What if I told you it isn’t necessary to walk your dog every day?
Updated: Feb 10
Believe it or not, it’s true. In fact, for nervous or reactive dogs I often recommend reducing walks to once a day rather than twice or even walking every other day.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying dogs don’t need exercise. They absolutely do. However, there’s many ways to exercise both their minds and their bodies.
If you’re ill or having to self-isolate then it’s likely that your dog will have to go without walks for a while. Dogs get used to routines and can struggle when things change (just as we humans can). Trust me though, not only can you help them cope but actually you can make it a positive experience for them. Depending on your dog, you might find that ‘no walk days’ are something you’ll be more inclined to add to your schedule in the future.
Scent work and training can be just as tiring as an hour’s walk or run and can promote calming chemical releases from the brain instead of adrenaline which is associated with fast exercise like canicross or ball chasing. These activities can be done in the garden (and many can be done indoors):
Scatter feeding: This is something that can be done in the garden, ideally on grass. Just using a handful of your dog's kibble or some treats. Scatter them on/in the grass for your dog to sniff out and find. This can also be done indoors, particularly if you have a nice deep pile carpet or rug.
Treasure hunt: This takes the garden (or inside) scatter feeding a step further. You can hide food or treats around the garden, pushing treats into tree bark, gaps in walls etc. This can be your dog’s normal food but you can also vary what you use and add in treats (both wet and dry), dog safe spreads, dog safe baby food, dog safe fruit and vegetables etc anything you think your dog would like (obviously smelly stuff works best).
Snuffle mats: (these can be purchased from a number of places or you can make your own). Similar to scatter feeding. Can be used both inside and outside. If you haven’t got a snuffle mat try something similar (a deep pile bath mat could work well).
Towel wrap: get a tea towel or bathroom towel, lay it flat, scatter a line of kibble, treats etc down the middle of it and then just roll it up for the dog to work out how to get it open and get to the yummy stuff.
Junk: You can make your own foraging activity puzzles simply by rummaging in your recycling:
Empty toilet roll tubes are great for stuffing with yummy stuff. Just fold in both ends and let your dog work out how to get the filling out.
Egg boxes are great too. The interior actually resembles a slow feeder bowl! At first, just close them, then as your dog gets better at opening them you can become more inventive about how they are kept shut and even wrap the contents to add a layer of complexity. Remember though, start off easy and build up.
Chewing activities: Left to their own devices, a dog will often choose these natural calming opportunities themselves. Chewing is a naturally calming behaviour for a dog. That’s why some dogs, particularly a stressed dog or over aroused dog (remember this can be good experiences – exciting ball games, lots of fuss etc – as well as bad) may chew things you wouldn’t like them to chew!
Antlers, bull bars, hooves and root chews are all long lasting, attractive to dogs and not harmful. There are also great chews that can be slowly worked on and then eaten, such as dehydrated pig’s ears, pizzles (don’t ask what they are because you may find the answer rather gross), twisted dried fish skins and the like. In fact, any natural dried animal product is usually pretty good. Yak chews or Yakers bars are great too but don’t last very long. Please avoid raw hide chews though, they can upset the dog’s stomach and can also be choked on (sometimes causing death).
It is really important not to approach a dog who has a ‘high value’ item such as one of these chews. Leave them well alone and never try to take it from the dog. Imagine if someone tried to take your favourite burger from you while you were eating it! If you really need to take their chew (or any item such as their toy, food, something they have taken like they shouldn’t) away, either wait until they have moved off and lost interest in it or swap it for something even more interesting such as a really lovely smelly food item (tasty smelly cheese or dog safe peanut butter are always good ones).
Spreading something yummy such as cheese spread, dog safe peanut butter (this means it must not contain xylitol or chocolate), wet dog food or even baby food (check ingredients first) on the chew can add a licking activity and also increase a dog’s interest in the chew.
There are also items you can purchase that are specifically designed to encourage licking and to make the activity last a little longer, such as Lickimats, and others that can be used to encourage both chewing and licking such as filled Kongs and one of my favourites, the Zogoflex Tux.
If you are using a lot of treats in this way, simply reduce the amount of food you feed at mealtimes in order to prevent your dog from gaining too much weight.
Freework: Qualified ACE practitioners use freework for a variety of reasons, including observing dog’s movements and preferences. However, on a very basic level it can be just an amazing way to help your dog explore and enjoy a variety of textures, surfaces, smells and tastes. For those that can be a little nervous or wary, exploring things on their own terms, without any pressure, and then finding it rewarding (yummy stuff) can help to increase wellbeing and optimism.
This set up was put together quickly from items lying around the house during the summer of 2020 for a very nervous Romanian rescue dog to explore. It included a Lickimat, a snuffle mat and various heights and levels with different food and/or treat options. In my hurry I had grabbed the Halloween bucket to turn upside down and put treats on without thinking of the potentially scary implications of the upside-down face on it.
Fun training: If you have time after all that, you could also add some fun training to your days. There’s nothing like learning new things to use up some energy. A hand touch is a great trick to start with. Even in a fairly small space you could do some simple agility such as walking in an S shape, around objects or some turns. If your dog is more advanced than that, you could work on walking along objects. Go with what your dog seems to enjoy and invent games and tricks you could teach them. Make sure there’s no pressure on your dog and that your training is positive reward based. Why not check out Kikopup on YouTube for some great ‘how to’ training videos.
Most importantly, if you can, take the pressure off both yourself and your dog, drop the guilt and have some fun.