How often does your dog walk on a walk?
It sounds like a silly question doesn’t it but take a minute to think about it? When our dogs are on lead we are very often not aware of how they are moving and the speed they are traveling at. Apart from some giant breeds most dogs walking pace is significantly slower than humans walking pace, so unless we are super aware of our own speed dogs learn at a very young age that the only way to not be pulled off their feet when they are on lead is to trot or even run.
Firstly, do you know what walk actually looks like. Check out this excellent video for clear examples of each gait (pattern of footsteps)
A great exercise that Turid Rugaas asks her students to do is a gait watch. For this all you need is a notebook and pen , then to sit anywhere that has plenty of pedestrians and any dogs passing will be on lead. Note down the breed/type of dog and the gait they are travelling at. In my experience, very few will be walking. Try it for yourself and please share your findings.
So why does this matter?
It matters because it is unnatural, stress enducing and counter productive
In this and other studies of free ranging dogs the data suggests that when left to their own devices, in urban environments with access to predictable resources and social contact, dogs do most of their active movement at a walking pace. Trotting is an traveling gait, it’s used to get from somewhere to somewhere in the shortest time while using the least amount of energy. It is not an exploring pace, a dog can follow an scent trail while trotting but will regularly slow, walk and stop in order to analyse scent in any detail. When we take our dogs out, we are not just trying to give them exercise, we are also giving them their only opportunity to access and learn about the wider world. By slowing our pace down we start to provide the opportunity for our dogs to take in more information about their environment and the other individuals who share it. The fantastic dog pulse study has observed a drop in pulse rate while sniffing (enviromental, no food present) which indicates that time spent sniffing will have calming effect.
When the faster pace is sustained because of our movement we can be blocking this natural process and even accidentally punishing it, as when a dog does stop to sniff they often receive collar/harness tension in the second before the stop is recognised at the other end of the lead. Sadly we will have all also seen dogs being dragged away while desperately still trying to sniff.
Physically, most dogs do not have the conformation, conditioning, appropriate warm up /cool down, after and pre care muscle treatment or nutrition to safely engage in sustained running without sustaining injury or damage.
Pain is a common cause of reactive behaviours
Walking requires the use of core muscles, think of it as pilates for dogs. Engaging in slow, precise, deliberate movement has a huge impact on physical fitness and flexibility (any decent horse trainer will tell you that if the walk isn’t balanced then there’s no benefit in trotting or cantering)
Pulling on lead is one of the most common ‘problem behaviours’ listed by training clients. There are so many aversive, constricting and punishment based pieces of equipment sold to the public to correct this behaviour. These work either by restricting the dogs ability to breath and causing discomfort. Compressing the dog sensitive muzzle and preventing them from choosing where to sniff. Lifting and squeezing their chest and front legs. All these ways to punish a behaviour that only exists because we caused it in the first place. Instead, why not practice The Art of Walk and see the results for yourself 🙂