Updated: Nov 5, 2018
We’ve all watched those videos where dogs fly off their beds when their hooman calls out walkie, or when they see their leash brought out and hear the front door unlocked! What is it about dogs and their love of walks? They could simply poo in the designated area in the house or in the backyard.
A leisurely walk during which a dog can sniff everything it wants, has more to do with mental stimulation and could translate in the doge-world as one of their “little joys”. To us humans, sniffing is mostly limited to getting that whiff of fine wine at dinner, sniffing the leftover pizza in the refrigerator to see if it’s still edible, or wondering whether that thrice-in-a-row sock can be worn for one more day. But for dogs, sniffing is their gateway to knowing the whole world around them.
Hurrying a dog during its daily walk and forbidding it from sniffing all it wants is quite the same as making a human walk around on their first visit to Ireland – blindfolded. Each dog depends on its nose to seek knowledge about its ecosystem, and the time they spend on their daily walks is their time spent catching up on their type of ‘world news’.
Compared to us, dogs have a hundred-thousand olfactory sensors to process smells. The potted plant in your living room, your favorite leather boots, the quaint tree at the park, and the visiting guest’s trousers – they all translate to a bunch of information your dog loves to tap simply through its sense of smell.
Putting our noses at a bush in the park that a dog has been smelling for an entire minute will simply give us the whiff of dust and basic ‘plant’ smell. But a dog smelling the same bush will have figured whether another dog had been there, precisely how long ago, whether it was a she or he, what it prefers to eat, and even the kind of mood it was in. Woah! Sorcery!
Well, not quite.
It’s no secret that a daily walk does wondrous things to our bodies – for humans and canines alike. We often read about how a session of walking, running, or playing catch will wean your dog of all its excess energy, and you’ll come home each evening to a calm dog and a spic-and-span living room with never a bitten couch or an explosion of kitchen trash.
But what they rarely tell us is that physical exercise alone wouldn’t be enough to make your dog truly happy, and that both their body and mind must be enriched at the same time.
Getting a particular whiff and interpreting every bit of related information is equivalent to a mental workout in the doggo universe. For instance, that sniff of your guest’s trouser tells your dog what the guest’s home smells like and whether they have a pet too!
A 30-60 minute walk where dogs are allowed to leisurely sniff around until they’re happy and contented is the perfect way to take care of your dog’s physical and mental needs. While getting your dog to exercise their brain ensures that your curious puppy will finally stop chewing your new shoes, it will also prevent cognitive-decline when the pup is eventually a wise old dog.
The Sense of Freedom
Our pet dogs rely on us humans for almost every important aspect of their life: Home, meals, walks, pee and poo needs, and medical attention when needed. It is fair to say that the life of a common pet dog includes a large amount of (for lack of a better word) confinement. There’re leashes and dog-fences more often that they’d like, and they’re expected to be ‘followers’ who are told when and where to sit, when to walk, when to eat, and there’s no way they can simply pick up the car keys and go for an ice-cream at midnight, even if they really could.
This constant sense of imprisonment can have its adverse effects on dogs’ mental wellbeing. The feeling of having little to no control over one’s own life could very well lead to anxiety, depression, and stress in any living being.
But, certainly, we cannot simply leave our canine friends to their own discretion. There’s safety to consider; imagine that sinking feeling in your chest just thinking of your dog sprinting leashless across a busy highway. Then, there’s the matter of unwise decision-making, such as pooping in humans’ shoes every day or gnawing at stuff in the living room.
So, then, what should we do?
We do need to continue controlling a major part of our dogs’ lives. However, it is certainly possible to cut them a slack ever so often through daily walks. If you only have enough time for a quick 10 minute walk, always focus more on quality than on distance travelled. Regardless of how fast we walk our dogs, we can’t really get them exercised in just 10 minutes anyway. However, 10 minutes is certainly a lot of time for them to gain mental enrichment through sniffing new objects down the road, looking at new sights, and processing myriad scents and smells.
This allows them to have their much needed ‘me’ time while making tiny decisions on their own, such as sniffing a parked car’s tires for 2 whole minutes, eating pieces of grass, digging a little dirt up for imaginary dog-treasures, or simply smelling that familiar neighborhood dog’s butthole, simply because s/he wants to.
These little decisions do not control major world events, but they do help your dog feel like s/he matters, that her wishes matter, and that s/he has some control over its being. This ability to choose, decide, and follow through on little whims does great wonders to their mental health, and in turn, boosts their happiness. However, it is wise to not limit their walk-time to only 10 minutes, because physical well-being is important too – and that means 30-60 minutes of walking, running, and/or playtime every single day.