Whose Walk Is It Anyway?

How many of you recognize this scenario? You have a few minutes available and you decide to take your dog for a walk. You will get him some exercise and you will get a little yourself. You leash Bruno up and out the door you go. You start off down the street at a brisk pace…no wait, Bruno stops to sniff. “Come on Bruno”, you say. Off you go again, thoughts of your blood moving briskly through your veins and the good deed you are doing for your heart. Bruno stops suddenly to sniff again and your heart has to wait just a while longer for the benefits of your intended exercise. “Come on Bruno”, you say again, this time a bit more tersely. You cruise along and start to feel a little relief from the guilt you have harbored all day for eating that candy bar after lunch. Whoa! Lost in your temporary reprieve from your guilty conscience, you have stopped paying attention to Bruno and he has stopped dead in his tracks to sniff the remnants of a dead squirrel on the road. You throw your hands up in exasperation and say, “Well, what good is a walk for you? All you want to do is smell things!” So you take Bruno home, toss him in the door (“so there”, you think to yourself), and you go out on your walk solo, thoughts of killing the calories from that candy bar, filling your head.
I pose this question. Whose walk is it anyway? Not to make you feel too guilty, but who was cooped up alone in the house all day? Who has been waiting all day for you to walk through the door and spend some time with him? Who does not have the choice of when to walk and when to stay home? And you thought that after-lunch candy bar caused you guilt. But guilt aside, I propose that there is an equitable solution for you and Bruno.

Why does your dog want to sniff all the time? Is there any hope that you can find a happy medium and enjoy your walks together? Of course there is. It all starts with understanding what motivates your dog to use his nose so much and looking at life from his perspective.
Probably the best way to gain some perspective is to think about how much information your sight gives you, every minute of the day. Close your eyes and think about how different your information gathering abilities would be if your sight was impaired or absent. As your eyes are your primary means of gathering information, so the nose is for the dog. It is estimated that dogs have up to a million times greater scent gathering/processing ability than humans. This is not only due to the much higher number of scent detecting cells in their nose, but also the large portion of their brain that is devoted to scent detection and analysis. Follow this link to a great article by The Whole Dog Journal regarding the amazing dog nose. http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/7_11/features/Canine-Sense-of-Smell_15668-1.html
I witness this amazing ability every day when I return home from the daycare. Sting greets me at the door and immediately begins sniffing me, starting at my feet and moving his way up. His favorite sniffing spots are about knee/thigh high on my pants. Lots of dogs leaning into me and slobbering on my pants leave a lot of scent. If he were to talk, I’m sure I would hear the following. “Joey was at daycare today. Did he play with that silly pink ball again? There’s Jax…he’s always a good time. Oh darn, Boerner was there today….I haven’t seen him in a while. Ahhh, there’s Bernie. Did he keep everybody in line?”

Now you have read the great article by Whole Dog Journal and understand the dog nose. I have guilted you into thinking about life from your dog’s perspective. How can you meet both your dog’s need to smell and your need to work off that candy bar? It’s simple really. Designate a portion of your walks to your dog’s needs and a portion to yours. I would suggest starting your walk with 5 minutes or so of letting your dog lead the way. If he wants to sniff, let him sniff. If he wants to walk, let him walk. If he wants to go North, go North. You get it. This first 5 minutes is his and he gets to choose. Put this on command so he knows that it is acceptable (“go smell” or whatever). Now it’s your turn. Get about your business of walking. Pay attention to Bruno and remind him that it is your turn. Again, you will put this portion of the walk on command (“let’s go” or whatever) and encourage and reward desired behavior. Now take a breather and give your command “go smell”. Go back and forth with this schedule. If you really want to be successful, team up with a trainer ( I recommend Ann Goyen at alliancepetbehavior.com) to work specifically on this. As your dog begins to understand the difference between his time and your time, this will go smoother and who knows, maybe you will be jogging that candy bar off instead of walking.
Watch what happens as you do this for your dog. A 30 minute walk of straight walking and no sniffing will help your dog to get physical exercise. But it will not give him the same mental exercise that 20 minutes of walking and 10 minutes of information gathering and exploring the world with his nose will give him. You will have a much more contented dog at the end of your walk. I see it over and over in the daycare. My dogs that interact, explore, and use their brains during the day are much calmer and more content than those dogs that simply wrestle or run all day.
Next week, I will continue in the vein of “walking the dog”, as we explore the benefits of off-leash play.