Many dog owners choose electronic pet fencing or other fencing as a means to safely keep their dog in their yard and to give them an opportunity to use the bathroom. It also gives the dog owner a reprieve from the requirement of regular dog walks. It’s an awesome benefit to just open the door and let your pet run, play, and relieve himself without having to wait for anyone else. Of course, he can likely run faster without being tethered to one of us slow humans and he will likely get out and enjoy the fresh air a lot more often without having to wait for one of us busy humans to stop what we are doing, change our shoes, get our coat and take him for a walk. All of these things are part of the benefits you get with knowing your dog is safely contained with a quality fence.
But, the above benefits can also facilitate a terrible disservice to the relationship you have with your dog. After reading several books on responsible dog ownership (1,2,3,4) it is clear there are other benefits of walking a dog on a leash that have nothing to do with his immediate safety. Dog experts agree that a proper walk is beneficial to your dog, to you, and to your relationship with your dog.
I know many dog owners do continue to walk their dog regularly and some even use their dog as a jogging partner – but, I also know there are a lot of owners like me that have to admit the only time their dog sees a leash is when it’s time to go to the Vet, groomer, or kennel.
So for those of you like me, I’d like to encourage you to consider a regular walking routine with your dog. The benefits are potentially huge – if done properly. Some of the books I’ve read dictate two 30-minute walks per day! Well, no doubt that may be ideal, but may not be possible with your given schedule. But, who couldn’t spare the time for two ten-minute walks per day? If you are currently doing zero like me, anything is an improvement.
The benefits of a proper dog walk are as follows:
1. Your dog needs exercise – just like we all do. You may have given your dog 1 or 2 acres of a yard, but watch what he does when he is outside by himself. Does he ever break into a run, or a jog? Or, does he just do his business and wait by the back door to come back in?
2. Your dog needs interesting experiences. Your dog’s domesticated life is far less challenging than the life he would have in the wild. While our dogs have been domesticated for thousand’s of years, there are still primal instincts that need to be satisfied. While we don’t want him to take down any wild deer, I’m sure he will appreciate the opportunity to check out new sights and smells with his trusty leader by his side.
3. Your dog needs to engage in pack activities. There is no other single activity that more clearly reminds your dog of his association with a pack and his position in that pack (follower) than a properly conducted leash walk.
Unutilized energy, boredom, and not understanding his role in the pack are causes of most dog behavior issues. All of these can be addressed with routine walks, when done correctly.
Doug Rountree, a professional dog trainer and owner of the local Bark Busters Home Dog Training franchise, offers the following tips for the proper way to walk your dog:
Since dogs are pack animals and look for leadership within their family pack, they should naturally want to follow our lead during walks. That is, the dog should be in a comfortable heel position without any tension on the lead for the entire walk. Yet many pet owners choose to compromise their leadership status by using retractable leads (which allows the dog to do whatever he wants to do), or simply choosing not walk their dog at all. As a result, not only does the owner fail to provide a proper outlet to expel some of the dog’s energy, but even more importantly, the owner doesn’t demonstrate proper leadership by showing the dog that he is in charge and therefore the dog must follow. It isn’t uncommon to find such dogs with several behavioral issues, since neither their physical needs (i.e., releasing energy) nor their safety needs (i.e., leadership) are being met. That is why responsible dog ownership must include some type of walking routine, for not only does the owner have an opportunity to show leadership skills to their dog, but they also have a chance to develop a deep, mutual bond by spending one-on-one time with their dog in the great outdoors.
So, enjoy the freedom and safety you have given your dog by safely containing him in his own yard. But, if you’re like me, it might be time for expanding your dog’s horizons a little bit by developing a routine of regular walks. It also fits in with many perennial New Year’s resolutions – getting more exercise.
1. Cesar’s Way, Cesar Millan, 2006
2. Be the Pack Leader, Cesar Millan, 2007
3. A Member of the Family, Cesar Millan, 2008
4. Training Dogs the Aussie Way, Danny and Sylvia Wilson, 2007.