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You’ve probably heard over and over that you have to walk your dog every day, and twice a day is best. I’m going to tell you right at the outset that I don’t do that for Janice and Leroy – not every day.
Now granted, when I get up early in the morning, and the sky is painted red and pink and orange, and the weather is fine, I’m very often disposed to take my two Boxers out, and wander our rural road before coming home for breakfast. It’s the same thing on pleasant evenings – we go out and take a stroll, looking at the sunset, and coming back home when the dusk begins to chase the sun away.
But do I walk them every day? Not a chance.
You see, there’s a big difference between not walking your dog, and not exercising your dog.
Janice, Leroy and I are regulars down at the dog park, and they have plenty of opportunities to run and play with other dogs. I also have a huge fenced-in yard where they can frolic to their hearts’ content. They get plenty of exercise, and I don’t feel that it has to be in the form of “formal” walking.
That said, regular exercise is extremely important. In 19 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Dog Walker, I told you about the time I broke my ankle, and wasn’t able to do much of anything in the way of exercising my dogs. Other than their usual forays into the back yard, they simply weren’t going to get enough exercise with me being incapacitated, so I had to find other ways to get them the activity they needed.
Fortunately, my friend Neila stepped in, and took Janice and Leroy out on walks with her Rottweilers. She could, however, have exercised them in other ways – playing fetch with them, visiting our regular dog park, or taking them down to the stream behind my house and letting them splash in the water until they wore themselves out. So, walking my dogs was great, but not walking my dogs could also have been okay.
Simply stated, your dog does not have to go on an actual, structured walk every day. There can be reasons for walking your dog, and reasons for not walking your dog. Sometimes (although not often) there can actually be very good reasons for not walking your dog.
There are good reasons why you might want to consider regular walks. If your dog is friendly, well-socialized and good with people and other dogs, there’s no reason not to take him for walks. Many dogs love the opportunity to socialize, and if your dog is in that category, by all means, give him the opportunity to get out there, meet friendly humans, sniff butts and so on.
On the other hand, if your dog is fearful of people or other animals, it might be best to forego the walk. Rescue dogs, for example, sometimes fall into this category. If you have a rescue dog, it’s possible that he came from a puppy mill, and he’s not socialized.
He could also have been dumped at a shelter because his previous owner had no idea how to train him, and therefore he behaved badly on walks. It’s not his fault, but if you take him on walks, it’s just going to reinforce the bad experience he had – the shouting, the yanking on the leash, and everything else that just made the walk a miserable experience. If you insist on a walk, you’re just going to bring back bad memories, and it’s not likely to be a good experience for your dog, or for you.
Another reason for not walking your dog would be if he’s a “resource guarder” – in other words, a dog that is going to guard his territory, his treats, and his human. He’ll be “on alert” all the time, and totally stressed out. Both of you will be constantly alert for other dogs, and potential conflict, and you’ll both be stressed.
Simply stated, putting a fearful dog or a resource guarder into a situation where other dogs could be present can be dangerous. Don’t put your dog in a situation where he feels uncomfortable.
If your dog does have behavior issues, it might be better to consider exercise in the form of an “outing” instead of walking. If your dog is fearful or not entirely socialized, it might be best, at least in the short term, to keep him away from other dogs and from humans.
Take him somewhere that you won’t find many distractions – an empty parking lot, a country road, a baseball diamond where no game is being played – and work with him. Do a bit of basic obedience training. Then, once your dog has an understanding of basic commands like “Sit,” “Stay” and “Heel,” you can venture out and try for a bit more interaction with other dogs and humans.
Your dog will still get plenty of exercise without being taken on a walk where he’s going to encounter things that will distract or disturb him.
I hate cell phones.
Okay, so now you’re wondering, what does that have to do with walking, or not walking, your dog?
Believe me, “I hate cell phones” was not a non-sequitur. Here’s the thing – I see people all the time, every single day, who simply can’t take their eyes off their phone. They step off the curb and into traffic, they trip over their own feet, and they bump into other people, all because they simply can’t seem to look up from that tiny little screen.
When people are obsessed with their cell phones, they’re not paying attention to their dogs. And when people aren’t paying attention to their dogs, bad things can happen – a dog can slip his leash and run into traffic, encounter another dog that his human hasn’t noticed, react badly to another human (who also hasn’t been noticed), and so on.
If you can’t put your phone away and focus on what’s going on, then you should not be walking your dog. Find other ways to get your dog the exercise he needs. Enough said.
If the only way you have of exercising your dog is to take him for a walk, but it’s not going well, you might consider consulting a professional trainer.
I have the luxury of not having to walk my dogs because I live in a rural area, and I have plenty of other ways of getting Janice and Leroy the exercise they need. If you live in an urban area, though, a vigorous walk around the neighborhood might be your only option. If your dog doesn’t react well to humans, or to other dogs, and you find that you’re at a loss as to how to deal with the issue, often a professional can work with your dog to correct the problem.
There can be very good reasons for not walking your dog. It might be that your dog simply isn’t ready to encounter other dogs and strange humans, or it might be that your dog gets more than enough exercise in other ways. The main thing here, I think, is to know when walking is needed, and when other ways of getting exercise can be equally appropriate.
Walking, or not walking, your dog is often an individual decision. Personally, I think that the people who say that you absolutely must take your dog on a structured walk (or two) each and every day are missing the point. The idea is to exercise your dog, not to try to fit his life into a pre-conceived regimen.
Do you walk your dog daily? If not, why not? Do you have reasons for not walking your dog other than the ones I’ve offered, or reasons why you think regular walks are absolutely essential? Leave a comment.