“I’m taking the dog for a walk…”
It’s a phrase most of us probably say at least 2 or 3 times a day. We pop the lead on and head out to the park or round the block without giving it too much thought. But is our idea of an enjoyable walk the same as our dogs’?
I had to think about this recently when Charlie started to show me that he wasn’t really loving our walks. We’d usually walk between 3- 5km on a paved path running alongside a river and banded by woodland. He began to show reluctance to go much beyond 1km and would simply stop in the middle of the path. If I forced the issue by keeping on walking he would eventually follow me but it was clear that he didn’t really want to. And so, because I listen to his choices as much as possible, we would turn back and, gradually, our walks became shorter.
At first I was concerned that perhaps he was in pain or spooked by something outside but he was still moving well, seemed relaxed and a vet check was clear so these didn’t seem to be the reason for his lack of enthusiasm. So I changed tack. Instead of thinking of our walk from the human-centric point of view of following the path from A to B I started to think of it as simply time spent outside. Whether we actually walked very far, or covered much distance, wasn’t relevant.
And, true to his terrier instincts, Charlie showed me that what he wanted to do outside was sniff and dig and search and hunt and generally snuffle about amongst the fallen trees and undergrowth and riverbank. He’d happily stay in the same spot, digging, for 15 minutes or more. And so that’s what we do. His time outside is now spent doing dog stuff…not covering the kms. And he’s happier and fitter for it.
Our ‘walks’ have changed for me too. I might not get my step count up but I do get to spend time outdoors just watching the world go by whilst he’s busy doing his terrier thing. I get to sit and watch the river, watch my boy having fun, enjoy the peace & quiet and just ‘be’.
Not all dogs will choose to do what Charlie does. Some dogs will love to run and chase. Some will love to swim. Some may just like to sit and watch. They are all individuals with their own preferences and their own genetic predispositions. Instead of thinking of your walk as being about the distance you cover or constant movement think about what your dog loves to do. What brings them joy? What were they bred to do? And do they get the chance to do that on a walk?
Dogs don’t care about getting 10,000 steps so don’t be in a hurry to move them on. Let them sniff. And roll. And dig. And hunt. And mooch. And snuffle. It’s their walk, after all.