One of my least favorite conversations to have with clients is the one about walks. Our suburban, American culture is deeply committed to the concept of daily walks, and hearing that you need to temporarily stop walking the dog is scary. I think owners wrestle with internal guilt, fear of what other people will think, and horror at that their already difficult dog will become worse without a daily energy release.
As a professional trainer, I make the “no-walks” recommendation for a variety of reasons, but it’s always about getting the dog’s behavior changed for the better.
The recommendation is not cut the walks and do nothing else; it’s pause the walks and replace them with other forms of enrichment. We definitely want your dog to enjoy a good life, but we want to make sure the activities don’t create behavior problems and chronic stress or hyperactivity.
If neighborhood walks are out due to weather or training, here are some ideas of things you can do instead!
This is beneficial for all dogs, but is particularly valuable for the dog who isn’t taking neighborhood walks. Instead of feeding your dog from a bowl, use a food-dispensing toy or other work-to-eat approach:
Original Kong or other food dispensing toy (West Paw makes some good ones!)
Snuffle bin: save up your recyclables, dump them in a box, and then pour your dog’s kibble portion in. He’ll have fun hunting through the bottles and tubs for his dinner!
Scatter feeding: gently scatter your dog’s kibble portion in a section of your yard and then release him to sniff out his dinner. Sit outside with him and enjoy the activity together. As he gets better at this game, scatter it over a larger area. If your yard is treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers, put his kibble in a bunch of little open-topped containers and then place those around the yard.
Find It feeding. Crate, tether, or shut your dog in one room of the house. “Hide” little piles of kibble around the rest of the house, and then release him to “Find It!” As he gets better and better at finding the piles, make the hides less obvious and more challenging.
Going through the drive-through for a late night treat? Take Missy along! As long as your dog is neither anxious nor reactive in the car, this can be a great way to spice up her life.
SAFETY FIRST: 1) buckle your dog in using car tether and body harness, and 2) crack the windows instead of rolling them down all the way.
My clients who receive the no-walk-news always have other skills they’re working on indoors in prep for returning to walks. Practicing daily training with your dog helps keep him from going stir crazy, and gives you something enjoyable to do together. Increase the fun by picking a silly trick to learn! Emily Larlham (aka Kikopup) on YouTube has some great tutorials.
BONUS: Exploration Outings
For dogs with decent leash manners and no anxiety or reactivity (i.e. barking, lunging, growling) towards strangers, adventures to strip center parking lots and exteriors can be great fun. Your dog can enjoy exploring a new environment and you can relax a little more knowing it’s unlikely you’ll run into another dog.