1. TIME FOR A CHANGE
It's easy to keep on going to the same old places, but it can make walks a bit predictable and boring after a while. Take a break from your usual haunts and explore somewhere new where there will be different sights, sounds, and smells for both of you to enjoy. It doesn't need to be very far away, or even an off-lead walk - checking out an Ordnance Survey map of your area may give you some ideas for places to explore.
You can also find dog-friendly places to visit at www.english-heritage.org.uk and www.nationaltrust.org.uk Many historical sites are often venues for re-enactments, which can add to the excitement of the outing. If strolling round gardens rather than ruins is more your thing, then visit www.britainsfinest.co.uk which has listings of those where your dog will be welcome. Your local tourist information office will also have lots of information on local attractions right on your doorstep that you might not even be aware of, such as sculpture trails.
2. THE LONG WAY ROUND
Step outside your comfort zone and set yourself a target, by tackling one of the many long-distance walks in the UK. The shorter ones, such as the 1066 Country Walk from Pevensey to Rye in East Sussex, can be the perfect excuse for enjoying a long weekend break. The longer walks, such as the 625-mile Ulster Way or 722-mile Celtic Way, are more of a challenge, but you don't have to complete them all in one go - in fact, unless you and your dog are super fit and have the time to spare, it's best to break them into small chunks. If you're not sure where to start, www.walkingenglishman.com has a comprehensive list of walks.
If you don't fancy the idea of walking in a strange area on your own, you'll find details of organised group walks on The Long Distance Walkers Association website (www.ldwa.org.uk) as well as useful tips and information. Check beforehand that your dog will be welcome, as not all accept four-legged hikers.
3. FIND THE BALLS
Easter may be over but you can still enjoy an Easter egg hunt of sorts. Rather than hiding Easter eggs, hide tennis balls instead. It's possible to buy large bags of brightly coloured balls for children's ball play pits, although owners should be warned not to allow their dogs to play with them as they are easily crushed and not suitable as toys.
Place a strongly scented treat with each ball, to encourage the dogs to use their noses to help seek out the ‘eggs' and act as rewards when they are found. All dogs should be kept on the lead so as to avoid any disputes breaking out, and a time limit set set in which to find the balls; it's a good idea if whoever hides them also makes a note of their locations so that any which aren't discovered can be retrieved afterwards.
As well as the treats found and eaten during the hunt, offer a small prize for the dog and owner who manage to collect the most balls. In the event of a tie, the first person home is the winner.
4. GIVE TREIBBALL A TRY
Treibball first started in Germany, but it's catching on fast in the UK. It gives your dog lots of mental and physical stimulation, with the added benefit that it won't hype him up. It combines elements of obedience and problem solving with the need for good teamwork between you both, and although it's a great way of giving herding dogs a chance to use their skills, it can be fun for any dog to try.
The object is for the dog to herd gym balls, using his head, nose, chest and shoulders to push them along, and guided by voice, hand, or whistle signals to either bring them towards you or nudge them into a football goal-type net. You can teach your dog at home, get together with some friends, or join a training club which offers treibball classes.
If you'd like to find out more, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers is running an activity weekend on June 8 and 9 which includes treibball as well as five other fun events. Information about the weekend can be found at www.apdt.co.uk where you can also view video clips showing the game in action.
5. JOIN A TEAM
If you and your dog enjoy the company of others, why not join a dog display team? There are many groups all around the country, but if you can't find one to join, why not suggest that your local training club starts one up - it can be a great way of encouraging everyone to keep learning, and makes a change from more formal training sessions.
You could do it just for a bit of fun, or when you get a bit more proficient, you could give displays at local fêtes and events to help raise funds for good causes. Elements of obedience, agility, heelwork to music, tricks or anything else you fancy and which your dogs enjoy doing, can be included in the routine. Visit www.greyhoundwalks.co.uk to watch the Greyhound Walks Display Team in action to see just what can be achieved
6. FIND THE TREASURE
A modern-day form of treasure hunting, geocaching can be fun for both you and your dog - it can also encourage you to explore places you might not otherwise have visited, so can be a great way of finding new walks. A GPS receiver is used to locate ‘caches' - small waterproof boxes which contain a few low-value items of ‘treasure' and a logbook. You can take the items away if you wish, but it's considered good etiquette to leave something else behind in return, and to enter a log in the logbook.
As GPS is only accurate to within a few metres, actually finding a cache isn't always straightforward: they are often very ingeniously hidden in all sorts of nooks and crannies - one geocacher even reported finding one concealed beneath a pile of fake dog poo! As a way of turning a walk into an adventure, it is perfect, and once your dog has watched you finding a few caches, you may find he helps you in discovering and uncovering them. If you have a smartphone you can download free geocaching apps. Visit www.geocaching.com for a list of geocaches and lots of advice.
7. READ THAT MAP
Like geocaching, orienteering can help make walks a bit more exciting and challenging, and is a brilliant way of improving your map-reading ability as GPS isn't allowed. Orienteering is a sport where competitors have to find their way between control points marked on a map. Although you can't actually compete in events with your dog, you can still have a lot of fun taking him along to permanent orienteering courses (POCs) where he will be welcome and you can hone your navigational skills. Most of the courses are designed for beginners, but some include more testing options for the more experienced.
There are many POC all around the country, such as those at Combe Hill Wood near Street, Somerset (www.combehillwood.co.uk), or at Langley Park in Buckinghamshire (www.friendsoflangleypark.co.uk). There are also a number in areas of woodland managed by the Forestry Commission (www.forestry.gov.uk) and you can find a list of others at www.britishorienteering.org.uk
8. AIM FOR A PERFECT SCORE
If you and your dog enjoy training together and would like to try competing but feel a bit daunted by traditional competitive obedience, rally might be right up your street. It involves navigating your way around a course with numbered signs which indicate various exercises to perform - such as making a left turn, or sending your dog over a small jump. Each round takes around three minutes and has about 15 different exercises to complete; every competitor starts with a perfect score of 200, from which points are deducted for any inaccuracies or errors. There are three levels to progress through, starting with Level 1 where dogs compete on a lead, and you are encouraged to talk to and praise your dog throughout the round. Find out more at www.thekennelclub.org.uk
9. GET SCAVENGING
For those who prefer a more low-tech approach to treasure hunting, a scavenger hunt can be fun for a group to take part in, and is very easy to organise. Having first been given a list of objects to find, and a time limit in which to gather them, owners and dogs all set off at the same time either as individuals, pairs, or in teams. The objects can be specific, such as a round stone, a yellow flower, or an acorn, or allow for a bit of ingenuity in interpretation, such as something shiny., sticky, or hard. The winner is the first person or team back with all the objects.
10. HIDE AND SEEK
Of course, you don't need to leave home to inject a bit more excitement in your dog's life. Leave your dog indoors while you hide a variety of different treats outside in the garden for him to find. Some can be left in obvious view, or you can create a trail of crumbs for him to follow to a series of small stashes of treats. Go with him and encourage him to hunt out the goodies - it doesn't take long for most dogs to catch on, and once he's got the idea you can start making it more difficult. Leave a few easy-to-find treats so he doesn't become discouraged, but others can be concealed under garden furniture, beneath a plastic plant pot, inside a cardboard box full of scrunched-up newspaper, wrapped in the folds of an old towel, or placed inside an interactive toy such as a Nina Ottoson pyramid. This will create a double challenge - first locating the treat, and then retrieving it.