Veterinarian Study Leads to Promoting Regular Dog Walking Among Dog-Owning Clients
I take quite the opposite stance regarding dog walking from what these veterinarians have concluded from their well meaning study. I believe dog walking in its current North American manifestation, does far more harm then good for many, if not most dogs and I do not think that veterinarians or dog trainers should recommend dog walking without a shift in current thinking.
Here is a link to the journal the study was published – http://jvme.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/jvme.1115-189R
1. Unless the dog is a toy breed a walk doesn’t translate into meaningful cardiovascular exercise. Even with a toy breed the walk would need to be brisk from a human stand point, without stops and this is rarely the reality. Encouraging dog owners to walk their dogs as opposed to learning what is true exercise and encouraging true cardiovascular type activities means that two areas of a dog’s life are out of sync with their natural balance. They do not get the sort of physical exercise that their bodies were intended for and this can lead to health issues. Secondly, a dog that uses its body appropriately learns and retains new material better and is simply calmer in the home.
2. Very few dogs are actually taught to keep the leash loose when in motion before being subjected to the distractions of the street. They are thrust into the “deep end of the pool” and develop life time (stressful) habits of unnecessarily pulling and/or lunging, around common neighbourhood distractions. This behaviour has two potential and oft realized ramifications; one physical, the other behavioural.
Physical – The pressure against a nose/throat/body harness is akin physically to driving with a parking brake on. Many dog owners complain of elbow and shoulder problems. Dogs complain less but I have for some time been concerned (particularly over the long term) about the long term impact on a dog’s throat, neck, shoulders and elbows.
Behaviourally – Walking dogs on the “street” that have not learned to walk on a loose leash leads to a false sense of security, contributes to delinquency in properly trained dogs, is a common contributor towards leash specific anti-social behaviour (aggression). Teaching this skill on the street is akin to teaching a child geometry at the gates of Disney Land. It can be done but there’s a tendency to lean towards extremes (treats and/or yank and crank) or disguised extremes in force through leverage applied by the many dog training collars. Equipment is often used as a means to “control the dog” rather then teach the dog to exert self-control.
3. Some breeds of dogs when not taught to walk on a loose leash in an intelligent step by step manner, before hitting the streets are particularly susceptible to shifting from walking to “patrolling”. This is a common byproduct of a poor understanding of natural dog behaviour in the dog training (and apparently, now in the veterinarian community) and often needlessly leads to incidents of aggression and can undermine the behaviour in dogs they target or unwary pedestrians.
4. As human and dog population density increases the “chance” encounter of another dog walker increases. Many dog owners see this as an opportunity to maintain their dog’s socialization skills, allowing the dogs to “meet”. This is a far more unnatural experience for many if not most dogs and is increasingly proving to be unwise. It is akin to dropping ones child off downtown and suggesting he or she go make some friends. See this related article – My Recreational Dog Walking Days Are Over
I’m going to be releasing another booklet shortly (subscribe to my newsletter or email me for further details), detailing how to teach a dog to walk on a loose leash “no matter what” plus activities that companion dog owners can use to tap into the benefits of true exercise. However these are two separate activities and I believe dog trainers and veterinarians need to emphasize to their clientele that walking well (or poorly) on a leash should not be considered exercise and not teaching a dog to walk well on a leash before venturing out in public can actually do more harm (the dog, the owner, other dogs, dog owners and innocent pedestrians) then good.
- John Wade