All dogs need physical exercise and mental stimulation (and fun and love and great relationships with us of course!). But how often should you walk your dog? And how long should you walk them for?
They do need to spend time outside, to get natural daylight, sniff lots of smells and get their feet on grass.
How often and how much you ‘should’ walk your dog is highly variable. Some breeds are obviously much more active, and some are naturally much more lazy. But even the really active types and breeds can have too much of a good thing.
But what even is a walk?
A walk is actually a human invention (and can be a bit dull for our dogs if we don’t try to make it interesting for them). Wild dogs didn’t walk in a straight line, at a consistent slow pace once or twice a day. They trotted and sprinted when they need to find food. Sniffed and scavenged for food. Played with their siblings. Then slept for quite a lot of the time.
We want our dogs to be stimulated and exercised, but not over-stimulated. Even the dogs that like lots of exercise can get overly excited, or even stressed by too much of a good thing. If you find that your dog’s poop is fine at the start of a walk and then gets soft, or even runny, towards the end of your walk, this can be a sign of over-stimulation that is affecting their gut.
It could help to reduce the length of walks and/or replace some of the walk with games at home.
“I’m very busy Monday to Friday for anything other than quick walks around the block. Can I make up for it at the weekends?”
Trying to give our dogs really long and exhausting walks to make up for not much walking during your working week can place a physical strain on your dog’s body.
But it is a really great thing to explore difference places. This makes it more interesting for both of you.
Having other things you can do instead of a traditional walk is really valuable. And useful for when you’re stretched for time.
Why wouldn’t you walk your dog?
Here are a few reasons why you might not walk your dog.
- Sometimes the weather is too hot or too cold. Or they really just don’t like the rain.
- What if you are incapacitated through injury or illness and can’t walk and don’t have anyone else to step in.
- If you have a bitch in season, you might not want to run the risk of a male dog intervention!
- Perhaps your dog has decreasing mobility due to old age or illness. You still want them to lead an enriched life.
- Times when you need to be on a long work zoom and can’t take your dog out when you normally would.
- If you’ve got a new dog, especially a rescue dog, giving them time to settle in without a lot of additional stress or excitement for a few weeks can really help. Too many rescue dogs slip their collar or harness and bolt in fear on early walks.
- For periods of time in pandemic ‘lockdown’ in the UK, and elsewhere in the world, we were restricted on how many times and how far we could go out.
- You’ve got a new puppy. You don’t have to be in a rush to get a collar on them and get them out of the front door. Spending time growing your relationship with them at home for a few days or weeks and developing the skills they need to enjoy a walk will really pay off.
An extra word on puppies
It is very easy for puppies and young dogs to strain and injure themselves by doing too much. Their bodies are still growing. Don’t think that they are going to know when they have had enough physically and mentally. You need to be the sensible one and pop them back on the lead after a short burst of boisterous activity!
What else would I do other than take them for a walk?
I am not advocating you swapping walks for sitting and binge watching the latest Netflix series! You do need to do something else with your dog instead.
Having a number of ways to be able keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated at home can be so useful. And it often only needs some of their normal daily food and things you’ll find in your recycling or around the home.
How about a simple scent game of finding some tasty treats or a favourite toy around the home?
Can you use some of their daily food allowance in a more imaginative way than in a bowl? How about using a lick mat, stuff a stuffable toy, scatter feed their dry food on your kitchen floor or patio, or give them a long lasting chew?
Do you have a dog that struggles with anxiety and gets nervous when out on walks. Perhaps they are nervous or reactive around other dogs, strangers, children, busy places, or loud noises. Exposing them every day to situations that they find challenging won’t help them to get more used to it.
For these situations, I’m a big fan of ditching the walks for an afternoon, a couple of days, or even longer for some dogs. There is even a new awareness day #dontwalkyourdogday on 2nd April 2022. Let’s raise awareness and swap a walk out for something else with our dogs.
If you need to stop walking your dog…
You can replace walks with games inside at home, or your garden, or balcony. You may be surprised just how tiring a short burst of games and some sniffing, or licking, or chewing can be. If you normally take your dog for a 1 hour walk, 30 minutes of structured games will honestly be more tiring for them.
Please note – I am not suggesting repeated throwing of a ball in the garden.
For all dogs, playing short bursts of three to 15 minutes of fun training games several times a day is a great way to boost your relationship with them. As well as really making a difference to any behaviour struggles you might be having. All in the time it takes to boil the kettle and make a cuppa.
I want you to enjoy playing a few minutes of training games with your dog every day. It shouldn’t feel like a chore, but a fun part of having a dog in your life. Want to boost recall, stop your dog from pulling, or barking at strangers? The right games can change everything!
For ideas to get you started on how to occupy your dog when you don’t take them for a walk, why not check out my Amazon Best Seller book STOP Walking Your Dog. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.
I’d love to know about your experiences of walks with your dog. Please reach out to me on social media @puptalk101.
I’m Niki French and I’m a dog-mad, people-loving dog trainer! I‘m a Pro Dog Trainer, podcaster and author and I love working with people to get real-life results for anxious, nervous, and over-excitable dogs.