Why You May Want to Stop Walking Your Dog
It's almost as if since the dawn of human and dog cohabitation, the idea that taking your dog on daily walks is a must. If you don't, your dog will misbehave, they won't get their energy out, you worry you'll be deemed a bad pet owner if you don't, or so you think. In fact, in my years of being a professional dog trainer, I have had many pet owners tip toe around the subject, and if asked they reluctantly tell me that they don't walk their dog "as much as I should" or they boast about the three daily walks their dog gets. Taking their dog for a walk has become, for many, the single most important thing a person can do for their dog. Well, allow me to inform you of just how wrong that can be.
Please note that if you take your dog for a walk and they proceed to nap once home, and they don't have negative reactions to triggers on their walks, and they seem confident while walking, then you can certainly continue to walk your dog. Your dog is doing just fine! However the information that follows can still be beneficial to your and your pet. If your dog doesn't do well on walks, doesn't nap when you get home, and doesn't seem confident while walking, then it's likely going to be best that you discontinue your walks for now.
I hope I haven't lost you yet! The idea of not walking your dog can seem so taboo to so many. I'm also not saying you should never walk your dog, I'm saying your idea of physical exercise may be preventing you from seeing other more fun and less stressful ways of providing your dog with the physical enrichment they need each day.
Let's first discuss why I don't recommend walking your pet in the traditional sense of the word. As a professional trainer who specializes in aggression/reactivity/anxiety behaviors all too often I find that the walks my clients are taking with their pets are making things worse for them. When training a dog and especially in behavior modification, we don't want your dog to perform the unwanted behaviors. The reason being is that if your dog is reacting out of fear, stress, anxiety, or frustration then they are likely to continue to perform these behaviors and they are likely to worsen over time. So naturally, we want to change the daily routine to set your pet up for success. One effective way of doing this, is by not walking your dog around the neighborhood. And on that note, walking a dog through a neighborhood can simply be too stimulating. Whether you have a reactive/aggressive dog or a new puppy, many times the busy streets, people out and about, various sounds, scents in the air, and more are causing more stress or frustration than anything else. If you have a dog who pulls excessively on the leash, jumps a lot, or bites at the leash, it's possible your dog or puppy is overstimulated.
When I'm working with a new client I almost always ask them to stop walking their dog around their neighborhoods. I ask for trust too! I know this can seem like a scary thing to do and many people are reluctant to give it a try. I completely understand this, but I also see the benefits it offers my students daily!
Now, let's discuss what you can do instead of taking your dog for a daily walk.
Decompression walks! These have all of the benefits of a typical walk with none of the negative consequences. Decompression walks allow your dog to simply do what dogs want to do: sniff, run, explore, be happy. Sometimes called a Sniffari, meaning you let your dog sniff to their hearts content. This is because nose work releases chemicals in your dog's brain to help relax them and build confident.
People (and dog) watch! Simply hang out in your front yard, at a park, or in a parking lot and watch people and dogs from a distance. If you are working on a behavior modification plan, this might be an excellent first step in your plan that you have already begun doing. Be sure to consult with your trainer or behaviorist before doing this if you are currently working on a behavior modification plan with a professional.
Play games! For some dogs playing with their owner can be extra special. Not only does it provide physical enrichment, it builds a positive bond between them and you. Fetch, tug, chase, frisbee, jumping through hoops, and so much more can be just what your dog needs. Note that not all dogs are playful and may not find joy in these activities like other dogs do. Be sure your dog truly likes the activity before playing with them.
Swim, hike, and play dates with their dog friends! Physical activity is important, and as mentioned before, walking may not even be what your dog needs physiologically or psychologically. Swimming (if your dog likes water), hiking (falls under decompression walks), and socializing with other dogs they know and get along with (not using a dog park or greeting on leash) are just a few physical activities your dog will enjoy instead of walking. Also, read this blog as to why dog parks won't likely help you and why it's best to find other means of socialization.
Mental enrichment! A very important, and yet overlooked, type of exercise dogs need is mental exercise. Using their brains to solve problems, find exciting things like food or toys, and learn new skills not only build confidence but also tire your dog out faster than physical enrichment can. For a more detailed breakdown of mental exercises you can do with your dog read this blog.
So much more! This list is not exhaustive and there are plenty of other fun and engaging activities you and your pet can do together that won't increase their stress by exposing them to their triggers. Below is a list of even more ideas you can explore!
There you have it! The many reasons why walking your dog may be hurting them more than helping them, and alternatives to help increase your bond and improve on your dog's overall behavior. I also want to remind you that walking your dog around the neighborhood is not inherently bad, and if you believe that your dog enjoys these walks, and they aren't exhibiting reactive/aggressive/fearful/frustrated behaviors during the walk, then by all means continue to do so.
My hope is that you explore other forms of physically exercising your dog and see just how much fun it can be and reap the benefits in the process!