You could be walking your dog more. But if the idea of getting to the dogs evening walk after getting home from work and getting dinner on the table isn't something you look forward to, your not alone. Building and maintaining a good walking habit is hard, but your dog will thank you for it in the long run.
Dogs that go on regular walks are happier, healthier, and more mentally stimulated than dogs that spend all their time cooped up indoors. Once you get into the habit of regularly walking your dog, you might even find yourself enjoying it more than you thought.
There's no substitute for a good walk, but if your schedule is too demanding to keep up with regular walking, you can try some easy alternatives to provide your dog with some physical and mental stimulation until you get more time.
- Dog Treadmills
While you can use a regular treadmill, brands like Dog Pacer make treadmills especially for dogs with nifty features such as bumper walls, a place to clip a leash onto your dogs harness, and speeds designed especially for your dogs gait. Big or small, track or electric, treadmills are a great way to let your dog release some pent up energy.
- Backyard Play Playing with your dog is an easily overlooked way to bond and burn off energy. While it's unlikely you'll be able to keep up with your dog for as long as he can play, you can play fetch, set up a mock agility course, and even practice obedience with your dog to keep his mind occupied. Playing with your dog also helps teach him appropriate play behavior, like how to bite softly and how to drop a ball, treat, or toy.
- Rover.com (or other local Dog Walking services)
Rover is an app that lets you call dog walkers straight from your phone, and there are many local dog trainers & pet sitters that also offer custom walking and hiking services themselves. These services can be cost prohibitive if you're using them exclusively, but they are a great option for those looking to supplement their dogs weekly exercise.
Walking and regular exercise is the first step in solving many common behavior problems. Dog trainers will tell you that a tired dog is a happy dog, and it's true! If your dog has been sitting indoors all day while you've been out at work, shopping, and running errands, odds are he's going to find a way to entertain himself that you may not like very much.
Why Walking is Important
Your dog evolved from a predator that walks many miles every day in search of food. Even if you have a couch potato pug, exercise does a body good. In addition to letting your dog smell the neighborhood and familiarize himself with the world outside the door, it helps keep him social with other people and dogs, and strengthens good bathroom habits. Walking also helps reduce shedding in the house by encouraging loose hair to fall out outside, and reduces unwanted marking behavior by giving your dog something else to mark, besides the patio.
Walking also relieves stress and encourages your dog to be calm and confident when he's out in public with you, a skill that can be immensely helpful if you ever want to go camping, take your dog on errands, or bring him on vacation.
To build a good habit, keep your walks short and fun. If your dog embarrasses you in public, don't be overbearing and try to force him to be perfect all at once. Take your time and start with short walks around the neighborhood to ease your dog into the habit of walking before you demand good obedience.
You can build up to longer walks with more challenging distractions, so don't worry if your dog isn't getting much exercise in the beginng. A 20 minute focused walk with your dog beats an hour of him pulling your arm off any day.
For most dog owners, any standard 6' leash will suffice. But if you're looking for a more comprehensive leash-buying guide, check out How to Choose a Dog Leash
The walk starts when you take out the leash — not when you're already out the door. Depending on your dog, just getting through this phase may take a lot of patience, but it's a good place to start. If your dog isn't paying any attention to you before you leave the house, why would he change his mind once you're outside?
The trick to dealing with an over-excited dog is to try to get him to do a known behavior, like sit.
A dog that is sitting can't be jumping. A dog that is sitting can't be pulling on the leash. When your dog can sit near the door with the leash on, try opening the door and expecting him to stay seated. If he breaks position, close the door and try again.
Teaching your dog that the walk is predicated by paying attention to you is an important step toward getting your dogs attention outside. Your dog needs to learn to pay attention to you before he can be obedient.
The same rules that apply to the leash apply to the door, which for many dogs, is an irresistible source of fun. Think about it from the dogs perspective: the door is exciting. New people come through there, sometimes new dogs, sometimes packages, or even food! It's difficult to desensitize dogs to doors in the same way it is to leashes or other things, because doors will always be exciting for them —but, much like we can ask a dog to sit while we put on his leash, we can also expect him to wait patiently before going out of the door.
Make it easier on yourself by choosing quiet places to walk your dog when you're first getting started, especially if he is sensitive to the enviornment or other animals. Don't walk him to a school if he barks at crowds, for example, as it can discourage you from keeping the habit. Make it a goal to complete small tasks with each walk, like stopping and sitting at the corners or passing other dogs without barking so that you have something to work toward each time.
The more you can walk your dog, the better. You should walk your dog for at least an hour once per week, more if your dog is young, energetic, anxious, or is otherwise left alone for long periods. Many dogs improve on longer walks, so try to build toward one hour walks where your dog can focus on you, even with other distractions.
Regular walks can seriously improve your dogs overall health and well-being. Even a short walk to check the mail or around the block is better than no walk at all.