leash.

  6. Julia on

    I also reward frequently, for anything my dog Quinn does that is good or positive. I think this is a great habit to get into and I find it helps him learn quickly what actions benefit him. And it’s amazing to see that he will then repeat those rewarded behaviors later on! I love practicing the recall at off-leash parks. There are so many distractions and at such varying degrees it’s a wonderful training opportunity.

    And I too got a big laugh out of the lard analogy, it’s a good one!

    Thanks for such great posts!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you for commenting!

      I just love hanging out with dogs and the relationship we share makes training pretty easy for the most part.

  7. Sam on

    This is an interesting read and backs up my thoughts on walking the dog. Even when I take my pup out for a short walk, I often left him have a good sniff around, (the walk usually takes longer as I’m often standing around letting him sniff!). I agree that part of the walk is not only exercise, but an opportunity for the dog to get some mental stimulation, after all, it must get boring hanging around the house all day! And when dogs come back all chilled out from their walks, I hope part of it is mainly due to having an interesting, stimulating walk and not just being so tired out that they konk out on the sofa!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I always figure it’s ‘their’ walk anyway!

  8. Nancy Freedman-Smith on

    Debbie, did I just write that? With my new dog (now with turbo!) we have been getting out in the woods off leash almost every day. My five year old Collie is the best behaved he has been in years. How did that happen? lol I used to argue with my x-husband when I woke up at the crack of dark when I was pregnant with Heather to take Charlee every morning to the marsh to run. No, I would tell him, I don’t love the dog more than the family, I love my time with the dog watching her be a dog (and she would have gone insane if I didn’t). Hikes with dogs is what I like to do. I have seen how happy dogs are in the spot in the river that you chose for the photo. Who would want to take that away? I get so angry when people think they need to walk their dogs having them follow them like they see on TV. What a bunch of bullshit! They are missing out on the best part of having dogs.

    • fearfuldogs on

      No question I get big hits of ‘feel good’ when I watch my dogs having a good run. We take risks all the time with our lives and our dogs’, doing things because they add to the quality of our lives even with the risks. The whole ‘leadership walking’ stuff is perverse and if people take even more than a minute to think about it most see it for what it is. Loose leash walking is a skill, not a doctrine.

      • KellyK on

        Wow am I glad to hear that. My dog does a lot of pulling on leash walks. (We joke that she’s training for the Iditarod.) It’s nice to be reminded that, no, it’s not a dominance thing, she’s just a crazy happy puppy who wants to run. She follows beautifully in new situations or when I’m wandering the yard with her on leash, but on a straight stretch of road, she wants to run.

        I wish I had your woods to let her romp around in. She loves the dog park, but it isn’t quite the same.

  9. Karen on

    Love this post!!!! I so agree with you. When I walk my dogs, it is their walk, not mine. Because they are well trained, they have earned the right to walk off leash in certain areas. I love watching them use that wonderful nose to explore the world. They are so happy!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Teaching a dog a recall and giving them reasons for preferring to be with, rather than away from us, is a real gift. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Donna and the Dogs on

    Wonderful post and love the photo! Just wanted to say how jealous I am that you have such great places to walk your guys. My guys just get to tour the neighborhood, or explore a small patch of woods behind a K-mart. 🙂

    I generally alternate – heeling work on busy roads, looser leash, but still fairly close on quieter roads, and long lines for the woods. Two congested here for offlead though. 😦

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Donna, I do love where we live. The thing about dogs is that they are so adaptable. My dogs would love to tour a neighborhood. Sunny would prefer that the people stayed inside while he did it, but the cats could come out.

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