For most people with dog problems, the answer is simple: walk your dog more. “That’s it?” you ask. “Largely,” I reply. Many people mistakenly believe a dog needs a big home with a large yard to run around in. I often hear this as an excuse as to why someone can’t adopt a dog. “I only live in a small apartment, and that wouldn’t be fair to the dog,” they say. But the happiest dogs aren’t the ones with the stress of having to ‘protect’ a large ‘den’; nor are they the dogs confined to yards because their humans think they’re lucky to have such a big space.
Please make sure you read the introduction to this series before you continue reading this article.
No, the most content dogs have a small space to call home and at least forty-five minutes of walking daily. Yes, forty-five minutes, which can be broken up into several shorter walks. (Dogs do need three bathroom breaks per day, after all—pups and smaller breeds more.) But a long walk has greater benefits: Your dog can release more mental and physical energy in a positive manner; just as important is that you and your dog are walking together, side by side; and it’s a powerful way to strengthen the bond between you, because dogs who migrate together feel more connected. It’s the key to having a great relationship with your four-legged companion. None of the dog-rehabilitation tips in the upcoming articles can help you if you’re not walking your dog enough.
Dogs have a natural urge to explore their territory, smell who’s passed by recently, and partake in collective forward momentum. They need to satisfy their desire to know what’s ‘out there’ while leaving their own mark for others to sniff. And no exercise cements the bond they seek with their human the way a controlled walk does. The more cooped-up a dog feels, the more pent-up he will become, with all that excess energy building up inside. If it’s not burned off in a healthy manner, energy will get released in ways that you’d rather not experience. That can manifest itself as destructive behaviour, barking, nervousness and anxiety, or even aggression. Dogs who bark incessantly or snap at passers-by are usually the ones confined to the ‘luxury’ of a yard.
How Would You Feel?
Imagine if you weren’t allowed to wander beyond your four walls, or even outside your garden or yard. Picture how stressed and frustrated you would feel if you never got to experience life outside your home. No newspapers to read or Internet to catch up on the big wide world. You would sink into undesirable behaviour too, looking for ways to release that pent-up energy or stimulate your hungry mind. Eventually, you would shut down or plunge into depression. For your dog, it’s no different. She needs a good walk every day alongside her pack leader, because that’s what makes her feel secure and fulfilled. Other forms of exercise, such as playing ball or tugging rope, all help your dog to release energy. But, for rehabilitation purposes, nothing compares in effectiveness to leading your dog on a long, tiring, controlled walk.
Dogs who show anxiety or bark when left alone benefit from a long walk before their human departs. A dog who tends to be overly boisterous or even aggressive will calm down when her energy is exhausted. Nervousness is related to excess energy too, and a dog in training is more focused after a nice walk. A tired dog is a good dog, a more fulfilled dog, a happier dog. A walked dog is all those things with an important bonus: a sense of belonging—to you, the human leading him. The more you walk your dog, the quicker her behaviour will improve. It’s that simple.
Take the Lead
The walk must be, for the most part, on leash. This is because, to control your dog’s bad behaviour, you must first control your dog. Above that, you must control yourself, including your frame of mind and your body language. If you walk your dog the right way, it reinforces your status as pack leader. But it also defines what your pack of two will pay attention to, chase, bark at, fear, or attack. A dog who’s guided away from behaviours such as lunging at other dogs can quickly forget the habit. A dog’s addiction to certain behaviours can be cured by never getting another ‘fix’—the buzz they experience afterwards. Fearfulness can be controlled by calmly leading the dog into and out of situations before bad associations are reinforced. Letting your dog run free is great for burning off energy, but it shouldn’t replace the forty-five minutes of walking.
Good for YOU Too
Daily walks are one of the keys to human health, happiness, and longevity, and a great stress buster. While you may consider dog-walking a chore that you’d much rather forgo, you should instead regard it as a blessing. Walks are a gift your dog gives you every day. They help get your blood circulating and air into your lungs, and to forget the pressures of the day. A walk can also be meditative. And it’s free!
Once your dog is walking nicely beside you, I guarantee you will enjoy the daily activity. You’ll also feel much better afterwards—especially as you start to see the relationship between you and your dog greatly improving. Many people say they feel much closer to their dog the more they walk them.
The catch-22 is that walking a problem dog can be difficult, because he’ll pull on leash or lunge at others. Perhaps she will try to run away from noises or maybe bark at other dogs. Others may simply refuse to walk. But don’t worry, because I will show you some little-known tricks for getting your dog to walk nicely. Imagine him walking like a show dog every single time, right by your side, happily ignoring all distractions. Don’t believe it? You need to. Believing is seeing.
A Step In the Right Direction
So, glance away from your computer screen and look at your dog. What would he or she love to do right now? And how fortunate that this thing she wants to do will improve her behaviour and your own health and happiness! So grab the leash, smile at your canine companion, and go for a longer walk than you usually do. (Look out for the next article in this series if you need a little help with leading the walk.) By doing this, you’ll be taking huge steps towards a much better-behaved, more secure, happier dog—and a more relaxed you.
To conclude: by not taking your dog on a long walk every day, you are depriving yourself of one of the easiest, most beneficial ways to improve the life you share with your four-legged friend. So get out there, because you both deserve it. See you in three quarters of an hour.