Rethinking the Dog Walk.

Walking with dogs started out many thousands of years ago… not as a chore, but for our mutual survival. Just as the coyote learned to listen and follow the raven’s alerts of potential live prey and carrion, the domesticated dog’s ancestors learned to follow us in the hunt and scavenge off the waste we left behind. It is also very easy to speculate that our ancient ancestors followed wild canids as they went on the hunt and scavenged off of them. Thus symbiosis occurred and a deal was struck to secure each other’s survival. However, there has been a drastic change to this arrangement.

We, by and large, lost touch with our wildness. We “evolved” (I use that term loosely) favoring a grid system of city block sidewalks over winding dirt trails with vasculated tree roots… the comfy chair, inside a large conditioned box, over exposure to the natural elements. All this change happened rather quickly and recently in the timeline of our relationship. While we are enjoying our “progress” (also using that term loosely) our dogs are saying, “Not so fast…this was not part of the deal we made!” Although our dogs appreciate the shelter, food, and free health care, they didn’t sign up for being in the house all the time with the only outdoors being just the backyard. Dogs live by the motto of Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Wild canids can have exceptionally large ranges. The wolf can cover a range of 50 square miles or more depending on prey populations and can travel up to 30 miles a day. A coyote can range between 5-15 square miles and travel 3-4 miles in a day. Foxes tend to stay within a 3-4 mile territory. Feral Dog ranges vary widely in size and can be influenced by the availability of food. Feral dog packs primarily dependent on garbage may remain in the immediate vicinity of a dump, while other packs depending on livestock or wild game may forage over an area of 50 square miles or more.

I give these examples of canine ranges to make a case for walking our dogs and exploring new territories. Our domesticated dogs, no matter the type have the same DNA hardwiring in their brain. The drive to explore, smell, and cover territory is critical to a dog’s mental health. Roaming is their nature and linked to feeling complete. A purpose full-filled. New and novel smells are what makes life interesting for a dog. It is literally Doggy News. When we confine our dogs to the indoors, or just the back yard, their territory is completely saturated in just their scent. It would be the equivalent of looking on your phone to read todays news, and all you see is a picture of your own face!

While this post is making a case for walking the dog, I am also making the case for our own well being. I remember when I went for my physical shortly after Belle came into the picture. The doctor asked me the usual questions along with, “Are there any new changes in your life”. I mentioned having a dog again and he made a note of it in his records. It dawned on me then that having a dog was seen as a positive impact medically. In prior visits he would tell me I should lose 10 pounds (I think he says that regardless) and while I never enjoyed jogging and repetitive exercise, I have always enjoyed hiking and walking. So each day we wander and I make a point to go different routes and change up the scenery for Belle. Belle takes moments to catch up on her pee-mail… I take moments to see new things… and…. I lost that 10 pounds!

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