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Why dog walking is vital to your dog's health & the value of a dog walker

Happy dog pack on the way to a walkFirstly I want to say that I understand that the community is often deeply divided about Cesar Millan's dog rehabilitation techniques. That aside, this article reviews his beliefs on the vital role of dog walking not his training techniques.

We look at the benefits that he ascribes to a daily dog walk, and what you can achieve with the help of a professional dog walker, if you are unable to achieve daily dog walks.

Love or hate Cesar, the principles that he bases his views on are based on many dog behaviour texts that he refers to, plus his high rehabilitation rate of client dogs.

You don't need to have a red zone dog before you walk it, dog walking should be about satisfying the needs of your dog, plus a pleasurable activity for yourself. And sometimes it is the art of creating a social dog via off lead dog walks that makes this possible.

CESAR: "Dog Walking - This is the first part of your dog's formula for happiness and it is absolutely the one thing you cannot skip. Ironically, it's the first thing most owners in the US fail at doing. Perhaps it's because Americans in general seem to have problems with getting enough exercise for themselves, and don't recognise that all animals have an inborn need to be active."

"Just getting out and being physical, moving our bodies, seems to have taken a backseat to everything else in our society. Our modern lives are so busy that it seems overwhelming to have to add in daily walks with our dogs on top of everything else. But if you are going to take on the responsibility of living with a dog, this is the contract you sign. You need to walk with your dog every day. Preferably at least twice a day. And for a minimum of thirty minutes at a time." Ref 1

COMMENT: Cesar makes it abundantly clear in all of his books and his television series that dog walking exercise is the prime thing he advises all of his clients. it's a way to drain their energy as well as satisfy the primal drive of the pack walk, in search of prey.  A dogs five senses are engaged, and its mental stimulation is almost as vital to its health as the physical exercise it is getting, let alone the socialisation aspects.

On a personal note, I have found that the rise of computers and social networking, a generation of children have been raised who do not want to be separated from these things, or walk the family dog. This means that even if you can get children to walk and control their dogs, its often for a shortened time, or they are on their devices all the time, IPOD included.  If you are not actively engaged in the walk, observing and guiding your dog, you are not really walking your dog.

Similarly I have met many clients who have adopted rescue dogs, but the daily grind of life has meant that they don't have time to walk them. If you gain a rescue dog, often you get a lot of baggage with these dogs, which means they can be difficult at home and especially at off lead dog parks. Without a daily walk, you will often be reinforcing any fears or bad behaviours they have developed. This is not always the case, but I think its important to know that ALL dogs benefit from walks, rescued, pet shop bought etc.

You will note that Cesar recommends two walks per day. This is what I give to my dog. Even on the really bad weather days (driving rain), he will always get at least one good long walk. In later books Cesar has revised his guidelines to be closer to a ONE HOUR per walk.  I personally have found that 30 minutes is usually way too brief for most dogs to get into the rhythm of the walk and to drain their energy. Sometimes all  you are doing is teasing a dog by doing half a walk. This is why my morning dog walks are always 45 minutes minimum, and often longer.

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CESAR: "Walking with your dog is a primal activity. it is hard-wired into their brain to migrate with their pack. Dogs don't simply enjoy walks because they get to pee and poop and get some fresh air - although shockingly, this seems to be the perception of many owners. To some dog owners "walking the dog" means letting them out in the yard to do their business, then letting them back in the house. This is torture for every dog. Every cell in your dogs body is crying out for a walk. In nature, dogs will spend up to twelve hours migrating for food." Ref 1

COMMENT:  In this book Cesar talks about how he does a four hour morning walk in the Hollywood hills with his pack of pit-bulls and german shepherds etc EACH DAY. He recommends a lot easier schedule for the rest of us to follow but he sees firsthand the psychological damage done to many dogs that are not regularly walked. These client dogs can cost a lot of money and extra time to rehabilitate, because they were not walked and bonded with nature and their owner on a daily pack walk.

You will also note that Cesar talks a lot about on-lead walking with the owner. This is important for control in built up areas and creating an alpha dog that your dog respects, but it invariably will not gain your dog anywhere near the exercise it needs, unless you are walking for an hour plus. It will not affect socialisation either.

If your dog has anxiety or slight aggression issues and is not ready for off lead walks yet, then that is fine, at least you are taking it out in an off-lead park (on lead and muzzled if necessary). If your dog lurches at every dog it passes, you need to resolve this before heading to the park. For the average dog, you should understand the vital role that off-lead walking provides by now. It allows your dog the freedom to make its own choices and to learn to behave socially with the other dogs present. It can become a complete dog again, achieving its fullest potential.

As a dog walker, I aim to have all dogs off lead. Sometimes this is not immediately possible AND It is more work for me often (recall issues etc) but I only do it with social dogs. The dogs can run around me but they move along with me. They can stop and sniff what they like, but at the end they are going on a pack walk before they can play in one spot.

Elsewhere Cesar explains that lap dogs were bred for a much more sedentary life, and that maybe 5% of breeds might fit into this category. However just because they were not bred to retrieve, fight or pull, doesn't mean that they don't enjoy or need a walk. Sure a lap dog that has never been taken for a walk will struggle to understand the concept initially, but mentally and physically even these dogs massively benefit from regular off lead exercise.

A dog fed on a grain based diet, that is not exercised is also more likely to have many health conditions as it ages, which can cost thousands of dollars to rectify.

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happy walked dogsCESAR: "Walking with your dog is the single most powerful tool I can offer you to help connect with all the aspects of your dogs mind - animal, dog, breed and name - all at the same time. The walk is where a dog learns to be a dog. They learn about their environment, about the other animals and humans in it, about danger such as cars and things to avoid. Animals need to connect with the world and be out in it. It's not natural for them to spend all their time indoors or behind walls (fences)."

"Letting your dog roam around all day in your yard isn't providing them with the structure they get when they migrate with their pack. A structured, regular dog walking schedule is vital, especially for dogs with behaviour problems and issues." Ref 1

COMMENT: The reality though is that if your dog doesn't already have issues such as boredom, digging, barking, separation anxiety etc, it may soon develop these.  Even if it doesn't seem to have a problem, a lot of mental or physical issues can remain unseen for quite a while. This is the world renown dog rehabilitator stating that " A structured, regular dog walking schedule is vital" - you and your dog would do well to heed this advice.

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CESAR on Dog WALKERS "Finally if you absolutely cannot walk your dog - if you are injured or ill or incapacitated in some way - I suggest you hire a  professional dog walker. It's not ideal situation for forming that pack leader - pack follower bond that you want with your dog, but it does help them get used to having a human leader. "

COMMENT:  As you can see here Cesar is all about on-lead walking as a training tool. This is because the clients he sees are usually trying to fix bad behaviours that often directed specifically at them (such as biting, or barking incessantly etc). Cesar is trying to fix the primary problem, before you can begin on a more 'leisure' orientated activity such as off-lead dog walking. However if a dog is not red zone, it can do both things at once. On and off lead walking that is.

Notice too how he says " if you are injured or ill or incapacitated in some way" as if he is trying to shame owners into walking their own dogs. I have clients that use my services for many reasons. Some don't like walking in cold, wet or windy weather. Others have young families to look after (night feeds etc), Others are professionals with very early business meetings and late returns to home.

Some people are just not confident walking their dogs off lead, or have other activities they prefer. There are an infinite number of reasons why not everyone is able to make time for this vital activity that owning a dog requires.

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CESAR: " Some committed dog owners I know walk their dogs in the mornings and evenings, and hire a walker to make sure their dog is properly exercised at noon. Not everyone can afford such a luxury, but for those who can, I'll bet it's a lot less expensive than the legal fees you'd be paying if your under-exercised dogs behaviour problems got you into a law suit."

"You should check out the references of any dog walker, of course, and make sure to observe the when they are out on a walk. Are they in control of the dogs. Are they dragging (the walker) around, or are they showing them respect." Ref 2

COMMENT: I have personally had a client who did this three walk schedule. She lived in an apartment and had two miniature Daschunds. Many people might believe that a single walk would be adequate, but not if they saw the damage that these bored dogs can do.

If you are not convinced that all dogs need walks, perhaps you should research what your dog was bred to do. The selective breeding for specific tasks, then consider if your dogs is either actively doing those tasks, or at least getting to run free and simulate what it might do on a pack journey with other dogs.

The last part of Cesar's quote speaks to the professional level and experience of the dog walker plus all of the business components that they have set up.

For instance I have a registered business name, with an ABN, with public liability. I secure dogs in the back of the car by harnesses for transport to the off lead areas. NOT MANY DOG WALKERS DO ALL OF THESE THINGS.

Then there is the dog walk itself. I am not a dog whisperer. Though what we do is forge a close connection with each dog, from the initial consultation, through to each walk. We are focused on the task, we encourage play, and discourage over excited play - such as when a dog is trying to dominate another dog, but the dog being asked to submit doesn't want to.

Dominant and submissive behaviour are the two extremes of the dog spectrum. One is not better than the other, however in play, a dominant challenge will often happen - this is how dogs naturally sort out pack hierarchy. As a dog walker I need to be confident in knowing what is acceptable play and when to break play up or when to discipline a dog (positive reinforcement only) and often only with a slight hand movement.

I am not a dog trainer or dog whisperer. That's why I don't charge $200 per hour, or for the above information. I am here for whatever reason you cannot walk your dog.

Whether you are unable to walk your dog daily (via me and yourself) or any other schedule. There are no judgements on your schedule, because I know that if at least I am walking someone's dog, they are in good hands, and they are getting more walks than they would if I wasn't there.

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please use a LINK reference to http://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au

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Reference

Cesar's Way - The natural, everyday guide to understanding and correcting common dog problems. By Cesar Millan with Mellisa Jo Peltier. 2008

Ref 1 p 199,  Ref 2 p 212

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