Walking your dog can feel like a necessary chore, a part of being a responsible dog owner. But there are lots of reasons this task can become stressful, frustrating, or not possible. Good news! You don’t have to take your dog for that neighborhood walk, as long as you can meet their needs in other ways.
Why Are You Walking Your Dog Anyway?
For some households, the dog needs to be walked to go to the bathroom. You might also be trying to provide exercise. Or you are going somewhere yourself and want your dog to come along. Maybe you only walk your dog because you think you have to.
What can a walk provide for a dog? Some of the main benefits of a walk for a dog (beyond pottying) are mental stimulation, the opportunity to sniff and explore, the excitement of novel or interesting places, and a chance to share a fun experience with you. Importantly, these benefits don’t have to come from a leashed walk around the neighborhood.
Why Skip the Walk?
If you and your dog enjoy your walks together, great! You may still want to have some backup ideas for meeting those needs, should something happen that limits your ability to go out (like weather, illness, injury, etc).
However, for some people and dogs, walks are not a pleasant experience. There can be fear and stress on both ends of the leash if, for example, your dog lunges and barks when they see other dogs or people. Some dogs get overwhelmed by the environment and don’t want to walk, leaving owners feeling frustrated and guilty. Or maybe you are struggling to get your dog to walk in “the right way” next to you and feel like you have to use strict training to get them to behave. Finally, some people and their dogs can’t feel safe on their walks, maybe because of off-leash dogs or other hazards of the neighborhood.
How to Skip the Walk
If walks with your dog are stressful, scary, frustrating, or just not fun, it’s okay to skip them! The most important thing is giving your dog those things that a walk can provide, but you can do that in different ways than the neighborhood walk.
There are lots of ways to make staying at home fun for your dog. This post includes ideas for incorporating mental stimulation, sensory engagement, and physical exercise at home.
Off-leash exploration can be a great way to get all the benefits of a walk while minimizing the challenges. Sniffspot.com is a great resource for finding places for dogs to explore and run, without other people and dogs around.
You might also decide not to fully skip leash walking but to change the environment in a way that helps your dog. Change your walking route, skip challenging locations, or drive to areas where there are fewer triggers for your dog’s behavior.
Ways of Making Walks More Pleasant
If you’re not ready to give up neighborhood walks or you still need to take your dog out to potty, here are some tips for making walks more pleasant for everyone involved.
Choose Your Time and Place Wisely
Nearly all neighborhoods have busier and quieter times or areas. Do your best to avoid peak dog walking times and seek out quiet areas where others don’t go. During off hours, schools, churches, and office buildings may provide some space for exploring with fewer distractions.
Make Use of the Right Equipment
Ideally you’ll also work on using positive reinforcement to train your dog so they can be more polite and confident on walks. However, that will take time and won’t happen overnight. Good walking equipment can help balance the strength of the dog and the strength of the human, making it physically easier to walk them.
Front-clip (or “no pull”) harnesses are a good choice for many dogs because they change how easy it is for dogs to pull, without being comfortable or painful. Most dogs are comfortable wearing them without any extra training. Alternatively, a head halter that goes around the dog’s head, instead of their neck, can give you lots of extra control. These need to be introduced slowly to make sure the dog is comfortable though.
Avoid collars that are designed to punish pulling, such as choke chains, pinch or prong collars, or electronic collars. These have a risk of increasing fear or stress and there are better options so that risk isn’t necessary.
Be Ready to Reinforce
You can get started with training your dog very quickly by simply carrying special treats with you and giving them to your dog. Look for moments when your dog is relaxed, not pulling, looking at you, looking calmly at other things, anything that you would be happy to see more of! At first, keep the bar low so your dog can succeed easily. Your goal is to spot opportunities to give out those treats, not withhold them.
Take Your Time
To make the most of a walk, encourage your dog to slow down and sniff. This is both excellent mental stimulation and can also lower stress. Sniffing time is one of the best things you can give your dog on a walk.
Look for interesting areas that you suspect might have smells to investigate and guide your dog there. Give them time to sniff; try not to rush them away just because you want to keep moving. If your dog doesn’t seem interested in sniffing, try scattering some treats on the ground to help them.
When possible, let your dog choose which direction to go. While not always practical for safety, giving your dog some choice and control can be very beneficial for their confidence and well being.
Don’t Walk Your Dog, Walk For Your Dog
Time spent with your dog can be a wonderful thing for both of you. Instead of viewing walking your dog as a chore to be completed, meet their needs while maximizing enjoyment for both of you. It may look different than you expected, but it is time well spent.
If your dog has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.