By Scott Hunt
The Dog Grumbler
THERE are lots of reasons to walk your dog.
None of them are because your dog needs exercise.
One good reason may be that you will benefit from the walk. Certainly, walking at human speed is much better exercise for you than for your companion.
A better reason is because your dog needs to smell the world – particularly to smell other creatures and where they have been.
As much as anything it wants to smell other dogs and to know the comings and goings around your home.
However, the best reason to walk your dog is simply to enact the ritual of travelling in company.
Ritual is important in a non-verbal social system.
That’s why the cat may come and sit with you when you watch your favourite television show.
Your cat soon learns when you are about to sit quietly for a while and takes the opportunity to share the activity, not because it wants to watch television but because it’s something physical you can do together — a ritual.
The most important rituals underpinning a dog’s existence are the food ritual — where individuals establish and maintain order by eating according to rank — and the travel ritual where the group follows a leader and absorbs smells together.
When you walk your dog, you must let it smell whatever attracts its interest (within reason) and you must decide when to move on.
If you let the dog select the route or itinerary you will be undermining the process.
If you don’t act like a leader the dog will take up that mantle until a real leader comes along.
Walking or travelling in company is a state of existence to a dog; you can defuse potentially awkward situations by walking because it trumps just about any other activity apart from work.
You can influence your dog to get on with other dogs or people by walking them together – dogs following the same leader are on the same team and compelled to be civil, if not friendly.
The more smells or sequences of smells that any two individuals experience together, the more those individuals bond in dog society.
You can see this. You can see how happy it makes your dog.
I’ve written previously about the myriad benefits of dog ownership: about your dog as a sounding board, as moral support.
You start to feel the benefits when you take the trouble to enact these rituals.
Feed your dog your leftovers. As long as there have been humans there have been dogs under the table.
Travel your dog with you at every opportunity. If you can’t walk, drive.
If you are in an off-lead area, don’t spend all your time talking to other dog owners – walk around, stop and sit for a while, walk around some more.
It may seem pointless but it gives your dog a chance to connect with you.
If your dog is having too much fun in the off-lead area to follow you closely right away, walk a bit then stop and wait for it to find you, then walk some more.
In my experience, dogs who get to travel off lead become much better at on-lead activity.
Your dog will keep looking for a leader and taking that responsibility until it finds one.
Take the opportunity to make decisions for another individual; take responsibility and take joy from the devotion that comes in return.
They make us better people. They reward our faith, our patience and the consistency of our behaviour and thus make us better humans.
Do yourself a favour — go walk the dog.