Dog Walking Tips to Increase Stimulation and Socialization
Walks serve a greater purpose than a potty break and way to burn off a little extra energy. They also serve as a form of socialization and mental stimulation, and they have the power to positively impact a dog’s emotional state, behavior and bond with people.
Incorporating a few additions to your walk can have a big impact. Here are five ways to help unleash the full potential of your dog’s walk:
Let your dog enjoy the smells.
While sometimes it's easy to rush through a walk, allowing your dog time to sort through interesting smells he discovers can allow enrichment without needing to cover much ground.
You might think it a waste of time, but finding such smells is part of being a fulfilled dog. Allowing your dog to sniff provides mental stimulation and can even calm him in the process. We're not saying let your dog spend hours sniffing, but providing some opportunities to stop and smell the roses (or fire hydrant) is important.
Many dogs may ignore the person on the other end of the leash because in the moment, their surroundings are more interesting than their human. But when a person is on a cell phone, talking to someone else or mentally elsewhere, important moments can be missed.
If you miss your dog giving you eye contact or orienting to be closer to you, these rewardable moments can go un-reinforced and subsequently become more infrequent. Being present with your dog, free of distractions, is essential for expecting the same from your pooch.
Tip: Engage your dog by occasionally changing directions. Use a word like "turn" to inform your pooch you’re moving a different way, then slowly turn and reward your dog when he catches up at your side. Reward any moment when your dog is engaging with you. This can increase your dog's willingness to check in with you.
Do something new.
Routine can be boring and restrictive for dogs. One way to change things up is to venture outside of your regular routine and try a new route or neighborhood. Or change up your normal route by walking it in the opposite direction and adding in jaunts down a different street or block as you move. For an exciting field trip, take your walk to a pet-friendly location, like a dog-friendly shopping street, park, hiking trail or beach. Allowing such exploration with new sights, smells and sounds can stimulate and challenge your dog’s mind in a healthy manner.
Walks are a way to keep up your dog’s social skills. We don't recommend greeting every dog and person that crosses your path. But letting your dog see, smell and walk by other people and dogs provides ongoing experience with how to read body language and respond to others.
Tip: Try walking in an off-leash area with your canine. Or join a friend and her dog or a dog-friendly walking group for a walk. For dogs who love human interaction, invite friends to join your walk or visit a pet-friendly store or restaurant.
Add an exercise routine.
Adding challenges to a walk doesn't just help to slim your dog’s waistline. It also provides a mental challenge and an outlet to release excess energy.
Hills and stairs can be conquered to work their muscles on an incline. Or, add resistance by walking on something like sand. Do speed intervals by varying your normal walking pace with the occasional speed walk or jog. Benches, stumps, logs, playground equipment and large rocks can function as obstacles to practice coordination, balance and strength by rewarding your dog for jumping on or over them, depending upon the size.
Tip: Dogs can do their own version of push-ups by going into the sit position, the down position and then standing for rewards on various points during the walk.