It is easy to find a good walking loop that makes sense to us and to stick with it. We know how long it takes to complete, we learn what to watch out for, and it gives us a sense of comfort. However, it can be beneficial for brain drain and help both us and our dog to gain confidence when we can go out and experience new places! What better time to practice this than when we take our dogs on a walk!
When we go to new places for a walk it allows our dogs to take in new sights and smells. They get a mental drain from taking all those differences in and will give them a more active walk, because there will be so many new sights and smells to explore! The added bonus is this also helps prevent boredom for both the dog and the person! Taking them to new places also helps to expose them to more novel experiences. We can do this in a way that helps build their confidence and will put more “tools” in their toolbox to draw on in the future. The more tools they have, the more confident they can be in similar situations in the future.
Before you go on a walk in a new area, think of where you want to go. If your dog is used to an in-town walk and has not experienced a hike in the woods- take smaller steps first to make sure they feel confident. Plan a different route in your neighborhood or visit a park with more trees first before making the leap into a state park hike. This will help them to transition to being successful with their skills (like loose leash walking, or reactions to strange dogs/people) in environments similar to what they are used to before making a big leap to someplace completely different. It will also help you identify any skills you need to work with them on before your next outing. For example, maybe they get really, really focused on chasing critters or are nervous around big birds like geese or ducks!
Think of your dog’s skillset as you chose your next adventure as well. For example- if your dog gets over excited when people are nearby, choose a quieter area where less people will be for you and your dog to explore. Your dog will already be focusing their energies on taking in the new environment. Bring treats to reinforce good behaviors- and be prepared for some old habits to reappear! When we take our dogs to new environments, they will need a refresher on some of their skills to teach them that while the environment may have changed, the expectations are the same
There are many resources available from your local parks and recreation department or state parks system. In the Sioux Falls area, there are many different resources available for you to find a place that suits your needs! To find parts in the Sioux Falls area, look at https://www.siouxfalls.org/parks/parks. For state parks and recreation areas with hiking paths, check out https://gfp.sd.gov/parks/filterParks. If you are hiking or using a trail system, it is a good idea to print off the trail map so you have a hard copy with you to quickly reference if you run out of cell services. You don’t want to get lost!
Explorers: Try a new route that has many of the same similarities as your current walk. Stay in tune with your dog as you try the new route- is your dog confidently exploring and unfazed by the change? If so- you can go to an environment that is less similar and broaden their horizons even further! Is your dog more alert to the changes around them? Jumping at sounds? Give them reassurance and treats. On the next walk, perhaps just go down a different side street and back onto your normal route. Continue until they feel comfortable with new changes.
Growers: What is something your dog hasn’t experienced yet? This month, focus on growing their confidence with this in small steps. Has your dog experienced state park hikes and neighborhood walks? Try looking for a park in town to walk at, like McKennan Park, get on the trails at Sanford Pentagon, or walk part of the sculpture walk downtown.
Challengers: Look for a completely new place to explore. As you work through the month, go to a different type of walking environment each week. Neighborhood walks, parks, and woods all have different benefits and skills for your dog to master!