Over the last few weeks, seeing any social media buzz over Malaika Arora and Aditya Roy Kapur walking their dogs made me wonder: why so much noise over an activity that is, or must be, a part of every pet parent’s daily routine? I know the fanfare was not so much about the dogs, but about the celebrities. The rich and famous walking their dogs, an activity usually outsourced to their house-help, is a rare occasion.
I, however, wish it was not. Walking your dog is one of the best ways to bond with him or her. “It’s one activity that is not just important for their physical well-being, but also for their mental stimulation and emotional fulfilment,” says Srinivas Jakkani, dog behaviourist and trainer for over 15 years. “Walking your dog also strengthens your bond with him,” he adds.
But in fast-paced cities like Mumbai and Delhi, dog parents do not always find the time or stamina or will to walk their dogs. Enter dog walkers: their only job is to walk your dog for an hour or two every day. From what I see, it seems like a flourishing business. I have seen them walk German Shepherds, Labradors, Beagles and even Chihuahuas. Where I live, they charge Rs. 3,000 per month to walk one dog for an hour every day.
Most of them are husbands and brothers of people working as domestic help in a housing complex, seldom trained in dog behaviour or training. I have seen a few struggling with dogs who constantly pull the leash. A few others hold the leash so tight that I fear the dog might choke, and then there are also those who sit on a bench while the bored dog dozes off to sleep. I have also seen walkers unable to stop their dogs from charging at other dogs and vice versa.
“A dog walker will never be able to walk a dog as well as his or her family member would,” says Shailaja Nitin, a dog parent of an American Bully, a Labrador and a rescued Indie. When her first dog, a Labrador, came into her life seven years ago, Shailaja couldn’t stop her from pulling the leash and would find it difficult to get the dog to behave, so she hired a walker. “But after a year and a half, my husband, who sails for six months a year, explained to me the merits of walking a dog myself,” she recalls.
Since, she has rarely sought walkers’ help, and does so only when she is travelling or not well. “My Indie never relieves herself in the house. But when I got a walker to walk her for five days when I was away, she started peeing indoors. That never happens when I walk her,” says Shailaja. The 15-year-old rescue takes a lot of time to find a suitable spot to relieve herself. “One has to be extremely patient with her. But the walker doesn’t have that kind of time. Nor can they read a dog’s body language or their attempts at communicating with you,” adds Shailaja.
For instance, when my Dogo Argentino has not finished his business, he will be reluctant to enter the building, or sometimes, chew his bedsheet, or nudge me with his nose several times in a short span. I know what this means. A walker won’t.
Jakkani, too, suggests that dog parents or family members walk their dogs and not hire help. “Walking is…the time, when (the dog) also socialises with you, a member of his pack, and that helps build a strong bond between you and him. That’s extremely important,” he adds.
That’s the reason why our canine trainer Delriques Henriques has strictly told me and my husband to not listen to music or talk on the phone while walking the dog. “That’s your time with him and his time with you. Give him all your attention for that hour or two in a day,” he says.
It’s simple but very effective. Our dog is great on leash, walks right beside us even when off leash and his recall is amazing. I am never worried about letting him free on treks. Even if he walks far away or is distracted by a squirrel or a cat, he will come back to me as soon as I call him. That’s the bonding we are talking about.
Coming back to walking, Jakkani divides walks into two types. One is a leisurely walk in which you take your dog to a park where it sniffs around at his or her pace. The other is physical exercise – a brisk walk for at least one or two or more kilometres at a time depending on the size, age, physical fitness and temperament of the dog. “You can’t skip either. In fact, at least one brisk walk and one stroll a day are recommended for all dogs, even a small Shih tzu,” adds Jakkani.
Most pet parents think that their dog is having the best life because it has a soft bed, an air-conditioned room and gets top-quality food. That’s a misplaced thought. Just like us, even dogs need to get out of the house, explore the world around them, burn their energy, feel stimulated and feel that they have a sense of purpose. “Free dogs are quite active throughout the day. They play with each other, hunt for their food, guard their territory, get tired and doze off to sleep,” says Jakkani. “Whereas, most pet dogs sleep for long hours at home because they are bored,” he adds. The boredom and the pent-up energy than lead to behavioural issues, even aggression.
It’s always a good idea to give your dogs that long walk that they need, with you you by their side.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent