To Structure Walk or not to Structure Walk

What is a structured walk and why is it so important? If you don’t already know, walking your dog is not just a leisure exercise for your dog. It is an essential activity as important as food and water. Dogs are explorers. In the wild, a dog will walk all day looking for food and “smelling” the sights. It is essential for their well being and their sanity. Dogs who don’t get regular structured walks are not only bored, but they may very likely become depressed, unstable, aggressive, and/or destructive.

Of course, it would be impractical to walk your dog all day long, but lucky for us, a decent one-hour daily walk is all you need to keep your average dog happy. Some dogs require a bit more than others and some not as much. It all depends on your dog’s energy levels. If you have a high energy dog, they will require long walks. If you have a lazy dog, one half-hour daily will do just fine. Assess your dog’s energy levels to determine their needs. Don’t just go by their breed. It’s true that some breeds require more exercise, but even within breeds, every dog is different and they all have their own level of energy they have to spend.

Dogs that require longer walks can be a challenge. Who has time to walk a dog for two hours a day? On the upside, dogs with elevated levels of energy will most likely love to run. So if you’re a jogger, this would be perfect. Take your dog with you on your morning jogs. Not only will he/she get the exercise they need, but it’s also one of the best ways to bond with your pet. The same applies if you’re a cyclist, skater, or rollerblader. Your high energy dog will love it. Just be sure to train them properly before you take them out for a run. You both want to stay safe out there.

When I first took my dog, Jake, out for a run on my bike. He would suddenly stop for nature calls without much warning. I had to improvise quickly so that neither of us would get hurt. However, once I came up with my system to ride safely with him, we both enjoyed the ride. Come up with your own system and I’ll guarantee you’ll both love the result.

If you have a lazy dog, and you’re not much for running or walking, you’re in luck because your walks just became a lot shorter. Unfortunately, even lazy dogs still need to walk daily. It’s in their DNA. Walking is as important to them as entertainment is for us humans. Even dogs who don’t want to go for walks need them. You can’t get around it. But at least your lazy dog will be quite happy with a fifteen or thirty-minute daily structured walk. Just enough time for them to get out of the house, experience the smells of the area, leave their sent around, and do their business. These are all activities that dogs need to do.

So now that you know why you need to walk them daily. You may be wondering why I keep referring to structured walks instead of just a walk? When dogs walk in packs, they are not just walking aimlessly. There is always one dog in charge and they are the ones—barking orders—to the rest of the pack. Every dog in the pack follows that one dog where ever he/she goes. He/she is the “alpha” dog. The calm assertive leader. Dogs need a calm assertive leader to show them the way and keep order so that they feel safe, protected, and stress-free. If dogs don’t feel safe with their leaders, they will assume the role. What does that mean? It means that if you’re walking your dog and they don’t feel like you’re in charge if they don’t feel like you can protect them, they will take charge. They will lead you. When a dog takes charge and they are walking you, they make all of the decisions and they will do what they think is appropriate whether you like it or not. When that happens, it is difficult if not impossible to get them to listen to you at home. Dogs need to trust you. When they don’t, it’s not only bad for you, it’s stressful for the dog.

A structured walk is essential for your relationship with your dog. That is the crucial time for you to take command of your dog and show them not just who’s in charge, but that you will protect them from predators and that you will lead them to something tasty. Once you’ve mastered the structured walk, all other behavioral problems the dog may have will diminish if not disappear altogether. The dog will begin to trust you and they will follow your commands with no question. But first, you must take charge and master that walk.

Mastering the structured walk is not difficult. Sure, it’s challenging because it requires a different frame of mind that you’re used to, but it’s not hard to do and practice makes perfect. Dogs don’t want to be in charge and they are more than happy to let you lead them, but only if they can trust you. They are already set to follow you and the second you show them leadership, they’ll surrender, and you’ll be amazed at the result if you do it right.

Here’s the trick. The walk starts the minute you think about taking the dog out for a walk. Under no circumstances should you get your dog excited by asking them if they want to go for a walk. Picking up the collar and leash will already get your dog excited. Getting them all wound up verbally will only make your job more difficult. Only put the collar on the dog when he/she has calm down. This requires a little patience, but it will happen. If your dog is running back and forth, body wagging, and looks like a Ritalin overdosed child at Disney World, your dog is not ready to have his leash on. When the dog sits and pays attention to you and only you, that’s when they’re ready.

Go ahead and put on the collar and snap on the leash. Your dog may become excited again. And again, she/he is not ready for a walk yet. Your walk should begin with a calm submissive dog, always! When it’s time, walk your dog towards the door and open the door. Present the world to him/her. Let him/her sniff, look, hear, but they are not allowed to walk out that door until you are ready. Once you’re ready, step out first and allow them to follow you. This ritual should be practiced every single time you take your dog out. Miss it once and your dog will have difficulty trusting you. Consistency is key with dogs.

Once you’re outside your dog’s job is to walk next to or behind you at all times. Show them you’re in charge by leading the way. Walk with confidence and with purpose. Keep the leash loose, and next to you at all times ready to make a correction if the dog gets strays off course. Stay calm and collected. If your dog gets distracted, correct and relax. Don’t get angry at your dog, don’t yell at them, for god’s sakes don’t hit them. A nice snap of the leash, a firm sound and stare is all you need to correct their behavior.

Pretend you’re a dog exploring the world. Once you’ve explored one area go to the next. Dogs will get bored if they take the same walk every day. Take a different route, take them to the park, to a different neighborhood, drive if you must, keep the dog engaged. Trails, for example, are treasure troves for dogs and you’ll both have a great time. If you find an interesting spot explore it for a few minutes and let your dog explore with you. Let him sniff and investigate. The world is like Facebook to him/her and she/he may even “leave a comment,” let them and then move on to the next interesting spot. The walk is all about exploring and bonding.

There is no bad time to walk a dog, but the best times are right before they eat. There are no rules about this. But just like in the wild, dogs walk to find food and shelter. A tasty reward after a nice walk would be very much appreciated.

Walking is a bonding time for dogs. In fact, it is the best way to introduce two strange dogs to each other. After a good two-hour walk, two dogs who’ve never met will be best friends after. That’s the power of the walk. Master it. It will make all the difference in your relationship with your dog.

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