There is a long-standing myth that taking a dog for a walk is the best way to exercise them. I whole heartedly disagree. While it can be a great way to exercise a dog, it is certainly not the best or even a requirement of dog ownership.
Plenty of dogs cannot enjoy walks. This might be because they were improperly socialized when they were younger and find the world too terrifying in large doses, or perhaps it’s the other people or dogs that come along with being out in public that pose the issue. Perhaps it is you that cannot enjoy the walk with your dog because they pull you terribly and you are constantly in fear of falling of hurting a shoulder trying to contain your dog’s excitement or reactivity. Or maybe it is just because you want to train your dog to walk well before you venture out on walks.
Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that it is ok to not walk your dog. However, I implore you to read on. We can’t simply remove such a huge piece of the world from your dog’s life without filling in that hole with something equally filling.
There are many ways to enrich your dog’s life and it is entirely your responsibility to do it. Your dog isn’t capable of taking himself out to the movies or buying herself the latest best-selling novel to enrich their brains and provide entertainment. They weren’t made to be decorative pillows to your sofa (although I’ve met some dogs who might argue otherwise) or fetching machines only when you deem the weather appropriately pleasant.
Your dog does need a life of their own. I’ve included below a list of ideas for ways to exercise your dog’s body or their mind, and in some cases, both. Before I do that however, I would like to make a note regarding puppies. Puppies DO need to get out into the world. While you don’t necessarily need to walk them (I would rather you didn’t if you are simply going to let them drag you around at the end of the leash as this will create a nasty habit of pulling on leash), they do need to be exposed to the world, so get them out into it while you work on their leash manners another time. While the ideas listed below are friendly to dogs of all ages, keep in mind that puppies may need more breaks and shorter sessions than adult dogs. Take extra care with dogs under a year when introducing them to new things to ensure that all the games are a positive experience.
Sniffari – Take your dog on a safari for their nose by taking your dog to a new and safe location on a long line and let them sniff the area to their hearts content! Dog’s don’t need to go on a long walk to enjoy nature. They can get quite a bit of enrichment simply be exploring one area. Your dog isn’t capable of taking car ride? Bring the sniffari to them! Collect items from another location (office supplies borrowed off a desk at work, or pine cones and stones from around your office parking lot). Bring them home for a day and allow your dog to explore these new items and scents in the safety of their own home. Just be sure to return the items to their proper location and avoid bringing home anything dangerous or possibly coated in pesticides or other toxins.
Backyard dinner bowl – Forget feeding you dog in their bowl! Take a meal out to your yard or patio and scatter the food in an area your dog will be able to find the snacks (to avoid leaving too much and attracting wild critters). Avoid potty areas and any place that might have toxic fertilizers or pesticides.
Hide and Seek – There are so many variations of this classic game you can play with your dog.
- Want to work on your recalls? Tell your dog to wait or toss food on the ground to temporality occupy them while you run away to another location. Then call your dog to come find you!
- Want to make fetch more of a mental workout? Toss the ball like you normally would and once your dog’s back is to you, run to a new location. At first you might stay within sight and just move a few feet in any one direction, but as your dog gets better at this game you can start to relocate behind trees, shrubs, or furniture so your dog has to get the ball then find you before the next throw!
- Can’t go outside? Teach your dog to find their toys! Start with a favorite toy they love and tease them with it for a moment before tossing it or placing it across the room. Tell them to “find it.” When they get their toy, praise and reward them. Repeat, asking them to wait while you move the toy elsewhere. Work up to placing it just out of sight and then eventually hiding it in other rooms or under/behind furniture for your dog to seek out.
- Dog doesn’t love toys? Play the version above but substitute the toy for a treat. Pro tip: don’t forget where you hid the food just in case your dog doesn’t locate it/loses interest. I’m sure you can imagine the consequences of lost, randomly placed food in your house.
World TV – your dog doesn’t need to WALK to enjoy some good old-fashioned world watching. While I am not a fan of letting dogs watch out front windows or stare at the world going past from a fenced yard (as this can be VERY frustrating to dogs), with your help and guidance, sitting outside on a park bench or on your front porch and watching the world go by can be a great form of enrichment. If your dog does begin to bark at things, interrupt them and ask for some nicer behavior, or sit further away from the action so that your dog can be relaxed while still getting the benefits of seeing/smelling new things as they pass. As a bonus, you can use this time to bond with your dog and practice some obedience behaviors like sit, down, stay, leave it, and look at me.
Snuffle or licki mats and other food puzzle toys – There are SO MANY amazing toys available on the market for dogs these days. From Kong Wobblers to tricky treat balls to snuffle mats and beyond, there is no limit to the number of food related brain games you can get for your dog to try. Bottom line: stop feeding out of a regular food bowl and you are already well on your way to providing your dog with mountains of enrichment. Just a few of my favorites can be found HERE.
Food Trails – Like hide and seek, this game involves following their nose to find food. In this variation, make little trails through the house or yard to get your dog moving and sniffing and munching at their own pace. If you have kids, this is an especially fun way to get them involved by letting them make the trails! This is a great game to play in place of a meal
Car ride with or without a destination in mind – Some dogs just love the car. Crack a window and go for a drive and let your dog sniff the world. If you aren’t a big fan of driving aimlessly, consider taking your dog out for a little frozen yogurt or visit a pet friendly store. Take care that your dog is properly restrained in the car so that this is a safe and enjoyable trip for all. I also do not recommend letting the dog put their head out of the window. They can get plenty of air and smells from inside the threshold without risking injuries to their nose and eyes from flying particles.
New location – Think outside the box. Is there a park you haven’t visited yet? Or perhaps a dog loving friend, family member, or neighbor without a dog who would love a drop-in visit to get some borrowed doggy time? Just remember that not all your relations would love you to show up unannounced. When in doubt, call first.
Involve them in home projects – Need to do laundry? Let them sniff the dirty stuff first. Getting out the power tools? Allow them to safely investigate them (unplugged and powered off) before showing them what they do/how they sound when turned on and be sure to pair those potentially scary things with positive ones like yummy snacks. Lots of fallen sticks in your yard? Teach your dog to help you collect them and put them in a pile with you.
Obstacle course – You don’t need agility equipment to get your dog to do new things. Set up an obstacle course right at home with objects around your house. You can get your dog to jump over a wrapping paper tube or crawl through a home-made tunnel of sturdy chairs with a sheet stretched over and between them. If you are out at the park, see if you can get your dog to jump up onto new surfaces like steps, logs, or even small retention walls (like the wooden barriers that often surround a playground). I used to ask my dog to “weave” in and out of certain bike stands that we encountered at parks. Just be sure that whatever you are asking them to do is a request, not a command. If they are scared of something, forcing them to do it won’t help your relationship. Also be sure the surfaces are safe to walk or jump on. For dogs under a year old, keep jump heights VERY low to protect their growing bodies.
Dance Party – Put on your favorite tunes and dance with your dog. You can throw in some of your obedience work (heel, sits, and downs) or tricks (spin and twirl, weave between legs) or you can just get silly and move all around with your dog.
A day off – Just like you, dogs don’t always want to be go-go-go 24/7! Believe it or not, they also benefit from a day off from strenuous exercise and brain games. It is absolutely ok to have a day off from it all with your dog and focus on relaxing together instead. Yes, I just gave you a good excuse to stay inside in your jammies the next rainy day! For more on this topic, see the article HERE.
Nicole L Yuhas CPDT-KA
This blog is intended to be informative as well as entertaining. It contains my opinion which may not reflect the opinions of any organization I may be affiliated with. My opinions should not be interpreted as those of my coworkers, family, friends, casual acquaintances, and certainly not the opinion of my cat, although my dog probably agrees with everything I say, if for no other reason, than because I provide the treats and meals (cats are less inclined to agree with anyone but themselves). Information provided here is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge but, as information and opinions change, neither the facts nor the opinions expressed here may be true or accurate at any future date. As I don’t currently own a time machine, I cannot be responsible for things that prove to be untrue, or opinions I change my mind about, should those changes become apparent in the future. It should also be noted that, as I am human, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes in the information provided here. Frankly, even if I were a computer, it is likely there would be errors, as computers, in my experience, can be a royal pain in the butt. This blog may contain affiliate links which you are under no obligation to click. If you click them, they will hopefully take you the place I intended. But they may not. As I’ve said, computers can be a pain. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t think I intended, click your ruby slippers three times together and say, “there is no place like home.” If you do that, and click the “back” button, you should be safely returned. Computers can, at times, have a mind of their own. Any training suggestions or opinions expressed here should be taken as information only and should not be seen as advice particular to you or your dog’s unique situation. Please consult with a training professional before taking any action.