Should walking your dog every day be compulsory? At least one German politician thinks so but while he sympathises, David Tomlinson says it would be impractical and impossible to enforce
Should compulsory dog walking become law? Though a strong believer in the benefits of a daily walk, David Tomlinson argues that such legislation would be barking.
Many use gundog whistles when out with their dog but is it essential kit or simply hot air? Read gundog whistles: more than just hot air?
COMPULSORY DOG WALKING
I’ve often thought our politicians are barking mad and it would seem they are not alone. Back in August, during the ‘silly season’ when newspapers are short of copy, there was a story about Julia Klöckner, Germany’s agricultural minister, arguing that all dogs should receive two walks a day for a total of at least an hour, and that this should be a legal requirement. Klöckner maintained that dogs require both “activity and contact with environmental stimuli” to thrive, something I certainly wouldn’t disagree with.
But two walks a day? In his book The Specialist Gundog, professional gundog trainer Guy Wallace insists that it’s a ‘great British myth’ that every dog needs a good long walk every day. He claims to never have taken a dog for a walk in his life. Wallace’s advice is, “if you wish to go for a walk then do so, by all means – but leave the dog at home”, adding that working gundogs only need a 20-minute scamper, morning and evening.
I hesitate to disagree with an authority such as Guy Wallace – I’m a mere gundog writer, not trainer – but I do think Klöckner makes a valid point. The best-balanced dogs I know are those that are taken out regularly, get sufficient exercise to remain lean and fit, and socialise regularly with others of their kind. Exercise gives a dog a chance not only to use its legs but also engage its brain. I’m convinced that my dogs have never regarded exercise in the same way as me – they think every excursion away from home is a hunting/foraging expedition and I don’t think that’s bad.
All large predators spend a lot of their time asleep and dogs are no exception. When they wake up, however, they need to do something more than eat and go back to sleep again, as otherwise they become fat and lazy. Walks are a substitute for the exercise they would get out hunting. The only stipulation I would add, at least from a working gundog point of view, is that any exercise should be controlled. A spaniel that’s allowed to chase pheasants in the summer is going to keep chasing them in the winter, which possibly explains why you see so many wild spaniels on shoots.
This means that on every walk you should take your whistle and ensure your dog is close enough to be under control at all times. Do I practise what I preach? The answer is that I try, but I’m not always successful. I’m a spaniel owner, and well aware that spaniels, like Oscar Wilde, can resist everything except temptation. The secret is to walk them when there’s not too much to tempt them, or if there is, keep them either on a lead or walking to heel.
Like Klöckner but unlike Wallace, I do believe in daily walks. My dogs get a good long walk before breakfast every morning and it’s a routine they are used to. They have plenty of opportunity to go out during the rest of the day as I have a large garden, but they may not get another walk. As one is 14 and the other two, they have different requirements. The teenager appears to enjoy her walks, and as she doesn’t suffer from arthritis she does plenty of trotting and even the odd canter. Many old dogs suffer badly from arthritis, so for them walks are both painful and unnecessary. In contrast to the 14-year-old, the junior spaniel covers a great deal more ground during the course of a walk, generally at a gallop. She does, however, tend to stay close, not something all my spaniels have done.
There’s another sound reason my dogs go for walks and it’s nothing to do with them. I enjoy the excuse to get out of the house and immerse myself in the countryside. As a naturalist there’s invariably something interesting to hear or see. This year’s memorable encounters on dog walks range from singing woodlarks to white admiral butterflies, while a young cuckoo watched on a walk in early August was particularly memorable. You can also justify a bacon croissant much more when you have had a walk.
If you have read this far you are probably confused, for I’ve accused Klöckner of being mad but seem to be agreeing with her. She makes a valid point but to try to legislate that dogs should have two walks a day is simply daft. For a start, such legislation would be unenforceable, as who would police it? Would you call the local constabulary to tell them your neighbour’s Yorkshire terrier has missed a walk? I suspect not.
Secondly, some breeds of dog clearly have a much greater need and capacity for walking than others. A young springer spaniel needs a great deal more exercise than an elderly cavalier King Charles, while the great majority of brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs such as Pekingese and French bulldogs would be unable to cope with such a fitness regime without collapsing.
So full marks to Frau Klöckner for trying but her proposal is flawed. Hopefully none of our politicians will try to introduce similarly stupid legislation here, although nothing would surprise me.