Drop that Leash! Fun Alternatives to Walking your Dog
Miranda Wimbush, a former Volunteer and Mom to a toddler and three four-legged, furry kids, is a dog trainer and has some interesting advice. You can visit Miranda's website -- www.mindfulcanine.ca
The traditional dog walk has always been the hallmark of good dog ownership. For as long and I can remember I always felt proud and like I had done my due diligence when I got out for a walk with my dogs. I used to quote that old saying “A tired dog is a good dog” as a way to encourage others to walk their dogs too. Now, I take a bit more balanced approach. I recognize that a for many high energy breeds a walk does nothing to reduce their boundless energy, and running or throwing the ball repetitively only serve to increase their exercise tolerance. As well there are times in our dog’s lives when walks are difficult due to extreme weather, recovery from surgery or illness. In addition, if your dog struggles with barking or lunging at passing bikes, dogs or cars walks could be contributing to this problem as your dog is constantly exposed to the situations that stress him out. I strive to find a balance between physical exercise and mental challenge for my own and my client’s dogs. If I could suggest an amendment to the aforementioned saying it would be “A busy dog is a happy dog” Dogs that get to fulfill their natural instinct and have plenty of time to exercise their bodies and minds as well as quality rest are more fulfilled and make the best companions.
There are many ways to exercise your dog out without clipping on the leash. Have you ever tried playing scenting games? You can start by hiding treats for your dog to find around your house. Make it easy for him at first and then gradually up the challenge by hiding them when he is out of view. You can also play this with his toys, or hide treats under traffic cones for variety. For many more ideas search “nose work games”. Snuffle mats, small portable mats made of fleece, are also an excellent challenge for your dog’s sniffing skills. Working your dog’s nose is great energy burner and stress reliever for your dog.
Take your dog on a hike. Being out in nature is great therapy for you both. The varied terrain is excellent cross training; your dog will have to use all his muscles and coordination to navigate the trail. Wooded trails are also a treasure trove of natural scent for dogs, much more exciting than asphalt.
Give your dog a brain puzzle. There are many nifty puzzle toys for dogs on the market these days that incorporate levers, doors and moving parts for you to hide food in. My favourites are from Nina Ottosson as they are well made and offer variety for dogs of different skill levels. For a more DIY option you can make puzzles out of your recycling. Hide treats in a paper egg carton and close it up and give it to your dog, or cut holes in a paper milk carton and let your dog push it around to watch the treats fall out. For more ideas check out the Canine Enrichment group on Facebook!
Take your dog swimming. If your dog likes the water this can be an amazing outlet for him. It challenges his body in different ways than running or walking does which gets his brain working. If he enjoys playing fetch incorporate some self-control games or brain work between reps to maximize benefit.
Teach your dog a trick or two! Trick training is a fantastic way to deepen your bond with your dog while challenging their mind. Plus you get a conversation piece to show your friends at your next party! If you are new to trick training start with something simple like shake a paw, bow or spin. Clicker training is fantastic for teaching tricks as it allows you to break down the necessary skills into small pieces which help your dog get it right quickly.
Practise your dog’s self-control and obedience! Spending even 10 minutes practicing your dog’s obedience will go a long way towards tiring him out and you’ll be brushing up his manners at the same time. Practise in short 2-3 minute segments and give your dog a break in between sessions to sniff or relax. Recalls, stays and heeling are all great skills to keep sharp and can be practised in small spaces. Need more ideas? Try this self-control game. With your dog in a down stay or with someone holding him in place if he still learning stay, place a pile of treats in front of him and immediately cage them with your fingers. If your dog moves towards them place him back in a stay. If he is not moving you can try slowly moving your hand up and away from the treats, but be ready to cage them again if he moves. When he is not moving make sure to praise and reward with a treat from the pile. Your dog will learn that trying harder isn’t always the solution to get what he wants.
Finding that balance between physical and mental challenge is very individualistic. Take time to get to know what your particular dog enjoys doing most and concentrate your time there. And, when you do walk your dog make it more interesting for him by varying your route to increase his scenting enjoyment, and intersperse training or scenting games into your walk. He will be more fulfilled and the walk will be more enjoyable for you both.