I’ve wanted to say this out loud for so long, so I’ll say it again … I don’t walk my dogs and I’m a professional dog trainer. Oh sure I have walked my dogs –– gone on hikes, in public places, at events, at [training] classes … but regular, daily exercise such as walks down my street –– nope. My dogs don’t get those types of walks.
This blog post may compliment my blog post from quite a while back titled “Stop walking your dog.” If you’ve not read that you should read it when you have a moment, it’s lengthy but full of lots of great information and resources.
So, back to the topic of this post—My dogs and their lack of getting daily walks. Yeah. I know I must be a lazy dog owner right? … or maybe just a terrible dog owner—gasp! My dogs must be sad and fat, right? Actually, my dogs are quite the opposite of either of those. In the past 15 years I’ve had 5 personal dogs –– a Great Dane, a Labrador Retriever, a Jack Russell Terrier, an Australian Shepherd and a Beagle. None of them receive(d) regular daily walks. (I currently have the Aussie and the Beagle as the others have passed.)
Each of my dogs has (had) a fulfilled life because they are (were) mentally engaged far more than the average dog. They have (had) a lovely balance of, I’d say about 90% mental exercise and 10% physical exercise. Well, my Great Dane had only about 1% physical exercise, his choice completely of course! That guy adorned a couch far better than any throw blanket ever could! Alas, I digress . . .
Let's get something straight first — exercising your dog is not wrong and it is definitely beneficial to your dog. Hey, every living creature needs to get physically active in some way, including humans, right?! So, I'm not advocating for people to never exercise their dogs. I'm simply stating that exercise isn't the "fix" that so many dog owners have been led to believe it is. This includes behavior problems as well as weight problems. Yup. That's a whole other topic in itself (weight problems in healthy dogs). So, I'll save that for a different blog post.
The issue with most dogs today is that they are not mentally stimulated properly and/or enough. Yet, is has been drilled into dog owners’ heads that physical exercise will fix all the things! In fact, I find this to be such a myth it’s becoming a problem in the sense that people are trying to exercise their dogs to fix behavior issues and missing the boat completely. Of course, this isn’t by a fault of the owner. I get it. It’s been so ingrained in people’s minds that “an exercised dog is a tired dog and a tired dog is a good dog” that dog owners are attempting to achieve this, mostly with minimal success.
What I see most of today in the dogs I work with are stressed dogs, dogs riddled with anxiety, dogs with lack of boundaries and training, and dogs not set up to have their brains enriched in the way that they should. Please don't read this as me stating that dogs aren't being cared for properly. I'm simply stating what I see a lot of. Most, if not all of it, is by no fault of the dog's owner. People don't know what they don't know –– this is why I write this blog!
I see people who want to put forth all the time and energy to exercise their dogs. So much so that they almost have a resistance to setting up enrichment and would rather get out and walk or run their dogs. For some I know that it's the dog owner who sees it as a way for them to get out and exercise, and that's totally fine. It really is. Again, there is nothing wrong with exercising your dog or yourself! Obviously exercise is in fact important.
But what I often see are humans who are walking their dogs because they think if they don't they are a bad dog owner, or the dog won't be fulfilled, or the dog's behavior issues will be worse or, or, or ... The guilt of not walking their dog forces them to do it. I see a lot of dog owners who would quite honestly rather not walk their dog. So if that's you, then this is directed at you. You don't have to do it.
Let's also discuss dogs that do worse when walked. Yup those are out there too! There are dogs who stress more on walks than lying at home in their comfy bed. Some dogs are anxious or nervous or reactive to all the things. These dogs do not do well on walks and walks are not benefitting them in any way. They are actually likely increasing the stress and anxiety and making things far worse. These dogs do not need walks. (Note: You should hire a trainer to help if your dog has any of these issues, they deserve to live without stress or anxiety, even if it's just "a little bit".)
If you find solace in it or feel like it's something you really have to do and you have a dog suited for walking, by all means do it! Also, I'm not stating you shouldn't walk your dog ever.
Guess what? You don't have to walk your dog and some dogs will actually appreciate not going on a walk. You can stop walking your dog if it’s stressing you out and/or if it’s stressing your dog out. Stop if it’s not helping the issues you thought it would help. Stop if you dread it. Just stop if you just don’t feel like doing it that day, or every day. Just don’t. And don't feel guilty about it. It's going to be alright! You can make up for it in so many other ways. I promise!
WHAT YOU CAN DO INSTEAD OF DAILY WALKS
1. Train your dog in some capacity. Maintain the training. Do it regularly, not just one class here or there, or an in-home program and then nothing after that. A trained dog is a good dog, even better than a tired dog ... because a trained dog is a tired dog!
2. Take your dog camping or hiking as you see fit (if it suits you, your dog's temperament, and/or your schedule). I know that hiking is exercise but it's not a daily walk in your 'hood. This is actually a great form of enrichment for dogs that would be suited for this. (Note that not all dogs are well-suited for camping, also hiking should follow rules & other things. Good info for hiking with your dog here.)
3. Play with your dog. Tug? Ball? Fetch? Play with your dog is great, even better if you incorporate some impulse control exercises (drop, wait, go get it, sit, etc.) in with the play.
4. Provide mental enrichment & stimulation (see my blog post on this) This is your golden goose right here, and there are soooo many ways you can enrich your dog. My blog post explains many different ways to do this.
5. Work on relaxation exercises. Teach your dog to chill. (Great read on this here.) Many dogs that are amped up or energetic need more downtime not more exercise. I actually go into great detail in another blog post I wrote on this. You can read it here.
6. Let your dog sleep. Most dogs don't get enough sleep, just like humans! Did you know that dogs should sleep 16-20 hours a day, depending on age?! Interesting read on sleep in dogs here.
So, see - you're not a bad owner if you don't walk your dog regularly. There are tons of ways to meet your dog's needs. But, again, if you do enjoy walking daily or weekly with your dog by all means do that. Just note that adding in some of the above things to your dog's exercise routine will have increasingly great outcomes for your dog's mental and behavioral health!
Need help with some of the suggestions in this blog? Hire a professional to guide you in training and any other aspect of these things! Read my blog here on how to find the properly qualified professional for you and your dog!
This blog post was updated on December 27, 2021.
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Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas