Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dog walks: The benefits of a pause

Pug and Boston terrier out on a walk

The first dog trainer I worked with thought that walks had a vital role to play in the health of a dog and the relationship between a dog and his/her person. Walks, in her mind, were an opportunity for people to practice basic obedience techniques, and that could help to exercise a dog's mind, as well as the dog's body.

People who follow this sort of thinking have very brisk, constructive walks with their dogs. These dogs march along with their people, occasionally stopping to work on something like a "sit" command or a "stay" command. But they don't veer off course or compel their people to stop. These are dogs doing the people's bidding.

I walked my dogs like this for years, and I do think there's some benefit to keeping a dog under strict control while strolling through neighborhoods populated by dogs that may not be under any kind of control.

But since I returned to walking after breaking my leg, I'm finding that a different approach also has merit. This is the dog-focused way of talking a walk.

Sinead the Boston terrier in her coat

When dogs get to choose how walks work, everything about the experience seems to change. Sinead here, for example, likes to start off her walks very slowly. She likes to sniff the perimeter of the front yard, to pick up messages other dogs may have left behind. And she likes to do quite a bit of stretching and bending to warm up her muscles before she gets into serious speed.

When we're in the middle of the walk, she likes to veer from one side of the sidewalk to the other, choosing the best surface on which to walk. She seems to prefer very spongy grass, and sometimes, that's in the parking strip and sometimes it's in the front yard. She likes to follow that.

When we're in the last third of the walk, Sinead likes to slow things down again. She prefers to take very long breaks so she can thoroughly investigate a new scent on the ground. Sometimes, she likes to plop down on the grass and take a good roll. Sometimes, she just likes to stand still and scan the horizon, sniffing the air.

Dog walks on a dog's terms take a bit longer to complete. Dogs have their own schedules, and sometimes, they're not very efficient. But giving them control from time to time seems to please them. I know Sinead appreciates a more leisurely pace, and she likes walks in which she can just do as she pleases. She's not any less obedient after a walk like this than she is on a structured walk. But she does seem a little more tired.

What method do you use when you walk your dogs? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know.


  1. I see the benefits to both kinds. When I dog sat regularly, the walks were more dog-focused because they hadn't been trained otherwise. It can be frustrating - especially when a dog feels like sniffing a particular area for 15 minutes and this was originally conceived of as a "quick walk." But in terms of safety, carefully structured is probably the best way to go. In that case, the dog isn't reacting to its surroundings - or things that might frighten them. I completely believe in the "I trust my pet ... it's other pets that I don't." So many people have learned that the hard way.

  2. We don't have any dogs now, they went to the Bridge long ago, but we had two and they didn't care as long as they got to walk.

  3. That is sweet of you to let Sinead do what she wants on walks.

  4. It sounds like this kind of walk is good for Sinead AND you, Jean. :)

  5. No dogs here. If I ever get to go out on my leash, I usually walk the mom instead of her walking me. ~Wally