Doggie Navigation

Why dogs follow paths
I was walking my dog through our neighborhood yesterday, with it’s curvy sidewalks cutting through grassy public areas, and was amused at how he insisted on staying on the sidewalk. Likewise, I remember taking my last dog on walks through the woods and she would stay on the trail, never veering too far off the path. Why? I mean, they’re dogs… wouldn’t they prefer cutting through the grass or the woods? Don’t dogs instinctively like exploring the uncharted, romping through nature, or frolicking through the trees? Why would they insist on staying on a man-made sidewalk or trail? What does that say about our dog’s thought processes?

The Wolf-like Instinct of a Dog

Just when I convince myself that our domesticated fur-babies have lost much of their instinctive, wolf-like behavior, I come across something convincing… The Wolf Education and Research Center says that wolves, from which our dogs supposedly originate, most always use paths and trails to navigate through their territory. This behavior is supposedly well documented! Using paths and trails helps them to conserve energy, as opposed to “blazing” a new trail in the wilderness.

So Many Smells, So Many Scent Trails

Additionally, wolves will “mark” their trails so they can follow their own scent should they become disoriented. Thank goodness my dog hasn’t “marked” the sidewalk… He takes a few steps into the grass when nature calls. But maybe that’s it! Maybe dog’s are following a “scent-path” when they insist on staying on a sidewalk or trail. Maybe many other dogs have followed that path so that’s why they don’t venture far. Or, perhaps they are following their own scent trail from having walked the same path in the past.

What Determines a Dogs Boundary and Trail?

What does this say about our dog’s behavior? Do they follow sidewalks because they like structure and direction in their lives? It has been said that the way to a happy dog is good training and direction… Maybe the sidewalk serves as a “boundary” to which they are more than happy to adhere to. Makes sense, right? Or maybe they perceive the sidewalk as a “safe” zone…. It’s familiar, it’s recognizable and “routine”…. They like routine, ya know… OR just maybe I’m overthinking it.…

I once asked Melanie Benware, former Holiday Barn trainer, what her thoughts were on this subject: “While sticking to a trail/sidewalk does conserve energy, I think our dogs sticking to a path or trail goes deeper than that. If you have ever watched a litter of puppies in a yard or taken to the woods for exposure you will notice that they wonder…everywhere! Yes, sometimes tentatively, others are natural trail blazers, no pun intended. However, as puppies/dogs spend time with humans; being led on walks, following us around, they learn from us. Most people stick to the sidewalks or trails when they are walking so it makes sense that our dogs would learn from us to do the same. Even hiking with my dogs, they stick to trails, look back at me when there is a fork in the path but every once in a while they venture off the path to explore the woods, only to join back up with me and continue on the path.”

I was right…I AM overthinking it. But it’s interesting none-the-less, right?

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