Knowing your dog (not just the dog breed) is one of the most important and rewarding parts of being a pack leader. It sets the foundation for your relationship just like the walk. The reason for this is simple – dogs migrate, and the walk allows them to fulfill that instinctual need. Too often I see dog owners who think dog walking is about the bathroom. It’s not. Your walk isn’t over when your dog has eliminated. The dog walking is over when you feel his energy is sufficiently drained and he is in a calmer, more balanced state than when you started. For some dogs, especially senior dogs, this may take 15 minutes. For active puppies, that may mean two hours.
When I’m walking the pack, we don’t stop. We keep moving, unless I decide it’s time for us to take a break and then they can eliminate and do their business. Obviously dogs that live in apartments or condos without yards need to use dog walking for the bathroom too, but once they finish, the walk should be about nothing more than the walk itself. When dogs that have backyards stop constantly during the walk to pee, they are not doing it because they really need to go. They are marking territory. They smell another dog’s scent and they want to mask it with their own. Both males and females do this and in my opinion, it’s dog behavior you want to avoid. It may not seem like a huge problem now, but territorial behavior can escalate into very serious problems. The walk should be exercise and if you are leading your dog and incorporating rules, boundaries, and limitations then it’s discipline too. And that means you’re challenging the mind at the same time. See how it all ties together?
A member of my office pack recently introduced her 4-year-old Shepherd mix to sheep herding. She explained to me that over the past few months, her dog hasn’t seemed very interested in going on walks in her neighborhood, and even though she was more animated on hikes or bike rides, she felt the dog seemed generally uninterested. I told her that to me, it sounded like the dog was bored. Shepherds are working dog breeds. They like to think and use their body. They need and crave physical exertion and mental stimulation. After the first instinct test, my staffer was certain her dog was born to herd sheep! “It was incredible to see. She knew just what to do, and even though she was at a very high level of excitement the first couple of times, she was easily corrected and she’s getting better and better each week. They tell me what a ‘thinking dog’ she is and after our sheep herding days, I have a super tired, very happy, calm and fulfilled dog!”
This makes me so happy and proud that a member of my team has experienced the joy in fulfilling our dogs and honoring the dog breeds. Another example – have you ever seen a Labrador or Portuguese water dog when they are in the water? If I meet one of these dogs and they don’t love to swim, I know they are not balanced and have some problems. They have lost their instincts and have forgotten how to be a dog. This is when they need rehabilitation. But when I see a happy-go-lucky Labrador frolicking in the ocean, I smile inside and out, knowing that is a dog who is fulfilling an instinctual need.
Learn about your dog’s breed. Yes, they are animals first, then species, and THEN breed, then name. The breed does not make a dog – I always say it’s the human behind the dog. But that doesn’t mean that breed should be discounted. Certain dog breeds, especially herding, sporting, and working breeds have particular instincts that we need to honor and respect in order to fulfill the dog. So do your research and learn what makes your dog tick and try it out! If sheep herding doesn’t click, try swimming or search and rescue or agility or tracking classes. For some dogs, just incorporating running or rollerblading into your walking regimen is enough stimulation physically and mentally to keep your dog fulfilled. The point is, let this be a part of getting to know your dog even better. Trust me, you will strengthen your bond and both of you will feel a sense of wholeness deeper than you ever thought was possible.