Ep. 16: To Walk or Not to Walk

Jul 23, 2023

For most of us, the idea of taking a dog for a walk is something that goes hand-in-hand with owning a dog. But not all walks are created equal. The locations you choose and what you and your dog will encounter and experience during your walk makes all the difference in the world. Some walks may be really enjoyable whereas others are an utter nightmare!

In this episode, we delve into how to evaluate our potential walking routes, common pitfalls to avoid and that there are indeed better alternatives to meet your dog's physical and mental needs that you may want to consider.

Speaker: Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the It's Time to Train Your Dog Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things dog training. So whether you just brought a new puppy home, you adopted a new dog, you have a current dog that you're looking to maybe work on some behaviors with. You're just really interested in dog training. Maybe you're a professional dog trainer, maybe you're involved in dog sports. We have something for everyone. We are passionate about dog training, and we want to ensure that dog ownership is fun again. So in this episode, we're going to be talking about taking the dog for a walk. Should we do that or not so much? So before we start diving into the episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos and I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for Pet Dog U.

This is an online dog training platform where we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, mini webinars, and eBooks that are all designed to help you achieve your dog training goals. So that could be again, for general dog training. You have a new puppy, you adopted a new dog, you have a current dog that you're working on a few behaviors with. We also have a really great suite of services that are more geared towards a variety of different dog sports, such as agility, canine parkour, treibball, tricks, and more. So I definitely urge you check out Pet Dog U, it has a lot of really great resources and we're continuing to build out our library. Now that you know a little bit more about me. let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode, I wanted to talk about taking our dog for a walk. Is that a good idea or not so much? And the answer is going to be, well, it depends. It depends on a whole lot of different factors. The idea of taking a dog for a walk is something that is as attached to dog ownership as tossing a ball for them to fetch, which we'll be talking about in another episode as well. So what are some of the issues that can be associated with taking the dog for a walk? Well, it depends on where you're going to be taking the dog for a walk. Are you doing this in your neighborhood? Are you going to a local park? Maybe you're taking them on a hike. Maybe you are walking around city streets. All of those are very different places that have different factors and stimuli associated with them.
Different challenges that you and your dog are going to have to contend with in order to get the walk over with, basically to make sure you get in and out of their unscathed. Walks can also be a whole lot of fun for both you and your dog. They can be really exciting, they can be adventurous. They can be a really great way of getting outside, enjoying nature, getting some exercise, seeing some new sight and smells. Walks can be wonderful, but walks can also be really stressful. They can be filled with all kinds of things that make either yourself or your dog anxious or nervous, worried or concerned. So that's why I think it's really important for us to ask ourselves these questions and not just assume, well, I have a dog and my dog needs exercise, so that means I got to take my dog for a walk.

That may not be the right answer for every dog. So I just want to talk through some of the things that we may want to consider when we're thinking about, "Should I be taking my dog for a walk? Is that really a good fit for us? Or maybe there's some other way I may be able to get some exercise in." The first is think about where you would be going for a walk and how long of a walk this is going to be and what the purpose of the walk is. So those are three questions. Let's say that you're going to be taking a walk around your neighborhood. My first thing that I always look for is I want to see what are we going to be encountering on that walk? What are we going to be walking by? What are we going to be seeing?

What's going to be happening and how are we going to be dealing with those things? So as an example, where I live right now is a suburbia type of neighborhood, and you'd be walking by a whole bunch of different houses and different properties, and almost everyone has a dog. So a lot of them are going to be behind pretty solid fences. We don't have electrical fences where I live, so that's great. You know, don't have a dog running out to the edge of the yard and you're like, are you going to stop? So they're behind pretty solid fences or they're inside their houses yelling at us as we walk by, right? I want to basically scope out what is my route going to be? What are we going to be experiencing? Are there going to be certain houses and that have dogs that sound really serious about them telling us off, get off my property, but it has some oomph behind it.

Maybe in those instances I would want to be on the opposite side of the street, or maybe I just want to avoid that street altogether. Maybe I can take a different route and just avoid that block altogether. Those are the kinds of things that we want to think about because I want to ensure that I am setting up a good experience for both myself and my dog. I don't want to be stressing out and worried and concerned the whole entire walk. Well, could something go wrong? I am definitely more paranoid than most, but I'm always thinking, how can this go terribly wrong, right? Because I want to be prepared and I want to ensure that I'm not surprised. So if there's, for instance, let's say a, I'm doing a walk by myself to try to scope out a path. I notice that one of the fences just isn't that secure.

I'm probably not going to be taking that route again, even if the dog is just simply the kindest, sweetest dog ever. I don't need them running up and into my dog's face and be like, hi, I didn't know the fence was going to fall down. I'm so excited to meet you. Hello. I don't need that happening. So those are the kinds of things that I'm looking for. Are there dogs that are really, really serious about yelling at me when I don't even have a dog as I'm walking by? Are there dogs slamming up against fences that don't look as though they're going to hold up, that I'm going to be avoiding those places? Maybe there are some other things that don't have anything to do with dogs. Maybe there are areas that are really super busy and also have a lot of blind spots. Maybe there are certain corners or the way that there are bushes or plants and I can't really see what's happening on the other side of it, so I can't see if someone else is turning that corner and coming in our direction.

I can't tell what's happening. I'm personally not a big fan of that. I want, again, I want to be prepared. I want to have a shorter leash. I want to have my dog right next to me. I want to know if I need to flip them onto the opposite side of me. Maybe we need to step into the road, whatever the case may be. I want to be prepared so that I'm also being courteous to the other people who may be out and about living their lives and that we're not disturbing them either. But if I can't tell what's going on, I can't meet those kinds of preparations, and those surprise moments are typically when something less than desired may happen. So if I can just avoid those all together, that sounds good to me.

The other things that I would want to be mindful of are things such as if there is a certain area, maybe there's a playground or a park where there's going to be a lot of activity, particularly with children and how close are they in proximity to where we need to walk. For instance, one of the places that I was scoping out, there was a soccer field that was really close to the walking path and just in, I scoped it out two days in a row because the first day the soccer balls came onto the path multiple times, just in the time I was trying to walk by, and the same exact thing happened the following day. You know what? I don't need myself and my dogging pelted by soccer balls. Again, it's not that it's being done by on purpose, but I just know that this may not go well, right?

Particularly at the time I had Doberman's, and not everyone is a fan of Doberman's. They can look really big and scary, even though Doberman I had at the time was extraordinarily sweet. He loved everyone, but he also really liked balls. So I think that he would have seen that soccer ball rolling by and be like, wow, let me go chase that. And then if you have someone on the other side of it going like, oh God, the big scary dog is going to steal our ball, it could just be really bad. So all of this to say that taking the dog for a walk as far as I'm concerned, is actually there's a lot more going on than may meet the eye. The experience can be a really good one. It could be a really great bonding time. Again, it could be a wonderful way for both of you to get out to get some fresh air, to see things and experience things.

Allow the dog to sniff. Please let the dog sniff their sense of smell is the most important sense that they have. So please don't deny them the ability to do that. But if we aren't careful about where we're walking, then it could actually be really darn stressful. It could even create problems that we have to fix later. So let's use the soccer pole field as an example. My current dog is a tiny little terrier. He's a smooth Fox terrier. His name is Ozzie, and he is obsessed. I mean, my doberman was also very much into balls. This guy's like next level, but his main thing is tennis balls. So actually where we live now, which is in a different location, one of the areas that are really close to our walking path is a series of tennis courts. So when I first got him, we immediately walked by at a distance and he was like, oh my God, look at all those tennis balls.

Now, if we had to walk right up next to those tennis courts, I can pretty much guarantee you that he would be pulling and barking and whining and spinning and doing all of this obsessive stuff and would be practicing that if we walked once or twice or maybe three times a day. Some people are walking their dogs a lot and all of that really high adrenaline, high arousal, all that behavior stuff that's associated with being that excited and frustrated and obsessed because he wants the tennis balls, that's not a good thing for him to be practicing. And you may actually see that bleed over into other things. So this is why I think it's really important for us to just kind of pump the brakes a little bit and say, okay, I want to take my dog for a walk, but where am I going to be taking them for a walk?
What are they going to be experiencing on our walks? What are they going to be doing on the walk? What are they do now? Is there any barking or lunging or are they shying away? Are they jumping away? Are they constantly pulling and not my shoulder and my back is killing me? How do I feel going for the walk during the walk after the walk? Do you dread it? If you're dreading the walk? That to me is a big red flag. That means something is going wrong. And then we would want to think, okay, so what's going wrong and can we fix it? Or maybe we're taking the dog for a walk to try to fulfill some need. Maybe we can fulfill it some other way. So I just want to talk about this a little bit more to help this make a little bit more sense.

So let's say that your dog is not really a big fan of things with wheels. So your bikes, your motorcycles, your baby carriages, your skateboards, stuff like that. And where you happen to be walking is in a normal neighborhood. And all those things are around all of the time, but there's no pattern. You never know when someone may just ride by with a bicycle. You don't know when on a nice day some mother is taking her child out for a stroll in their stroller. So it's not as though you can really be prepared. It can just happen and your dog is like, Ugh, I want to chase after that thing. I'm going to yell at it and bark at it and lunge at it. Ugh, that can be really stressful. It could be scary for the person that the dog is lunging towards. Well, obviously it could be embarrassing for like, oh no, I'm so sorry.

I didn't mean for my dog to scare you. That could be really, really stressful. And we wouldn't want our dogs to be practicing those things because the more they practice it, the better they get at it. And it's exactly the kind of behavior we don't want our dog to become experts in. We instead want them to be able to see those things and react in a different way. Maybe look at it and then look it up at us and say, it's a thing with wheels. Can I get a cookie for not doing anything? Yes, yes you can. Here's a wonderful cookie. Let's give you lots of cookies as we're walking by and we're being nice and calm. But that can take time and effort and practice. So if you were having that kind of issue where your dog was really obsessive about things with wheels, but the path that you had to take to get to any normal route to go on your walk was filled with that stuff, you have a lot of work you're going to have to do to make sure that very first pass, that first part of your walk isn't a nightmare.

So this is what I mean is that it's not that we should be shying away from helping our dogs learn new behaviors or learn different ways of reacting to things or how to deal with the world, but we do have to be realistic as far as where they are now, what their walks may be comprising of what they're practicing and also what our reaction is. If we're really super frustrated, if we're even angry, maybe we're angry because we're really embarrassed, that's an important thing for us to just admit and say, okay, I shouldn't be doing stuff that's making me frustrated, embarrassed, and angry, because I'm not going to be a really good dog trainer in that moment. I'm not going to make good decisions. It's not a really great way to feel, and nine times out of 10, I don't need to be doing this.
Probably if I'm doing a walk as a luxury, it's not that we have to walk in order to take our dog to go potty. I just doing a walk because I think that's what my dog would like to do. Maybe we can do something else instead, at least in the short term so we can learn some new skills and then maybe we can try the walk again later when we're better prepared as an example. But again, a lot of people just assume I have a dog, I have to take them for a walk. And that's just simply not true. There's a whole bunch of different things we could be doing instead, and not every dog should be going for walks. If your dog is consistently barking and lunging with oomph against other dogs, especially people, I would urge you do not walk your dog. Connect with a really reputable professional dog trainer, ideally someone with behavior background so they can assess what's going on with your pup and then they can work with you to come up with a training plan to teach your dog some different skills.

But the more they practice those things, the more they're going to default to doing that kind of stuff. And again, if there's any real energy behind any of that where they just aren't simply making noise, they really would like to make contact with their teeth and whatever it is they're barking and lunging at, it's just simply dangerous. It's not safe. And in some of those situations, a dog could get so frustrated they may flip around and bite you. So we want to be really careful with this kind of stuff that the situations that we're placing our dogs in, they matter. We really got to think about it and not just assume, well, I have a dog, that means I got to take them for a walk. That's not true. You want to think through why am I taking my dog for a walk and then where am I taking them for a walk?

What are we doing during the walk and how can I make this so that it's enjoyable for both me and my dog? So a couple more things just to think about to wrap up this episode. If you are going to be going for a walk, I would strongly urge you to scope at your route out ahead of time without your dog. Again, the things that I personally look for is I look for those blind corners because again, I want to know what's going to potentially going to be on the other side. I'm looking to see how many other dogs are on that actual route. If they are behind fences, that's a good thing to know. If there's just loose dogs, I'm absolutely not going to be walking there. It's not safe. But if there are a bunch of dogs behind fences, what kind of fences are they?

Are they solid fences? Are they chain link chain link fences? Do they look secure? And if I walk onto the opposite side of the street, do the dogs stop barking quite as intensely? Then I may be okay walking my dog there. But if they're like, we do not want you here at all, I'm just some simply not going to take that route If there's a whole lot of other things that I think for myself and my dog would be stressful or problematic. Again, as I mentioned that soccer field that was right next to the walking path with all the balls in the path, I'm just probably going to avoid that as well just because it just seems as though this could potentially be a headache, and that's not what I'm looking for with my walk. I want my walk to be enjoyable for myself and my dog.

So again, I would scope out where I would be going first, looking for any kind of problems, know about them ahead of time, see whether or not that's going to change the direction that I go in. Maybe there's a certain side of the street that's more easygoing than another. Maybe there's a different route I can take. Maybe I'd be going out in one direction and I can come around on a different street or in a different direction. There's all kinds of different things that are a possibility, but scoping it out ahead of time is a really great thing to do. It can really help you, first of all figure out what to be expecting and to help you come up with a plan. Having a plan is always a good idea. Then when you're actually doing your walk, you want to think through what is the goal of this walk?

If you're looking for the to be exercise, there's a couple different ways that you can accomplish that. Just remember that exercise is both a mental and a physical element. Simply just moving is only the physical side of things, but asking our dogs to use their brains is actually a higher quality way of getting them to be tuckered out. It's a better thing to do to exercise them that way than to simply try to physically exhaust them. The reason being is that our dogs are amazing. They will be able to rise to the physical challenge, and before you know it, you're going to have an Olympic athlete on your hands that you're never going to be able to satiate with enough physical exercise. But if we pair that with mental exercise, then our dogs can be satisfied and then they can take a nap and they can settle and they're great.

They're not doing all those boredom associated behaviors and not getting into the garbage or chewing up your shoes or bothering you every two seconds. They're just taking a nice little nap where they're settling on their own. So the way that we can use this type of approach for our walks is that we can split the walk up into a couple different sections. We can have what I like to call my power walking first half where we're walking at a pretty good clip, right? We're out of the gate and we're just, we are going allowing for some introductory sniffing. So we have some spots that I know that my dog is going to want to investigate. I have male dogs, so they're all going to want to leave little doggy texts. So that's where we do those things. And we're going to do that for the first maybe five or 10 minutes, right?

Then we're going to do some interactive thinking type of walking. This is where we can do things such as healing or we can do different types of tricks where maybe we're playing the name game or we're doing Nose touch. Maybe we were doing spins and twirls for my little guy. He is a little mountain goat. He loves jumping up on things and where we live, there's lots of different stone walls and there's giant boulders everywhere and all kinds of fun stuff for him to bounce on. So we will purposefully look for those things and we'll do some little tricks and exercises up on those. So he's thinking while also physically figuring out how to get up and down those things safely. Then we're going to do some exploring part of our walk where we're either going to take a little bit of a different route than we normally take, or we're going to allow him to really check things out where he just gets to really do a whole lot of sniffing and exploring, and I'm just kind of breathing and waiting him out.

This is his time to experience the walk as he really wants to. So it's still a loose leash. He's not pulling, but he gets to find a, let us know where it is that he wants to go, and then we're going to flip back into a little bit of power walking. So now we are with purpose. We are not doing any marking or sniffing. We're going at a pretty good pace. My hips are nice and open. We're walking at a good pace for him. He's trotting. He's trotting along all happy, happy. And then for the tail end of it, we're cooling. So we may do a couple more small little tricks, some name games, stuff like that. But then it's just going to be, he just gets to explore a little bit more and then we're back home. It's not just simply unquote walking. There's all these different components and things that we could be doing throughout.

And again, it helps him not only get outside, get that fresh air, it giving him permission to smell, to experience, to enjoy what the world has to offer. We may see things that are unique every single time that we go for a walk. So there may be a different lawn ornament that someone put out, maybe a giant inflatable like statue thing that looks really kind of weird and maybe even a little worrisome. We may spend some time just looking at that from a distance, giving him treats for looking at it, and then maybe some tricks as we get closer to it, and then maybe give him a whole bunch of reward when he gets closer and so on and so forth. But I hope you can see that this isn't just simply we zone out, we go out the front door and suddenly we're back at the house and who knows what happened in between.

The walk is a really great way to still bond with your dog, and you want to be really mindful about what's going on in your walk. What is happening outside you and your dog? How can you experience that? How can you react to it? How can you weave that into your training? What types of things is your dog learning and experiencing when out on their walk? Are they practicing anything you don't want them to practice? No. And then how can you avoid that in the future? So I hope that you can see that walks can be a really wonderful thing to do. I'm not saying that people shouldn't, no one should ever take their dogs for a walk. My dog goes for a two mile walk every single day, and sometimes he goes for two different walks a day, sometimes the walk around the neighborhood and sometimes there's a little bit of a hike in there and he loves it. And there are people who think that he's just absolutely adorable and they want to come over and love on him. And there are other times when people don't want anything to do with him. They're busy and he's like, oh, look, a friend. I is like, Nope, my friend doesn't want to talk to you today. We're just going to walk right on by. And he's like, oh, okay.

But there are definitely some places in our neighborhood that I just don't go because I know that there are things there that there are dogs that I, I'm not certain that their fences will hold up or there are different things that there are blind corners or there's some activity in things that I'm not sure would be really helpful for us and what our goals are. So we just don't take those routes and that's fine with us. So I hope this episode at least got you thinking of what you can consider when you're going on a walk with your dog and that not all walks are the same, that we can make them work for us and our dogs, but we want to make certain that they are indeed working for us. And if you're starting to dread your walks, if after your walks your body is just killing you, your is like bursting out of their skin, you both were really stressed and frustrated and angry and it was just a whole mess, you're going to want to reevaluate what's going on with your walks.

And maybe there are some other ways we would be able to give your dog some enrichment, some experiences that will help them both physically and mentally as far as satiating their needs without having them go through the gauntlet. Maybe their routes that they're taking for their walks are just a little bit too difficult. But as always, we'd love to hear from all of you, what are your thoughts to walk or not to walk? That's the question. Do you think that walks are a good idea for you and your dog or maybe not so much? We'd love to hear from you. We're posting this episode up on the Pet Dog you website, as well as our social medias. So you're more than welcome to break any comments or questions there. We will be posting some more regular episodes for our podcast. We took a little bit of a hiatus, but we're going to be posting these fairly regularly for now on.

So look forward to more episodes dropping soon. We'll be talking a little bit more about walking. We'll be talking about equipment training tips that we may want to try. We'll be talking about playing fetch different things. Also about anyone who may be getting interested in dog sports. What are they? Why should you be doing them? Can I play with them? But do I really need to compete? If I do compete? What's involved with that? All kinds of fun things. We're also going to be having some guest speakers come in as well. So we're really excited about the future of It's Time to Train Your Dog Podcast. So thank you guys so much. Happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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