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Stop Walking Your Dog, Do This Instead

Stop Walking Your Dog, Do This Instead

I rarely walk my dog.

Because I’m a trail runner, I run with him, but even when injuries stop me from running, I still don’t walk my dog.

In fact, many dog trainers I know don’t walk their dogs.

Personally, I find dog walks boring and stressful. My dog finds dog walks boring and stressful.

I also don’t find that they sufficiently meet most dogs’ physical and mental requirements compared to alternatives.

So, what do I recommend instead of a dog walk that not only meets those biological needs, but also tires out your dog, and builds your relationship?

There are tons of fun alternatives to walking your dog, and here’s what I do with my dog.

Why I Tell Clients to Stop Walking Their Dogs

Let me first begin by stating that there is nothing wrong with dog walks.

If you enjoy them and walking your dog is your motivation to get your own body moving, then I think that’s super!

As an active person with an active breed, they’re just not my cup of tea. 

And, as a trainer who has worked with many, many dogs I can tell you that few dogs get a lot of benefit from a dog walk, unless it’s a training walk.

Geez, why all the hate on dog walks, Jen?

Here’s my take on why I think you should stop walking your dog.

They’re stressful

My dog has a lot of triggers in urban settings, including, but not limited to: other dogs, people with the gall to get out of their car or house, GARBAGE TRUCKS, MOTORCYCLES, delivery trucks.

The list goes on.

While I very regularly will go on training walks to purposely work my dog around these triggers, when we’re out on a walk and they just appear (always one right after the other, of course), the walk becomes stressful for the both of us.

It’s not fun and now my dog is reacting to every little thing.

I want to go home. He wants to go home. 

I’d much rather brave the unmanaged off-leash dog on the trail or chance a bear encounter than be on the alert for urban triggers any day.

Dog walks don’t meet most dogs’ exercise needs

Ever heard the one where the dog owner says they walk their dog for two hours every single day and they still have too much energy?

Let’s break that down.

If you’re walking your dog for two hours per day, you’re only building an endurance athlete. The more you exercise them, the stronger the endurance. They can keep going longer and longer without tiring.

Let’s take my own endurance dog as an example. Sitka joins me on all of my training runs. I’d say I average about 35 miles per week, with lots of climbing. Sitka definitely runs more than that because he goes back and forth, so let’s say he averages 40 miles per week.

Sure, after my long weekend runs, he’s pretty tired, but for the most part, those runs do not do a whole lot in terms of “burning off all his energy.”

I take two rest days each week, and so does Sitka, but he’s not bouncing off the walls. 

Here’s why:

  • I’ve taught him to have an off-switch by teaching him place, implementing structure at home, and by creating a calm environment indoors.
  • We try to train for at least 10 minutes daily
  • Throughout the week, I fulfill all of his physical and biological needs

Now, on the days I do trailing work with Sitka, we’ll do maybe a 10 to 15-minute manhunt where he has to use his nose to find the hidden person, that dog is toast. 

I’m talking tongue hanging as far down as gravity allows, flopped over on his side panting, and napping through all the motorcycle sounds.

That, my friends, is a tired dog!

Ok, now that I’ve painted that picture, let’s talk about some different activities you can do with your dog to really sap off that energy!

7 Activities to Do Instead of Walking Your Dog

The benefit of many of these activities is that they don’t take a lot of time! 

More is not always more!

Think about a 20-minute HIIT workout compared to an hour-long chill yoga class. 

Which one will leave you feeling more tired afterward? 

The HIIT workout! 

And, it’s the workout that keeps on burning because it jumpstarts your metabolism! That’s why I love them when I’m short on time (and don’t get me wrong, I also really enjoy a long yoga session, too)

So, if you’re short on time, then many of the following activities will do the job!

Scent Work

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing trailing and tracking work with Sitka and it is way, way fun.

Basically, this entails Sitka finding a hidden person. The person takes off five to 10 minutes before we head out on the search and Sitka must use his nose and the scent in the air to locate the person.

When he finds them, he’s rewarded with lots of praise and food. If he’s got more juice in him, then we do it again!

We’ve also been doing scent detection work for firearms and will soon be working on explosives.

After just five to 10 minutes of work, he is so zonked. 

I love this type of activity because it’s purposeful and it works his brain like nothing else.

Once he’s nailed down the scents, we can be hired out to find explosives or firearms at places like schools and festivals. 

Training

If I am ever out walking my dog, we are almost certainly training or on our way to the park to train.

We are almost always training!

It’s how we maintain our basic obedience skills and it gives me an opportunity to work on generalizing Sitka’s commands in different environments. 

We’ll do things like place in public, work on loose leash walking skills around distractions, or practice obedience around other dogs.      

I simply take my dog’s daily amount of food and we get to work on generalizing commands and exposing him to the triggers he finds offensive.

Proprioception work

Put simply, proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body in space. 

For animals and humans alike, the nerves in our muscles and joints communicate with our brain as we move over uneven terrain. The proprioception system informs the brain how much stress or strain to put on a joint or muscle.

All of this translates to our proprioceptive quotient (PQ). The higher the PQ, the higher the dog’s capacity to learn, response to fight or flight instincts, tolerance to stress, and more.

Because many urban dogs spend so much time in backyards or walking on leash on sidewalks, they have low PQ, which can result in injuries, reactivity, and low capacity to learn.

Fortunately, working in proprioception work is easy peasy!

Here are several ways to build your dog’s PQ:

  • Take them to a children’s playground (sans kiddos) and use a leash to lead them up and over stairs, steps, and other surfaces. Try to get them to move really slowly in order to use each leg individually.
  • Participate in agility
  • Take them for off-leash hikes on a variety of textures (sand, dirt, rocks, etc.) and let them (as long as they’ve got that recall down!)
  • Have them hop onto rocks and walk down logs on trails

Engaged Play

Nothing makes me more sad than when a dog owner tells me that they never play with their dog!

Play is the best bang for the buck activity to do with your dog!

Here’s why:

  • Your dog is getting exercise (and so are you!)
  • You can incorporate training into the mix (ask for behaviors and play as the reward)
  • You build toy drive, which gives you more options for use of rewards in positive reinforcement training
  • You grow your bond with your dog by playing with them

What is engaged play, exactly?

It means going beyond just tossing your dog a toy to play with by themself. It’s more than just playing tug with your dog. Engaged play means igniting your dog’s prey drive.

You want to move the tug away from your dog, rather than toward them. As we say in the dog training world, “rabbits don’t jump into wolves’ mouths,” meaning prey are not suicidal.

Michael Ellis has a great video explaining how to play with your dog in a way that sparks that prey drive.

Fetch

Fetch is another great bang for the buck activity. Like play, it not only works the body, but you can also work the mind by adding in some training work.

I love using fetch to teach recall and impulse control. I start out with several rounds of plain fetch before asking for behaviors. Then, I might ask for some basic obedience and release my dog to chase as the reward.

For impulse control, I might recall or down my dog while he’s mid-chase or I’ll make him hold a sit or a down as I toss the toy, then release him to go get it.

Dog doesn’t play fetch? Start out on a long line and make the throws very short, recall your dog and bring them back into you using the leash. 

Free Shaping

Free shaping is one of my favorite ways to engage with my dog! Not only is it super fun, but it doesn’t take much time at all and gets your dog’s brain working hard.

In order to do a free shaping exercise, you must have your marker charged and your dog must be food motivated. This will not work otherwise, so if you’ve not yet charged your marker, spend a few weeks doing that first.

Free shaping is a bit like the hot and cold game. You pick a behavior that you want your dog to perform, and mark and reward each time they progress toward that behavior. 

You’re basically breaking the behavior into small chunks and rewarding for each chunk to let your dog know that they’re on the right track.

As an example. If I want Sitka to run around a cone, I would place a cone at the end of the room. 

I would let him know we’re starting the game by saying, “are you ready?”

As soon as he moves in the direction of the cone, I click and reward. He’d come back to me for his food, and ideally head back toward the cone.

This time, I click and reward after he’s a bit closer to the cone.

Eventually, I’ll click and reward for touching the cone, then moving to one side of the cone, etc.

Once he’s performed the behavior a few times, then I name it. I could call this cone game “around.” When I say “around” Sitka must go around the cone in order to receive his food.

The less stuff in the picture the better because then your dog will only have one option.

High Cardio Activities

Again, while there is nothing wrong with walking, I much prefer to engage in high cardio activities with my dog.

You already know that I run with my dog, but we also enjoy other high cardio activities, including:

  • Mountain biking
  • Skijoring
  • Swimming
  • Hiking

What activities do you enjoy with your dog besides walking?

I think you should stop walking your dog. Uh what? Read the article to see why and learn what I recommend instead.

Leah Wolfe

Wednesday 14th of February 2024

If you are walking your dog in a stressful environment, then yes, it will be stressful; but it's a big world out there with lots of not-stressful places to take them while they are learning walk skills and learning about the world. But at some point, even if it's just from the front door to the car, a dog will encounter parts of human society that are noisy, scary, etc. We can't just lock them away from it, and even the best management can fail.

Avoiding walks in stressful places is important while dogs are learning, but avoiding walks altogether because they're hard doesn't help dogs manage their issues with their environments, and it doesn't allow them the benefits of walking, which are way beyond exercise. We can't ignore the reactions to triggers, as that can cause problem behaviors in other situations.

If we're not helping them deal with things that are troubling, we aren't addressing problem behaviors, and we aren't teaching alternate behaviors. Ignoring behaviors is about as useful as suppressing them, which is garbage handling at best. Yes, it is important to train and learn away from the dog's stressors, but measured exposure at the right time in the right way will usually be necessary. And that should always be with the help of a certified, behavior-trained, R+ professional and be part of a larger program to help the dog because we can't just manage our way through. Management is important, but it will always fail in an unpredictable world.

Yes, we should provide other outlets for activity, but they should generally be dog-centered and dog chosen. Dogs must have species-specific and enriching activity, but they first must have agency to choose which activities they do.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 14th of February 2024

Hey there again, Leah. Nowhere in my article did I say that the world is not filled with stressful encounters. Nowhere in my article did I say that we should ignore fears and behaviors and avoid them completely. What I said is that it makes walks unpleasant and there are better alternatives that work on obedience, behavior, relationship building, AND better fulfill your dog's needs. I've put in thousands of hours and repetitions on structured walks with my dog who has a host of triggers. Can he handle them most of the time, sure, because I have taught him how to work through them and manage his reactions, but if you live in a city with constant noise and it's not fun and stressful for the dog and the owner why would I go for a walk when I can do something way more fun and engaging? Can you please explain to me how management around triggers will always fail? What does that even mean? Our reactions to any stress is ALL about how we manage our response. I'm also really curious to know what you mean by allowing dogs to have agency to choose which activities they do? You mean through pushing buttons on a board? Or do you mean your dog talks to you in English and says, "hey ma, I'd love to go for a walk today." A reactive dog that clearly hates the walk or clearly hates going to the dog park, but whose owner does it anyway because THEY want to do it, is literally the dog begging NOT to do that activity. It's up to the owner to actually listen.

Rika

Saturday 14th of October 2023

Strange. Most Europeans road their dogs with a bicycle if they can't walk their dogs.

Jen Sotolongo

Wednesday 8th of November 2023

I don't quite understand what you're trying to say here.