BY HEATHER DOWDY
You know the scenario. It goes something like this:
The dog is bored.
I need to take the dog for a walk.
I also need to run to the grocery store, make dinner and do five billion loads of laundry.
Okay, Ginger, we'll go for a walk. But you've gotta be quick! Hurry up, Ginger... come on!
Then, without even realizing it, you're power walking and obsessing over your mental to-do list while you all but drag poor Ginger pup to keep up with you as you.
Yes, you and your pup are getting exercise, which may in fact be better than eating an entire bag of chips on the sofa and binge watching trash TV. (Why must chips be so delicious?!)
But in your rush, you've forgotten something very important: to actually enjoy the walk! And you have also forgotten that how your dog experiences the walk is just as crucial as taking the walk itself.
So how can you improve walks with you pup? To quote an old, much-overused phrase...
Stop and Smell the Roses... or Peed-On Trees!
When we take a walk, we are often lost in our own minds. We're thinking of the past, the future, our meeting in two hours, that we need to call our mom about dinner on Sunday.
Our dog, however, is fully and happily in the present moment, and it can be incredibly frustrating for them when we keep hurrying them onward when all they want to do is stop and SMELL THAT AMAZING LIGHT POST!
You see, our dogs explore their world primarily through their noses, which is why Ginger wants to stop and poke her head into Literally. Every. Thing. along your route. While you might find the stop-and-go pattern frustrating and slow, your dog is simply participating in the moment and doing what she was designed to do. She is sniffing and learning so many interesting things about her environment, which is what truly engages her mentally and helps create a healthy, happy dog.
According to Dr. Alexandra Horowicz, a canine researcher and the author of Being a Dog: Following a Dog into the World of Smell, dogs have 50 times as many scent receptors as humans! So while you may think your pup is just sniffing something gross and pointless, she is really hard at work, learning incredibly detailed information about her environment through her amazing olfactory senses. And when we don't allow our pup to explore the natural world with her nose, we are really doing our beloved companion a disservice.
World renowned positive dog trainer Patricia McConnell puts it this way in an article she wrote here:
Recently I watched someone walking his dog close to my office in Black Earth. Every ten feet or so the dog tried to stop to sniff the ground, and every time she did, the man at the other end of the leash pulled her forward so that he could continue walking. Ah, the canine-primate disconnect, which never fails to appear if we just pay attention. I wrote an entire book about this, The Other End of the Leash, and yet I’m still discovering ways in which we struggle to merge our ethological needs...
...Birte Nielsen and colleagues published an important paper in December of 2015 titled “Olfaction: An Overlooked Sensory Modality in Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare.” They argue, compellingly, that we do animals a disservice by not acknowledging the impact of odor on their behavior and wellbeing.
In short, your dog requires mental stimulation as much as she needs physical exercise. And one of the easiest and most satisfying ways you can help your dog enjoy mental stimulation is to simply let her sniff out her environment. After all, it is how she explores and makes sense of her world.
That said, there is a time and place for everything. If your goal is to get in a good run with your pup pal, let her sniff around and enjoy her surroundings for a few minutes before launching into your jog. It's fine to keep her focused and at your side during the route, but then stop at the end and reward her with another stop-and-sniff session. And be sure to create time for more leisurely strolls with your pup pal, where she can sniff and wander to her heart's content.
Meanwhile, take a hint from your pup pal and try to turn off the automatic reminders in your brain and tune in to the beauty around you, too. Being relaxed and in the moment together will bring happiness and wellbeing for both you and your canine companion!