I don’t walk my dogs. I have 3 dogs, and I don’t walk them. Most dogs don’t enjoy walking in a neighborhood, and mine are certainly no exception. When I tell this to many of my clients their jaws hit the floor.
“You have to walk your dog for them to be happy!”
“He’s so excited to go for a walk! I can’t take that away from him!”
Both of these statements are probably false. (There are those dogs who are emotionally and physically stable enough to enjoy a walk around the neighborhood. Those dogs are the exception to the rule!)
Let’s take a look at a few things I’ve learned to look for to determine if your dog actually enjoys their walk in the neighborhood.
She is not Reactive
Can you get through a whole walk without your dog barking at anything? Not a dog behind a fence, not a person coming out of their house, not a goose on the sidewalk. I find that dogs who bark at stuff are actually prepared for something to come and get them. They are terrified to be on their leash, tethered to you and unable to escape the things that are going to eat them alive.
He can take food while on a walk
There is a bit more to this than just eating food. Can your dog eat kibbles or lower value treats while out on a walk? Is he taking treats gently? If you drop food on the ground, can he use his nose quickly to find the food? If your answer is no, then maybe reevaluate how much your dog actually enjoys your neighborhood. He maybe feeling a little overwhelmed.
She knows you exist at the other end of the leash
Does your dog check in with you while you are out? Do they look back to see if you are coming too? If you talk to them do they respond? Do they respond to leash pressure? Most people find they are just an anchor at the end of the leash, preventing their dog from exploring all the really interesting stuff in the middle of the neighbors yards.
You can put on their leash or harness without drama
Do you find that you are chasing your dog around in circles or dealing with a bunch of barking before you go out? Is your dog trying to climb the walls while you get them dressed? This might be a temper tantrum because they actually don’t want to go, and they know you are going to make them go. This often looks like excitement to leave the house, when really they are scared and trying to tell you they would rather not.
Why I don’t walk my dogs. Case Studies:
Pixie: Is terrified of life. I have tried numerous times to get her comfortable being on a leash in many different environments, and she can’t do it. She has soft stools, can’t take food gently, stress pants, and otherwise wants to get back in the car as fast as possible regardless of where I take her. She has also been attacked by numerous loose dogs while on walks and approached by terrifying people. At this point, the experiences she would gain from going for a walk, would just make her aversion to being on a leash that much worse.
Opie: Opie is the best boy, and he can go for a walk, but for him they are boring. There are no people who want to pet him, no critters to chase, and no dogs to be friends with. He can take food gently, he responds to leash pressure, and puts his harness on without much drama. He would rather play some training games with me, visit with people at a trial, or go swimming at the park than walk by my side down the street.
Cargo: Some of you may remember that I forgot to teach this puppy how to walk on a leash. That’s been our training goal the last few weeks. While she still finds walks boring and a bit stressful because the other dogs bark at her, neighborhood walks are becoming a “job” for her and she is falling into “work mode.” If we were in “work mode” every day we would lose it. (Vacations are necessary!) Same with our dogs.
Note: these are not all the things I observe, but the most common.
So what do we do instead?
Our walks are hikes in the woods where they can go swimming, chase skinks and sniff all the grass they want to sniff! (Pixie doesn’t leave the house and she’s fine) We play training games, and puzzle toys. They each have a conditioning plan that we try to stick to to make sure no one gets too fat and lazy. On the surface this seems really difficult to get in. Truthfully, after a little tweaking and planning ahead it becomes automatic. Give it a try! Replace your neighborhood walks with a puzzle or a hike in a park or big open field. Let us know what changes you have observed!