I used to hate dog walking. I loathed having to leave my warm cosy house to go out in all weathers. Somehow, I have been nominated as the family dog walker, and I don’t like it. It uses up my valuable time when I could be doing something much more pleasurable.
So, as our dog looks up at me with those big brown eyes of his, I am plotting a change to the status quo. I have been successfully finding ways to make the chore of walking the dog into some fun for me.
I thought dog walking was supposed to be relaxing
I was sold a bum steer! If it was a bank selling personal payment protection, I would have received millions in compensation by now. When my wife and children persuaded me that having a dog would be wonderful, I was incorrectly presented with an image of sunny days going out for pleasant walks in the countryside together as a family. Oh how idyllic. In reality, it involves taking the dog out at 6am before work, lunchtimes, evenings and also at bedtime.
Our dog never goes to toilet in our garden, and is very fussy about the exact location he prefers. So this idea of letting him out in the garden to do his business is a total non-starter. It does have the huge benefit of children being able to play in the garden without that unexpected squelch moment. The downside is it means I have to take him out whatever the weather.
Wear the appropriate outdoor clothing and footwear
I am very fortunate to have fields and woodland at the back of my house. One of the most important lessons I have learned about being an all weather dog walker is to wear the right clothing. Being comfortable makes such a difference. In bad weather I experience driving rain, mud, wind and cold. It is lovely in the snow though. Out comes my snowboard.
You can buy outdoor clothing that will keep you warm and dry, cool, and more often these day stylish. Just look at fellow commuters in the city. You’ll see top outdoor brands everywhere. Jack Wolfskin, Helly Hansen, Arc’teryx, Rohan or Patagonia.
Depending on the weather, I wear enough layers to keep me happy. In winter, I wear a thick woolly lumberjack shirt, with a decent North Face jacket on top. Toasty.
Footwear for dog walking
Having cold wet feet is horrid. In the autumn, when the grass is shorter and not too wet, I wear lightweight canvas hiking boots. With a good coating of Nikwax waterproofing, they keep my feet lovely warm and dry. When it gets too wet and muddy, I have to wear wellies. I am not a fan of wellington boots, as they feel like they are going to fall of my feet at any moment. My socks usually disappear and lurk at the toes of the welly boots. The solution I have discovered is to get a pair of wellie boots that have a woollen or fleece lining. The lining not only keeps your feet warmer, but also prevents your socks from coming off.
Long grass and mud from your boots usually ends up making your trousers absolutely wet and filthy. Gaiters are a waterproof outer covering that go over your boots and halfway up your legs. You can get gaiters that clip onto your boot laces, or that fit completely over the sole of your boots. One tip is to make sure that the side zip is on the outside of your legs. That way, the zip doesn’t get muddy and makes it more pleasant when you come to take them off.
Quick Drying Trousers
Rather than wear waterproof trousers and go rustling about feeling big and bulky, I have a preference for wearing lightweight quick drying trousers such as my Rohan Bags (which are now falling apart from many years of use). They have zipped pockets, and can keep a decent amount of the wind out. They will get wet in the rain, but they don’t hold the water like jeans do. When you get back, hang them up and they are dry before you know it. They are great in the summer as well for walking in long grass. This keeps the bugs, ticks and stinging nettles away from your skin.
What can I do to make dog walking fun?
Having ensured that I am warm and comfortable outdoors when walking my dog, now comes the fun bit. I sometimes keep myself amused by reading a book or listening to a podcast when walking. I just have to remember to check where the dog is. Some people tell me how they love walking the dog as it allows their mind to wander. They enjoy having time to think. My engineering work is packed with thinking, so when I am outdoors, I want to do something physical and spend time enjoying the moment.
Mountain biking with your dog
One of the first ideas I had was to go for a ride on my mountain bike, taking the dog for a run. At first he was scared of the bike. After 10 minutes or so of walking with the bike, he got used to the huge machine. The next thing my dog had to learn was not to go in front of me when I am riding. He loves sniffing everything, especially those interesting patches of trail just in front of me. After a few near misses and great skill on my part, I started to use a warning noise that I would call to let him know I wanted him to move out of the way. It works well for me, but when on singletrack MTB trails, he doesn’t always have the intelligence to move out of the way for others.
Depending on the distance, terrain and how tired he is, he will either run along behind me, or be a complete liability and stop to sniff on the trail. Not a problem in quiet areas, but it is a big concern on busier fast downhill sections.
So, mountain biking can be great if you have a dog that loves to chase and run. Jack Russells and collies will keep going forever. The UK Forestry Commission has created several Follow the Dog Trails.
Trail Running and Dog Running
I have to be in the mood for running. First thing in the morning when it’s raining is not a good time for me to go running.
My dog isn’t great for keeping up with me. He wanders off following his nose. Very annoying when you are on a schedule and have to get to work. Dog running is a term used for going running with your dog attached to you by the lead and your belt. This keeps them alongside you. It means that your hands are free, rather than running lopsided holding the lead in your hand. Over time, your dog works out that he is supposed to stay with you, so you can let him off where it is safe to do so. I find that it is much more relaxing running with my dog on the lead, as I know where he is.
To make running more interesting, I prefer trail running or barefoot running. The US has some amazing wilderness for trail running. Running on trails rather than the pavement also helps to develop your balance and flexibility in your muscles. The uneven and varied terrain means you have to focus more on the moment and can leave the stress of daily life behind.
At Easter I ran up and down Stickle Ghyll in the Lake District. It is only about a mile or so, but extremely steep and rocky. Bit of an obstacle course really. Exhausting on the way up, but exhilarating on the way down. There is a fantastic pub at the bottom, but don’t let that encourage you.
Geocaching and Orienteering
To make the walk a bit more interesting, it helps if you go out with a purpose beyond just walking the dog. Geocaching is where you find hidden caches of goodies using a GPS. Websites like geocaching.com log where they are hidden, so you can choose one near you and plan your route to find them. There are geocaches all over the world, so it can be a great outdoor activity when on holiday or days out.
Orienteering involves using a map to navigate to specified locations as fast as possible. Scavenger hunts are another way of making dog walking fun.
Off Road Roller Skates
I have often seen images of people in the US roller blading along the seafront with their dogs. In the UK, pavements are not usually suitable for roller blading. Cracks, uneven surfaces, cars, and too many people make it challenging. A few months ago I saw a guy wearing roller skates that had big wheels on, with his dog running beside him. I had to find out more.
I found out that you can buy off road skates that are designed for uneven surfaces. The best off road skates are Nordic skates, or power kite skates. They have larger pneumatic tyres, and can cope with really rough trails. The Nordic skates have brakes on, and are designed for practising Nordic skiing out of season. The power kite skates do not have brakes, and are designed for use with traction kites, or being pulled by your dog.
I have got to try it. It looks so much fun! I can see myself stylishly skating offroad along forest trails with my dog running along beside me. Great exercise and great fun. I have got to get hold of some. Anyone got a pair I could try?
Dog Sledding and Dog Scootering
If you live somewhere snowy, dog sledding will be familiar to you. You can go on dog sledding experiences for several days. When there is no snow, dog teams pull sleds that have wheels on.
You can buy dog scooters, where the scooter has an attachment point for your dog lead. You need to have a dog that loves pulling though.
Playing games with your dog is fun for the dog, but may not be fun for you. The repetitive throwing of the ball over and over will drive you mad. My dog is a terrier who loves to sniff. Zero retrieval skills. So the ball, stick and Frisbee/disc throwing doesn’t interest him. I tried to train him for dog Frisbee, but he just chased it and then chewed it.
He does like scent games though. Hiding treats around the garden is great fun for him. A good workout for his mind, but not physically.
Tracking and Scent Trails
Using that sense of smell, he is quite good at finding me when playing hide and seek. Perhaps he could become a rescue dog.
One way to combine the scent games with exercise is to lay a scent trail. Buy yourself a small atomiser bottle and fill it with liquid aniseed or vanilla essence. First you have to train your dog that finding that smell leads to treats. Then, get someone to lay a trail by spraying the scent at places along the route. You then follow with your dog.
There are tracking competitions that test how good your dog is at following trails. I am working on this. My dog gets very excited when he finds a fox scent, and charges off in pursuit nose to the ground. No interest in rabbits or rats though.
This is a much more relaxing and creative way to make walking your dog fun. I always have a camera with me when I go out, and my dog is very good at sitting still for a few minutes. Long enough to compose a great photo.
Outdoor photography encourages you to look around you and appreciate the scenery. You also will find that you plan walks to interesting and beautiful places. Nature constantly changes throughout the seasons, providing wonderful inspiration for your creativity. Birds, bees, butterflies, flowers, trees, landscapes, hills and valleys, lakes and mountains. I often photograph outdoor activities taking place nearby, such as horse riding, or sea kayaking.
Dog Walking is Fun
I hope I have inspired you to find a few ways to make walking your dog fun. What do you do to make walking your dog fun?