It’s not just the walk
I 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.