I decided to attack this matter not because I think most people don't walk their dogs but because sometimes it seems to me walks are not seen neither beneficial or important to the dog. I am sure all of us have heard ”5 minutes running free is worth 30 minutes walking in the leash” by now, but is it so? What does just a regular old walking in the leash give to the dog and why every dog would benefit going for a walk every day?
Dogs are animals that like to travel. Wild dog packs walks around their territory daily in search of food. This is natural behavior for the dog. No matter a domestic dog living in the family doesn't have to search for it's food around the town it still has the factory built need to travel if it's given the chance. They sniff around, mark their path, stop to stare where ever they saw something interesting. World with all it's things and smells and sounds is like an amusement park to them.
All those smells!
Smells matter more to dogs than anything else. Sighthounds rely on their sight while they hunt and they are more prone to investigate things they see than my non-sighthound dogs, but every dog trusts it's nose as it's most important sense. Smells even have a very important part in their social life. They smell each other to have an idea of who the other is. They smell strange people. They smell odd things they know nothing agout. They go snout first wherever they go, because their nose tells them more than any other sense they have.
While walking the dog meets a whole new world of smells. While free running preferably in open space answers to the need of exercise and while dogs stop to smell things even then, travelling forward and smelling the messages of other dogs, tracks left by prey animals and whatever the surroundings have to offer stimulate the mind in a whole another level. Based on my experience it also calms the dog down and makes it react better to for example training later. Sniffing all that information in and processing it's meaning and source calms the dog's mind. It has to focus. Letting the dog use it's nose in this way often helps the most energetic dogs to be a little less excited about everything all the time.
Just like with people, dogs like to experience things. While some people, like me, would enjoy hours after hours just laying on bed and staring out of the window, most would eventually get bored. This is exactly what happens with dogs, also. They get bored. They like to experience things. Walking to new places gives the dogs something to do. All the best if after the walk they can let out some steam by running!
While meeting other dogs and people during walks may not be that social, just passing them by, those meetings still stimulate the mind. Dogs are able to figure out many things about the passing by group by just sniffing the air or walking along their tracks to where they came from. These wild, unexpected encounters are interesting and one can often see the dog tense up and get excited when it smells the tracks of another dog. Whenever they find a place that holds many messages by other dogs, it's like visiting a very active forum. Let them sniff it out and maybe answer some date invites. It's not like they (usually) lead to any ACTUAL dates.
If you have a playful dog and just happen to meet another playful, social dog, maybe they can share a play (if the owners agree, obviously). This too adds to the effect of enriching the dog's mind when walking.
Answering the dog's needs as a dog is equally if not even more important than answering it's needs as a member of a certain breed. Dogs are first of all dogs, second of all dogs from a certain breed/breed mix and third of all individuals. Filling the needs of a dog helps to understand the extra needs of a dog from the breed Italian Greyhound, and when you know the needs of a dog that is an Italian Greyhound you are less likely to miss the individual needs of Max, the Italian Greyhound. These needs obviously overlap, but it's important to understand we can't fill the needs of Max if we don't understand that Max is an Italian Greuhound, and we can't understand what is an Italian Greyhound if we don't know what is a dog.
This leads us back to travelling. Dogs like to travel, experience the world and it's smells. Even if you let your dog run on the same field or yard every day hours straight if it can't travel and sniff new things, that need is never fulfilled. If the dog is exercised and trained and it's mind is stimulated, it can still be a happy dog!
But would a walk ADD to it's life? Yes, it would.