Throughout the COVID pandemic, as many of us are locked down, quarantined, or restricted from everyday activities, going for a walk has become a lifeline for human social and sensory stimulation, exercise, and a breath of fresh air. Activity app data and surveys show there has been a massive uptick in routine running and walking during the pandemic and interest in bird watching has soared as well! Pandemic or no pandemic, city and suburban dogs spend the majority of their days inside and now we humans have an inkling of how important an enriching walk is to their day and ours.
Research in dog behavior shows us that choice-based walks, when pups have the ability to decide where they are going and what they are doing, provides them the opportunity to be a dog and delight in the freedom of choice for their recreation. Like humans, exercise and empowerment during walks can help temper other behavior issues, releasing endorphins and opioids in the brain and promoting an overall feeling of wellbeing. At Patrick’s Pet Care, we call these types of choice-based walks “Enrichment Walks” – as they are intentionally designed to provide an enriching experience for the dog’s body and mind.
Here are some tips for providing your dog with the best enrichment walk experience:
- Don’t rush it! Schedule enrichment walks when you’re not pressed for time and you can enjoy your experience with your dog at their pace.
- Let loose. If your dog is an explorer, use a leash longer than you might otherwise—allow your dog the freedom to explore.
- Find more space. If possible, choose a less populated side street, sidewalk, route, or trail, giving the dog space to explore.
- Empower the sniff! Allow the dog to sniff trees, grass, the sidewalk—whatever is safe—as long as they want. Sniffing is calming for dogs, it’s how they process the world around them. Too often humans are impatient with this vital aspect of a canine’s walk. They’ll be more fulfilled by unencumbered sniffing than going a certain distance.
- Bring toys and stop for games. Bring dog toys to play with during your walk. If your dog is full of energy, try games like fetch or tug of war. Other great options include “find it,” the name game,” and food puzzles.
- Avoid Nose-To-Nose Greetings: Being restricted on a leash and meeting a stranger (up close & in your face) can be stressful for dogs. A better way to introduce two strange dogs is to walk parallel down the sidewalk on opposite sides of the street so they can get a sense of each other without confrontation.
- Consider A Muzzle: If your dog has a bad habit of eating things that it shouldn’t, but you still want to give your dog an opportunity to explore, you can use a Baskerville-style muzzle. Baskerville-style muzzles still provide the dog the opportunity to sniff, pant, and drink water, but prevents the dog from eating undesirable objects they may find on their adventure.
- Mix up your route. If possible, take different routes for your walks to provide a variety of smells and sights for your dog (and for you!).
- Make “New” Positive: If your dog gets spooked on your walk or encounters something they aren’t sure of, take that opportunity to show them (at their own pace) that the new thing isn’t going to hurt them. When they see the new thing, give them a treat.
- Listen To Your Dog’s Needs: Consider your dog’s age and abilities when planning your walk.
We love the science behind Enrichment Walks and how they positively impact overall dog behavior. Having a hard time carving out the time for enriching walks with your dog? Let us be a part of keeping your dog happy and healthy.
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