It’s estimated there are around 220 million pet dogs living on planet Earth. There are double that amount living as strays, but for now let’s stick to pet dogs, who share their lives with ordinary owners like me and you.
That’s almost a quarter of a billion dogs, ranging from cute fluffy Chihuahuas to giant slobbery mastiffs, which is a hell of a lot of gravy bones, tummy rubs and poo bags.
It’s also a lot of dog walks.
In fact, a 2018 RSPCA survey found that on average, UK dog owners walk their dogs for 57 minutes each day.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest dog was an Australian cattle dog called Bluey who lived to the ripe old age of 29 years and five months. This is pretty remarkable when the normal age a dog reaches is between 10 and 13 years.
Let’s err on the side of caution and say the average dog lives 10 years. That means that over the 10 years we share our lives with our dogs we spend approximately 3,458 hours, or 144 full days, mooching around outdoors with our mutts.
If we move the analogy from time spent walking to distance travelled, and with an average walking speed of a human being three miles per hour, this means we cover over 10,000 miles with our dogs in their lifetime.
That’s quite a journey: the equivalent of walking from the North to the South pole!
As an urban dog owner, hopefully you don’t need to worry about the perils of crossing sand, sea, ice or mountains with your dog. The local park, beach or woods is probably the furthest you need to travel.
So, if you know where, when, why and how long you are going to be exercising your dog every day, why is walking them so stressful, worrying and goddam difficult?
The Reality for Most Dog Owners
Here’s a typical chat I have with a typical dog owner.
Dom, I have the perfect dog! He’s a complete angel in the house. Well, apart from chewing the sofa and constant barking at the neighbours. But saying that, he’s great with children, as long as they don’t touch, speak or look at him. Oh, and they better not be eating either, otherwise he will whip that out of their hand like a magician.
But I can live with all that, and overall I have to say, he really is the perfect dog. We spend every evening curled up on the couch together and I sniff his paws while we watch the TV. His favourite show is X Factor. He’s even well behaved outside.
And then it comes.
…the only time he is ever a problem is when something distracts him.
I see, I reply, knowing what’s coming next, and how often on a walk does he get distracted, on average?
Oh, almost every time, at least once a day. Once his attention is locked on something he takes no notice of me at all. I daren’t let him off lead because as soon as I do I’m invisible to him. I dread each minute that the clock ticks nearer to walk time and I only relax when we are safe back home with the door locked and bolted behind us. I’ll be honest with you, Dom, I love my dog with all my heart, but I hate walking him.
And this is the paradox that lies at the heart of the relationship between pet dog owners and our sometimes not so faithful, four-legged friends.
Inside the confines of our home we own a dog we love dearly and who in turn loves, licks and, if we are lucky, even listens to us. But once you venture into the big wide world something a little scary happens.
The change begins the moment you step over the threshold of your home, and your obedient mild-mannered mutt starts his transformation into an ignorant, out of control, crazy canine.
He’s the same dog, but his personality has changed.
Now he’s got people to see and lampposts to pee (on). Your dog has an agenda, and you my friend aren’t on it, unless of course you can convince him you are one of the cool kids who is worth hanging around.
If you’ve read Buffy the Vampire Slayer or seen the 80s vampire flick The Lost Boys you will know that vampires can’t enter your home unless you invite them in. Let’s be honest, anyone stupid enough to invite a vampire into their home probably deserves to be eaten. But as long as you don’t invite the vampire in you are safe. This is exactly what it’s like for pet dog owners.
Enclosed within the four walls of your home you are safe, happy and in control of your dog.
Once you step outside you feel scared, powerless and weak.
The further you travel from your house the less attentive he becomes, and so by the time you reach the park he is barely recognisable from the calm canine you were cuddling on the couch an hour earlier.
He is Insert your dog’s name here no more.
Now he is, dun dun duuuun, ‘Monster Dog’.
Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but all good humour has its roots firmly planted in the truth. And it’s a truth universally acknowledged that an off-leash dog, in possession of a good nose, and in pursuit of fun, has no need for a boring owner.
At least that is the reality that many dog owners accept.
Most dog owners believe, just as I did, that when they visit the park, the only thing their dog wants to do is chase birds and squirrels, play with dogs, sniff out and scoff half eaten pizzas, and roll around in fox shit.
So, why do our dogs insist on doing annoying and embarrassing things that make us feel like unhappy and pissed off owners, and how can we fix it?
This Aesop’s Fable might help explain why:
The Scorpion and the Frog
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, ‘How do I know you won’t sting me?’ The scorpion says, ‘Because if I do, I will die too.’
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but midstream the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp ‘Why?’
Replies the scorpion: ‘It’s my nature…’
I love that story, and not because I’m a sicko who likes reading about suicidal scorpions, but rather for the dog training lessons we can take from it.
See, as much as the scorpion wanted to cross the river, his instinct drove him to be a scorpion and kill the frog.
A very similar thing happens when your dog ignores you at the park and runs off to chase a pigeon. His instinct to chase and hunt kicks in. When this happens, no amount of cheese string waving or high-pitched cooing is going to get him to stop.
But dogs are domesticated and scorpions aren’t, and we’ve trained and tamed dogs to live with us. We worship the very ground they amusingly wipe their bums on. So given how much we care for them, why do dogs do whatever the hell they want given half the chance?
Let’s briefly look at how the ‘pet dog’ came into being.
Dogs have had a place at the hearth for the best part of 20,000 years. Wild dogs made tame provided excellent protection and their hunting and tracking skills complemented our own. Then over time dogs were bred for their skills as hunters, herders or gundogs, which eventually created hundreds of the modern breeds we see today.
These were dogs with jobs, and their superior speed, strength, agility and scenting skills meant dogs made themselves indispensable to humans. Dogs are also darn good cuddlers which no doubt helped their cause.
The fact is though these early dogs earned their place at the table. They had a purpose and a reason to get up every morning.
These were hard times and often tough decisions had to be made. Any aggressive dogs or those that didn’t meet or exceed the standards set by their forebears would be ruthlessly removed from the gene pool.
Man and dog became a formidable team.
You can witness this unique relationship at work today any time you walk through an airport and see a sniffer dog weaving among the suitcases and the hurried passengers, effortlessly but intently searching for the faintest whiff that will lead to the discovery of illegal drugs, cash or firearms.
See, much like today’s service dogs, dogs in the past were bred to do a specific job. These dogs weren’t walked at all, but instead ‘worked’. This is worth remembering when you are trying to figure out why everything goes tits up for you when you are ‘walking’ your dog.
Most modern breeds have more in common with the working dogs of yesteryear than you think. The modern dog wants and needs more than just a stroll around the block.
We moulded dogs to be four-legged helpers who did stuff for us, and in return we gave them food, a bed and diamond-encrusted collars (well, we mainly just gave them food and a bed; the diamond-encrusted collars came a lot later).
This drive to work or to ‘do something’ is embedded deep in your dog’s psyche.
The Make-up of a Modern Dog
You will hopefully be familiar with the term hardware and software when it comes to computers. If not, don’t worry, I’m going to give you the back of a napkin version now.
The hardware is the physical stuff in your computer, the electronic parts that can only be changed with a screwdriver or a soldering iron. The software is the programs on it such as Microsoft Windows, Google Chrome or Minecraft. Then there is the firmware which is the software which the computer has built into it. This is a special kind of software not intended to be changed once the unit is shipped, and it cannot be erased.
Your dog comes made up in a very similar way.
You have the hardware of the dog, his physical make-up. We have many different ‘models’ to choose from, but they all essentially have the same physical characteristics.
Then there is the software which is everything the dog learns from the moment he’s born. These inputs start at birth with what the puppy learns from his mother, such as how hard to bite his siblings when playing and when to eat. This then progresses to the house training, tricks and everything else we teach them once we get them home.
Then you have the oft-forgotten firmware, which is the code embedded in your dog’s DNA, which you can’t erase. This includes all the things that your dog wants and needs to do, even though no one taught them to do it, and which you really might rather he didn’t know how to do. I’m talking about stuff like digging, chewing, and hunting, herding and other breed-specific traits.
It’s the failure to provide some kind of outlet for our dog’s drive that causes so many behaviour problems, which results in the obscene amount of dogs we have in rescue centres today.
Remember, just like the scorpion in Aesop’s Fable, your dog has an instinct and a drive to do ‘doggy things’. In the main though, your dog just wants to have fun. Provide him with any kind of job he enjoys doing, and he will be very happy and pretty obedient.
This is good news for pet dog owners, as it means you don’t need to buy a shotgun and start hunting just because you own a gundog, or keep a flock of sheep in your garden because you own a herder. There are other easier ways to keep a working dog interested in you. However, failure to provide a worthwhile, fun job for your dog to do will almost always result in him buggering off and finding fun elsewhere.
In the chapters that follow I will show you how to quickly and easily turn your ignorant mutt into an attentive dog who follows you around the park like you are the Pied Piper.
Just keep in mind that when your dog is being naughty he isn’t doing it on purpose to annoy you. He’s just a fun-seeking missile who likes running, exploring, sniffing and playing. It’s far easier to control your dog if his ‘fun-seeking’ radar is locked on you and not a pigeon, squirrel or another dog.
Many dog owners (and several dog trainers) forget the crucial fact that dogs like enjoying themselves, and by simply being more interesting to your dog, and stricter about what else you allow him to enjoy, you can prevent a lot of dog behaviour issues ever occurring.
Obedience training isn’t necessary if your dog already enjoys walking by your side.
Recall training is something you never need to teach if your dog enjoys your company and prefers to stay with you when he is off lead, rather than run off and find a dog to play with.
Pulling on the lead to get to the park is less of an issue if the only thing your dog enjoys playing with at the park is you, the owner.
And that’s what life can be like when you are an owner who has a dog who thinks the sun shines out of your arse.
Surely dog training isn’t as easy as all that?
You are right to be sceptical, and once upon a time I thought well-behaved dogs were just something ‘other people’ or ‘dog trainers’ got to enjoy, but I was wrong as you shall see in the next chapter.
I’ve been where you are now and I hated it too. I owned dogs I loved more than life itself, but I had little control and so chaos soon followed. The truth is I was no more than the butler who served their food, and the chauffeur who took them to the park to play with their doggy friends.
And like you I just accepted it. I thought this is what life is like as a dog owner.
I was wrong about that, and it wasn’t until I started my own dog adventure business that I learned I could be more to my dogs than that.
This blog is an extract from Dom’s bestselling Worry Free Walks – How to transform your dangerous, difficult and devilish dog into a problem-free pooch that you’re proud to take to the park.
You can learn how to safely exercise your rescue dog, enjoy stress free trips to the park, and ensure your dog is NEVER given up for rescue by grabbing a copy of the full book on Amazon here , or get the Audiobook and start a free 30 day trail with Audible by clicking here now.
In 2011 Dom Hodgson revolutionised the pet service industry with his first business Pack Leader Dog Adventures, the UK’s first, award winning ‘dog adventure’ company. Now a respected dog trainer, author, speaker and mentor to pet business owners, Doms calling is to help dog walkers, trainers and groomers to excel with their marketing, so they can help change the lives of more dog owners with their amazing skills. You can join the elite, ambitious pet business owners inside the Pet Business Inner Circle, or apply to work with Dom personally by clicking here now.