The importance of sniffing

I came across the below on Reddit. Not written by me – all by Zootrainer – but a lot of fantastic advice and insight into your pup’s daily walking experience.

You walk your dog twice a day around the neighborhood for a half hour on the leash. But he pulls and pulls, no matter how many treats you give, no matter how many times you stop, no matter how many times you call him back to you.

Typical thoughts. Shouldn’t he be tired? Shouldn’t he realize that it’s more comfortable not to pull? Shouldn’t he be used to the neighborhood by now? I mean, how exciting can it really be to lunge over and smell that same fire hydrant again? Why doesn’t he stay next to my leg like that other dog in the neighborhood who always behaves perfectly? I’m giving him treats to walk next to me but after a minute of this, he’d rather pull me to that clump of grass anyway. Does he think he’s in charge?

Of course we all want our dogs to walk right along next to us on a six-foot leash when asked to do so.

The problem comes when we ask our dogs to do that too often and for too long at a time, when it becomes the primary mode of walking.

That dog you see that is walking right next to the owner for 30 minutes, looking straight ahead? Bored out of his skull. Or old enough not to be curious anymore. Or punished to the point where he’s given up being anything but a robot on his walk.

Dogs have a very high instinctive drive to sniff as they go. It’s the primary way they experience the world. It’s comparable to us being able to look around, and that’s one of most important things we do on a walk, right? Imagine going out on a walk every day where you have to wear blinders that only allow you to look at things that are on the sidewalk three feet in front of you. If you try looking further ahead or wandering off to the side to see something further away, you get a yank around the neck. You’d either rebel, give up, or be very reluctant to go on a walk at all.

Or imagine taking a preschooler on a 30-minute walk, but the child must hold your hand the whole time and walk at your pace. He is not allowed to go over to examine that interesting anthill, or go smell a flower on a nearby bush, or run through a puddle a few times. No fun, and possibly tantrum-inducing.

Dogs have a natural movement pattern that involves walking, trotting, weaving, stopping, going. Being forced to walk on a six-foot leash at a glacial human pace is very difficult for most active young dogs. Now add in being restrained directly next to the human, with minimal or no allowance for doing those normal movement patterns or investigating the scents that are all around him.

To make it even less fulfilling, many dogs are limited to going around the same boring neighborhood or city streets, on concrete, with only a few bushes or fire hydrants to investigate. It’s an exercise in boredom and frustration for the dog, which then becomes an exercise in frustration for the owner who is constantly correcting the dog for “misbehavior” that is really just the dog trying to be a dog.

It’s easy to default to “I don’t have time to go anywhere fun so we’ll just walk around the neighborhood again” because most of us have busy lives or we just want to relax at home after work or it’s raining or cold. But your dog needs more than that. He needs fields, woods, beaches, open grassy areas, dirt. He needs the ability to move freely, to be a dog out engaging with the natural world on a regular basis.

If you live in a very urban environment, this can be a big problem because most active breeds are not fulfilled by walking on city sidewalks every day. And many dogs find it stressful due to the effort of dealing with a constant parade of people passing by, loud vehicles, other dogs suddenly nearby, etc. So instead of a walk being enriching and relaxing, it’s just draining. City dwellers need to spend additional time finding places where their dogs can have great walks beyond concrete sidewalks and an occasional tree. For those with a car, that may mean taking a drive out of the city core.

So how to meet your dog’s needs? Get a 10-15’ long line (not retractable leash), and find places where you can allow your dog to explore. Try to do this decompression walk at least every other day, if you can’t make it happen every day. Give him as much freedom as possible to do his own thing (and if he can safely be off-leash for part of the time, even better).

This doesn’t mean that he’s allowed to pull you on the long line. But a dog that has room to maneuver and lots of things to engage him in the immediate environment is less likely to be constantly trying to pull to something in the distance. If he pulls anyway, stay calm, turn off at an angle, encourage him to come along and keep walking. Or walk in large open circles with him on the outside. Once there is a bit of slack in the leash, move in your original direction. Encourage and reward check-ins, but remember that this isn’t an obedience walk. It’s an enriching walk that is as instinctively satisfying as possible for your dog, and one that reclaims the joy of the walk for both dog and owner.

And yes, do teach your dog to walk nicely at your side because there are times where it is necessary for politeness or safety. Or you might use it when you need to get somewhere quickly and the dog must come right along and not dawdle or wander. But teach it in a structured training process, keep the repetitions and durations very short, reward at a high rate, and use it in real-life only when necessary. Our friends at r/dogtraining have a list of resources for this training in their wiki.

Herehere and here are three more articles on this topic. Now get out there and have fun!

Source: u/Zootrainer

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