The image below (go ahead scroll down and take a look at it) is one of many, that I see, that put out a very brief and horribly incomplete idea of what walking your dog “should” be like. First let me say, images like this are not talking to canine professionals, they are talking to the general public and I find it horribly irresponsible that who ever creates images like this put such little information in them. Second how you walk your dog needs to be based off only three things. 1) Are you enjoying the walk? 2) Is your dog safe? and 3) Is the public safe? But, you see this image does not talk about either of those items, it is only concerned with one aspect of canine functions…sniffing.
With the world up in arms about how living with our dogs should be about relationships and cooperation between dog and human, this image suggest otherwise, because it is only concerned with the canine component of the relationship.
I am going to break this image apart and expand on it so that we can better understand what walking our dogs is like and hopefully bring some much needed clarity to a very basic image.
Right off the bat it says: “Let Your Dog Sniff.” Suddenly it is suggested that if you don’t let your dog sniff, then you are a bad dog owner and not giving your dog everything they need. Is that really fair? I was out walking my dogs this morning and did not allow them to sniff because we were on a time constraint. This morning walk was for exercise but we needed to get through it so we could get to work. Sniffing would have slowed us down. Is that wrong? Not at all and no one should make anyone feel like it is.
I can’t help thinking about how many people have read this and decided not to go for a morning walk with their dogs because they wouldn’t have time to allow them to sniff, or did go for a walk but became agitated at their dog for taking to long. Both scenarios lead to a strained relationship between dog and owner, which can lead to a whole slew of other problems.
“Dogs experiences the world through their noses. Sniffing is mentally stimulating.” This is a very true statement but much like we experience the world through our eyes, we don’t need to be right on top of something, staring at it to see it. When we walk we can visually take in the scenery and our dogs are capable of doing the same thing with their nose. They can smell things in the air and while it may not be as good as getting right on top of it, it does still provide them sensory stimulation.
“This is an easy way to release energy.” Massive amounts of misinformation. Dogs that are allowed to zig-zag and forge ahead, sniffing or otherwise, actually burn far less energy than dogs that are asked to walk in a structured manner. The mental work it takes for a dog to walk beside their owner and to concentrate on a task is very draining and much more exhausting than a dog being allowed to do whatever they want.
“Whose walk is it anyway?” This is just awful. As previously stated, the dog training world has taken a turn toward cooperative and relationship building methods, which is great but this question suggests otherwise. The walk should be for both parties to bond, get exercise, fresh air and in general enjoy each other and the outdoors. The creator of this image has just made clear that the owners needs were unimportant.
I am not saying that letting your dog sniff is bad or that you should never do it, not even close, but sniffing should not be the only thing considered. So, like mentioned earlier there are three things to consider when walking your dog, or when you have them in public period.
Are you, as the owner, enjoying yourself? In any relationship if you do anything simply because it is for the other party and you find nothing in it for yourself, this can breed resentment. Consider if someone quits smoking or goes on a diet and they do it for, let’s say their spouse, they may begin to feel like they have had to change who they are for someone else. Thoughts like ‘why couldn’t they just love me for who I am?’ begin to emerge and suddenly not only do you lose motivation to change you also begin to feel resentment for the other person. Psychologists say that resentment is the most damaging thing you can have in a relationship because it is very difficult to come back from. Once you resent someone it is almost impossible to not resent them.
If you are walking your dog just for them, and in addition to that they are unpleasantly dragging you down the street or anchoring you to a tree, how long will you continue to go for daily walks like that before you quit walking all together? Well, the answer is, you wont continue and dog trainers and behaviorists already know that. The very possibility for a walk to happen hinges on whether or not the owner gets enjoyment from walking. So for this image to even say “whose walk is it anyway” completely ignores that the owner also needs to be happy, otherwise they may begin to resent their dogs and begin to dislike them in other avenues as well. Have you ever heard someone say, ‘oh my dog is to stupid for that’, or, ‘my dog could never do that’? These are the people who have had a poor experience with their dogs, have some resentment and have concluded that their dogs are incapable of cooperation. These dogs are very likely not getting out of their immediate surroundings and are likely not getting any training. Because of resentment, their owners have given up on them.
Is the dog safe? Sniffing typically leads to forging or pulling forward. Not only does this make the owner uncomfortable it can actually lead dogs into dangerous situations. They could pull so hard that the leash gets pulled from the owners hand and suddenly the dog is loose or they can pull toward an unknown dog that could result in a fight. Which leads us into our last point.
Is the public safe? If you have an aggressive dog, allowing them to direct the walk with their sniffing is horribly irresponsible. These dogs should be kept on task and given structured exercise. Even if you are not uncomfortable, when we call into question the safety of the dog and the public that is all that should matter.
Is this to say your dog can’t sniff at all? No, of course not, there is a time and place for everything but all three things mentioned above should be considered when walking your dog.