Going for a walk is probably the number one activity shared by dogs and their owners. Responsible dog owners know that their dogs can benefit from regular physical exercise, as well as the mental enrichment of going for a walk. Many dogs live for their walks – it’s not uncommon for people to come up with unusual ways to reference their intention to go for a walk, lest their dogs lose their minds when they hear the word “walkies!” But how do our dogs REALLY feel about their walks and what are they getting from them?
What does your dog walk look like? For many dogs, their walks consist of games of fetch or joyfully hooning around the countryside at 100mph! Others may spend their walks playing energetically with their local four-legged friends. There’s no denying that many dogs can find these activities fun to one degree or another – we’re certainly not here to deny that. However, are these activities always the right thing for your dog? Are our dogs finding these countryside rambles as relaxing as we are?
Our dogs perceive the world differently to us – while the peaceful vistas and gentle notes of the countryside may be a welcome relief from the sensory onslaught of modern life for us humans, it could be just the opposite for our dogs. Have you ever strolled through the fields or woodland while your dog runs rings around you? They may be having a whale of a time, but our dogs’ lives are very often full of opportunities to take part in high-adrenaline activities; maybe it’s time to start engineering some truly relaxing walks for our busy dogs!
The Other Side of Enrichment
We live in a wonderful era, where dog owners are more dedicated than ever to their dog’s wellbeing – enrichment is something more and more dog owners are taking the time to provide their dogs. However, there is an important piece of the puzzle missing: our dogs need to learn how to relax. Particularly as working breeds become ever more popular, it’s important for dog owners to find a way to balance offering their dogs outlets alongside teaching them the skill of “switching off.” Think about all the humans these days who are finding ways to “unplug” from technology – even if we enjoy using social media, playing video games and watching Netflix, it can make it incredibly hard to feel content and to truly relax if we never take a break from all this immediate and addictive activity. The same is true for our dogs.
Distress vs Eustress
You’re probably familiar with “distress,” but “eustress” is less commonly discussed. Eustress is “happy” stress – imagine the rush of a rollercoaster ride (if you enjoy them!) or the nervous anticipation of trying something new! It’s important to remember that both types of stress – happy and sad – have the same physiological effects on the body. It’s for this reason that too much of either can be detrimental, and why we often start to see behavioural issues developing if our dogs spend all of their time going nineteen to the dozen.
As dog trainers, we see many of the issues facing modern dog owners on a regular basis. Some common problems for dogs who don’t know how to switch off include overarousal, trouble focusing, high levels of frustration (leading to challenging behaviours such as lunging and barking on the lead, lead biting, jumping up etc) and anxiety. Many dogs will struggle to settle and rest, even at home. In some cases, dogs may even begin to exhibit obsessive behaviours.
How can we help our dogs relax?
If the above is feeling relatable and you’re starting to realise that your busy dog falling asleep as soon as you get home from your countryside ramble may have less to do with them feeling blissful & satisfied and more to do with them feeling utterly exhausted from non-stop, high-octane activity, you are probably wondering what you can do to offer your dog the chance to really chill out. You can find our top suggestions below:
– structured scent discrimination training is a great way to give our dogs an outlet for behaviours that come naturally to them. Read more about the benefits of scent work for your dogs here
– while we all love to see our dogs stretching their legs and running free, they can be a bit like a kid in a candy shop and may find it incredibly difficult to calm down off lead. Popping the lead back on allows us to slow our dogs down. If the idea of an on-lead walk sounds horrendous, it may be time to invest in some lead walking classes
so you and your pup can enjoy a relaxing stroll together.
Change up the structure of your walks
– it’s so easy, both for us and for our dogs, to get into a habit. We by no means have to forego any and all high-energy activity, but variety is the spice of life and changing up our walking routine is a great way to provide balance for our dogs. Read more about how to make your walks more interesting here.
– we spend a lot of time teaching our dogs things we want them to do, but investing some time teaching our dogs how to settle and relax is not only a useful skill for our convenience (for example, if we want to stop at a pub or café with our dog) but is also an invaluable thing for our highly strung dogs. Check out our Pub Dog training course
Don’t walk as far
– while it’s important to provide our dogs with physical exercise, this shouldn’t be at the expense of everything else. You don’t always have to be covering ground – a shorter walk, meandering around a familiar area so your dog is able to feel secure, let their guard down and mooch can be a wonderful way to break the cycle and bring your walks down a gear.