I spend a lot of time thinking about the walks I take Betsy on.
In my mind, there are three kinds of “walks” we can go for, and I try to make sure she gets a balance of these three:
Socialization/Brain Challenge Walks
In which I take Betsy to locations where she is exposed to a variety of different and interesting things. Usually lots of people, sometimes other dogs, skateboards, maybe horses or other interesting things.
I might walk her to the bank and make her hold a down while I do my banking.
I might get her to walk with me through a crowd of people downtown and focus on staying as close to my legs as possible.
Betsy and I visit downtown Victoria for Canada Day. The ultimate walking-in-crowd practice.
I might take her to a special doggy function, like PAWS for a cause, or the Big Gay Dog Walk.
I might take her to the skate park and let her sit and watch the skateboards, practicing calm as they zoom by.
These walks provide Betsy with a lot of mental stimulation, because she’s seeing and processing all kinds of things and usually has to be very obedient as well, since we’re in populated public areas where good behaviour is paramount.
They also provide her with continuing socialization, to make sure that even as an adult she gets to see lots of different people and dogs and other every-day things.
These are more strenuous walks, like a hike up a mountain or a steady jog along trails. They provide some mental simulation (hiking off leash gives her lots of interesting sniffing opportunities, and we sometimes encounter other people and dogs) but their main purpose is cardio. Betsy loves a good workout and I think it’s good for her to have a few hard hikes/runs every week to keep her from going stir crazy.
Betsy wrestles with her friend Auggie
Not exactly a walk, but I also count playtime with other dogs, fetch at the park, and runs on the beach as part of this category.
A calm walk around a familiar neighbourhood, where nothing crazy happens – not a ton of new sights and sounds, no crazy running around or playing fetch, just a basic, relaxed walk with plenty of stop-to-sniff opportunities, is the third kind of walk we do. It seems lazier, and it is, but I also think it’s important. Too much of a good thing: Overexcitement in Exercise talks about this:
Highly aroused dogs are stressed. When we think of stress, we often think of negative stress, or distress. However, there’s also positive stress, known as eustress. Winning the lottery and having your home foreclosed on are both stressful activities, and your body actually responds to them the same way even though your emotional response to each is different.
If you engage in activities that cause your dog to become aroused, and therefore stressed, every day, your dog will always have high levels of stress hormones in his bloodstream. High arousal becomes the new norm. Consider how you would feel if you won the lottery, rode a rollercoaster, or attended your favorite band’s rock concerts every single day. Our bodies aren’t built for prolonged periods of excitement, even when the excitement is positive.
A game of fetch at the beach is a great workout for Betsy, and she loves it more than anything in the world, but it also gets her into a highly aroused state, so we have to make sure to provide balance in exercise and not take her to the beach too often.
Taking your dog for calm walks, on the other hand, is a relaxing, endorphin releasing activity that relieves stress. And this is why I make sure we go for lots of calm, boring walks. Betsy is definitely the kind of dog that can get over-the-top excited about things, and it would be all too easy for her to be hyper-aroused all the time. So I’m very careful to make sure she has lots of days where her walks are chill and she has plenty of downtime.
So! That’s my super nerdy dog walking philosophy. What’s yours?