A client of mine once asked me if dogs get bored with their walks. My answer was, “No, dogs are entertained by the dust bunnies rolling around underneath the couch, they don’t get bored along their walks.”
Even if you walked the same walk every single day, today could be the one day the squirrel they saw tauntingly eating an acorn on the park bench last summer makes an appearance, finally giving the dog a chance to catch that dastardly squirrel.
Dogs live in the present and have an amazing grasp on hope during that present moment, hope that this moment is the best moment ever. And to a dog it is, even if they don’t see that squirrel, hope keeps the joy of the walk alive and entertaining every single day. Why else does a dog get so excited when you say “Walkies?” even if you just came back from a walk!
Humans, on the other hand, have problems with living presently, with hope and with boredom.
A study from Microsoft suggests the average human attention span is shorter than a goldfish. We are a troubled species, us humans. We are all given so much potential but most of us waste it away on things like reality TV and social media; to name just a few mindless vices.
Given the fact that we have more in common with a goldfish than our dogs it is more likely that we get bored along our walks with our dogs, not the other way around.
We walk our dogs for four basic reasons. The first is to provide an opportunity for them to relieve themselves. The second is to provide social and mental stimulation by allowing them to stop, smell and investigate their surroundings and check their pee-mail. The third reason is for training; such as walking politely on leash, off-leash recall and other obedience commands as well as continued socialization with other dogs, people and their environment. And finally for bonding and exercise, by providing an outlet for aerobic exercise to maintain physical health and improve the human dog relationship.
This final form of exercise seems to be the one people have trouble with because it takes effort. It involves something more than going to the local dog park to allow Fido to play with the other dogs while the owner hangs back with their takeout coffee. In this scenario there is no bonding between the owner and the dog, the owner is simply a taxi service because dogs are not allowed to get a driver’s licence.
What’s ironic is that providing a fun exercise environment is one of the easiest ways to improve your relationship with your dog. But you do have to use your imagination and think outside the fish tank.
One of the very first things I teach all of my new puppy or recycled dog owners is what I call Barkour-Parkour. I use the outdoor environment as a way to enrich a dog’s walking experience by teaching them to climb, jump, balance, sit and stand on every stable surface I can find along the walk. It also has the incredible effect of making the walks more exciting for the owners too!
Hikes in the forest turn into sit on the stump, balance along the fallen tree, climb the rocks, jump from one stump to another. Along city streets and parks it turns into jump up and sit on the park bench, balance along the parking spot curbs. Paws up on the fire hydrant. Like I said, I use my imagination and teach my clients to do the same.
At first this is done with treats to lure them and on-leash to manage the dog more effectively while encouraging the dog to figure out how to place one foot in front of the other while finding their core strength to balance and strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders, hips and spine.
Not only does it keep the walks exciting for the owners it is a great way to build the confidence of a shy, nervous puppy as well as an adult dog.
The added bonus is that it is a fantastic bonding experience. When taught along hikes it is a great tool to keep a dog focused on you during parts of the walk where a dog typically gets distracted due to high squirrel activity, for example.
Next time you are feeling bored with your dog’s walk, turn on your imagination instead of the TV and try some Barkour-Parkour!
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.