I remember the first time I took a dog for a walk. I was only 4 or 5 years old. We had hiked up a popular hill near the town i was born. When i say “we”, I meant my family; and by “we hiked”, I mean my parents and sisters walked and I most probably was mainly carried on my dads shoulders during the steep bits!
The best thing about a hike is a sit down in a hut for a Swiss Coffee or a lemonade and a “Nussgipfel” (a puffpastry treat with almond filling). It was there, where it was the first time I was allowed to take a little Dachshound for a walk around the hut.
Looking back, it might not have been that great of an experience for the dog. On a short leash and collar being “lead” around the small hut by a 5 year old.
In those days that was what a walk was. A dog being taken for an outing on a short leash and collar. In many instances the collar was not a leather one but a chain chocker. It was the days of “Alpha” this and “Alpha” that with a bit of “Rolling”.
Times have changed though. A lot more in depth research has pointed to the fact that even in wolf packs it is not about power and status but about a breeding pair of wolves bringing up their young with help of their siblings – a family
Therefore, one would think we have moved on from using the linear hirachy theory on our dogs? We haven’t.
Every day I see owners pulling and pushing their dogs around on a walk and make them sit in “submission”. A walk that should really be for the dog to enjoy; a walk where the dog can experience the world through their eyes – or should I point out – through their amazing noses!
How amazing the dogs noses are deserves a post alone, so stay tuned for that. But lets just say, with our petty 5 million scent receptors, our noses are amateurs compared to the nose of a dog with 250 million + receptors.
So if we imagine how a healthy human eye sees colour and how what we see can please and excite us imagine how scent excites and pleases a dog. A canines olfactory system is also bigger relative to ours and our brain. When a dog smells he doesnt just detect a scent he can see the past, the present and future. How?
The past: who or what has been here
The present: who or what is here
The future: who or what is coming
When your dog sniffs that poo or pee of another dog, which humans think is so discusting, the dog can smell not just the “who” but the sex, health, emotional state, etc the other dog was in when it pooed or peed. That alone takes brain power to do.
If you ever followed your dog off leash, sniffing, imagine the amount of brain used to understand and debunk each of these scents the dog sniffs on.
You will also have observed that your dog didn’t sniff along in straight lines, he was walking sometimes probably even racing with his nose close to the ground all over the place. Sometimes he may stop raising his nose sniffing the air….
So why do we still walk our dogs heel, on a chocker and short leash?
Because it makes us look in control!
Some dogs can’t be off leash as they have high prey drive. I have 3 of these hounds. If I would let them off they’d be gone. No!, not because they are disobedient but because they’d be off hunting that prey. So I walk them on a harness and long leash and follow them. We always end up finding something. Lately a lot of illegally dumped rubbish or dead animal carcasses. The thing is, when we return home the dogs are relaxed and ready to chill. This behaviour hasn’t come about suddenly. It took a while with each dog I added to our canine family, wether as a permanent member or foster dog and no matter of breed. The difference is, you will not catch me throwing a tennis ball. But I might teach the dog to retrieve a lost tennis ball or other item; or let him search treats or track a person or sausage. The difference is: when the dog uses his nose he uses his brain constructively. He concentrates on the scents and what they are about. This is especially good for fearful dogs. Why? Because if a fearful being concentrates on something else than the fear it is able to function. I am sure you have experienced that before!
So why don’t I play fetch?
When the dog chases that ball, he reacts instinctively which means he is filled with adrenalin and that takes a while to leave the dogs body. Because he is on “hunting-mode” his brain will have shut off everything NOT needed to proceed to a successful outcome. This means your dog has tunnel-vision and cannot hear you.
So next time you return home and get frustrated your dog is not ready to chill, ask yourself “why”.
And take that chocker and short leash, put it in the rubbish, buy a long leash (at least 3 m) and a H-shaped harness to keep neck and shoulders free from pressure and start following your dog on a smiffing adventure
Bono & The Hounds