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  • Writer's pictureBrienne Carey

Stop Walking Your Dog!

Young puppy in the snow learning to walk on lead.
Puppy learning to walk on lead.

I know, it's a crazy concept. Aren't dogs meant to be walked? Haven't we all been told they need an x amount of walks per day for an x length of time? "Drain their energy!" " A tired dog is a happy dog!"

So you're out there, dutifully walking your dog according to things we've heard and been told. But should we be?

There are many things to consider when it comes to walking your dog. Do you have a new puppy who has never seen a leash before and has no idea how to walk on lead? Do you have a dog that refuses to leave the house? Do you have a dog with endless energy? Do you have a dog that reacts to every animal

and human it sees? These are all dogs that we should think twice before walking. Yes, even the ones with endless energy!

There are certain skills a dog needs in his or her arsenal before they are ready for walks. And it's our privilege as their pet "parent" to help teach them these life skills. When we think of a dog walking pleasantly on lead, what do we notice? These dogs are calm, they choose to stay close, and they are not easily distracted by things in the environment such as squirrels, blowing leaves, and other dogs. The skills needed are therefore calmness, proximity, focus, and disengagement. If you have a dog that either reacts to everything or refuses to walk, we need to add in the skill of confidence. It's a scary world out there and they need to know we have their backs!

We start by building these skills indoors, in a quiet environment with minimal distractions. There are specific games we can play with our dogs that teach all these skills in a fun and relationship-building way. It's also extremely important for our dogs to learn the value of doing nothing. Those bouncy, hyper, energetic dogs? Walking more, playing more, etc, simply builds endurance. They'll need to walk longer, play harder, and so on to be fulfilled. It is so much better if they can learn to simply be. Excellent calming activities can be things like long-lasting chews, lick mats, snuffle mats, and scent games. It's also beneficial to reward them when they are calm.

As for building the other skills, there are games like Two Feet On, Paint the Town Red, the Orientation Game, Nose Touch, Middle, FUNder, Noise Box, the Pattern Game, and so on. Once they know the games, we can play them in different rooms and out in the yard. Introduce the leash and harness and start with short walks with the games interspersed. Keep it short, fun, and easy. We can slowly lengthen the walks as our dogs gain confidence in using their new skills. The process works - I've helped bouncy dogs walk calmly, scared dogs leave the house happily for walks around the block, and reactive dogs ignore the goings-on around them so they can move forward without barking and lunging.

Oh, and those hot summer days or cold winter months or when either our dog or ourselves are dealing with an injury? It's still okay to say no to walks! You know games you can play, you have a calmness protocol implemented, and you can always add in fitness for dogs! As long as your dog's needs are being met, you and your dog can enjoy a walk-free lifestyle whenever and however long you need. There are dogs out there living their best lives, with no walks required.

For more in-depth information and the how-to's in this brief blog post, I highly recommend the book, "Stop! Walking Your Dog" by Niki French:

Black dog touches muzzle to girls hand.
Teddy the Labrador learning Nose Touch.


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