As I sit outside on my deck, I am watching Spring appear. I think of the dogs I will see this week and the great walks we will take together. What is the purpose of these walks? How will I make each walk special for the dog? This is a new way of thinking for me. When I first started my pet sitting business, I naturally thought I would simply be walking dogs. That was it. Put on a leash and away we would go. What could be more basic? What could be further from the truth, was more like it! As dog owners, we know that we are given an opportunity to bond with our dogs when we take them for walks. In the dog world, it is commonplace for dogs in a pack to begin their day with a walk. It is in their nature to arise and set out to seek food or simply cover ground and establish their territory. When you walk your dog you tap into it’s natural instinct to walk with the pack leader wherever he goes. How incredible is that? So when I was leashing my dogs and starting out for a walk, my main goal was to cover ground. A nice long 20 or 30 minute walk was my intention. Little did I know, the dog would also have intentions of his own apart from mine. At first I would become a bit frustrated that the dog wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted him to. Why were they trying to stray from the path? Didn’t they know I had their best interests in mind?
It wasn’t until I began to research and understand different breeds that I came to appreciate the different purposes for walks within the canine family. Knowing that a hunting dog investigates his territory with his nose, helped me to understand that maybe he would spend more time in one place that I had expected. He may only venture a few blocks from home in order to get all the sensory stimulation he needs. Walking with a labrador mix breed, I found she wanted to cover as much ground as possible on her walks. She would walk briskly and with purpose; no nonsense, no wandering around from spot to spot. She had a purpose and when she was finished with her walk, she was a very happy puppy. I have a mix breed Australian Heeler who prefers to spend her first 20 minutes chasing a frisbee. Chasing the frisbee is her purpose, to fetch for me is what makes her happy. She will fetch and retrieve over and over again. When she is tired, we take care of other business and I’m done. I have an American Bulldog who is about the size of a small pony. I thought he would only want to saunter around the backyard and then nap in the sun. Wrong! He likes to play chase and hide and seek. He has a tremendous amount of energy and can go from a standstill to full gallop in seconds. Who am I to say what will make this dog happiest? I have learned to understand the breed first, then go about giving him what he needs when he gets a walk. Maybe I shouldn’t even call it “dog walking” but “dog exercising”. Because it’s about learning the characteristics of the breed and translating that in to a meaningful interaction. I want the dog to be challenged physically as well as mentally when I visit them. That way, when their owners come home, the dog is settled and happy and ready to greet them calmly.