Updated November 29, 2020
We all have different opinions on how much and how often dogs should be walked. Each of our three vets offers their opinion.
I think that dog walking is a key responsibility of dog ownership, by that I mean that walking your dog should be as much of a priority as feeding, grooming, cleaning up after them etc. I do appreciate that there are some circumstances where dog walking cannot happen due to health problems in us owners or serious health concerns in some pets. For the most part, however, the aim should be for your dog to have one walk a day. It makes me sad when clients tell me that their dogs don’t get out much.
I also think that you walk a dog to benefit the dog. They should be allowed to sniff and wee where they wish. I think that mental stimulation is key. I like to vary the route, the length and vary the outing. Most days we lead walk, occasionally we have a trip to O’Sullivans Beach or our local dog park. I aim for an hour a day but sometimes it can be as short as 20 minutes. Not all dogs will need an hour.
For those few dogs that can’t be walked due to various health problems, should still have outings, car rides, even time in the front yard if they usually sit in the back yard. I regularly see a lady sitting with her little old dog at the oval, their way of getting out of the house without the strain of walking. If you can’t manage a walk but can get to a dog park, try to occasionally take your dog to other Adelaide dog parks for variety.
I prioritise dog walking; it’s an essential part of my day like cleaning the kitchen and putting chlorine in the pool. Since having a baby, arranging a dog walk into my day has become for the most part easier, not just because I have more time now that I work part time but because I have become better at managing my time. All dog walkers should have the BOM rain radar bookmarked on their smart phone and if your dog pulls, read our article about no-pull dog harnesses.
Put yourself in your dogs shoes, how would you be confined to a yard or house 7 days a week, no job, no study, no television, radio or internet.
I think all dogs need to be walked. They all need the physical as well as the mental stimulation. However not all dogs need to be walked the same – the frequency, duration and pace can vary greatly between dogs and I think exercise requirements should be a major consideration when choosing a breed of dog. Some dogs are extremely energetic and/or intelligent – these need more walking, jogging, off lead exercise and possibly even more (consider agility!). While others, like my own (Great Dane), seem quite happy to take a quick walk around the block then cuddle on the couch.
While there’s nothing wrong with a routine, I think most dogs enjoy occasional changes, for instance, driving your dog somewhere different, then walking them there gives them an entirely new world of scents and visuals. Meeting a friend and walking together gives both you and your dogs time to socialise, or explore a new trail you haven’t been on before – make walking fun, not a chore.
Just a few points in regards to walking your dog –
If you find walking stressful due to pulling on the lead or aggression towards other dogs you should perhaps consider consulting a trainer (see our page at Dog Training). Keeping your dog locked in will not solve the underlying problem.
Small dogs need walking just as much as big ones; don’t be tempted to lift or carry your dog just because you can.
Older and arthritic dogs benefit from walks too and controlled, moderate exercise is a key to medical management of arthritis.
And finally, I believe that walking your dog contributes to your bond, and benefits your health as well as your dog’s so it’s really important, even with a busy lifestyle, to make time at least once a day for a walk.
If you take a survey of almost any suburban street and ask the residents where the dogs who bark a lot live you should see a correlation. These houses are often the same ones where you don’t ever see the dogs out walking.
Of course it’s not that simple; some dogs are very reactive to stimuli such as possums and birds, and there are some dog breeds that are prone to barking. However, the general opinion is that walked dogs bark less, especially if they have been started young.
One of the least favourite sayings I hear is “I don’t need to walk my dog because I have a big yard”. The next thing I ask is; “so what does your dog do all day?” Does he or she run and explore? The most common response is “He’s a lazy dog, he spends all day in bed”. However, I believe he spends all day in bed because he’s unstimulated, not lazy.
I believe dogs have a deep need for stimulation. My personal opinion is that we need to walk our dogs at least once a day, not so much for physical activity as mental stimulation. There is something about the dog’s sense of smell that is utterly fundamental to their sense of self in a way we unlucky humans will never understand. Unlike the other senses, smell is not governed by distant receptors and nerves but by a branch of the brain itself.
I believe the most important thing about a walk is the ability of a dog to be free to explore their environment using all five senses. A walk should also be long and energetic if possible, but any walk is better than none. If I have a very busy day I will occasionally just take my dogs around the block. As long as I give them the time to smell. hear, see, touch and taste they are much more settled for the day.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!