Are There Good Excuses For Not Walking Your Dog?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Walking Your Dog

Earlier this month we celebrated National Walk Your Dog Week. Every year, this demi-holiday serves as a welcome reminder that getting your butt off the sofa is easier when you have someone who’s more willing than you are to take a walk.

Trouble is, not every dog owner has a canine buddy who's necessarily up to the task. After all, some dogs are very young, other are exceedingly old, still more might be too ill or arthritic to move well. What if they’re aggressive? Behaviorally hard to handle? Or just plain tiny?

Which begs the question: Should all dogs walk or are there some who simply do not qualify as walkable?

As a past and present owner/mother/custodian/fosterer of dozens of dogs, I can honestly say that I never met one –– regardless of size, shape, behavior or health status –– who I deemed incapable of taking for a walk. They all “walked” in some fashion or another. Furthermore, I contend that all dogs are social creatures that must go for walks, regardless of size, age, temperament, health status, or disability.

The Dangers of Exercise?

As a veterinarian, I’m constantly informed that dogs “cannot walk” because of x, y, or z inability or infirmity, few of them related to their caretaker’s personal ability or inclination. As in this gem:

“I have a six month-old Labrador Retriever puppy who has LOTS of energy. He has so much energy I’ve started taking him to doggie day care a couple of times a week so he can play with other dogs for hours at a time. But even that’s not enough to tire him out. He keeps us up at night and destroys everything when he’s antsy. It’s gotten so bad that I’m thinking about taking him along with me on my runs. But my dog trainer says it’s a bad idea. She says that too much exercise early on can lead to joint problems.”

Sigh… it seems everyone has an opinion on this issue. But the truth is that veterinary medicine has no definitive answers on the topic we call “precocious exercise.” Though two studies mention early exercise as a risk factor for two specific orthopedic diseases, they’re small, isolated studies limited to only two breeds of dogs. Hardly a reason to quit exercising joyful, willing pups who might otherwise be saddled with orthopedic infirmities related to their early immobility: obesity, among others.

Walking and Behavior Problems

How about dogs who are behaviorally unsuitable for walking? Here I’m thinking about all those dogs whose owners claim are too rambunctious, pull too hard, or try to attack other dogs. Well, here’s where I’ll have to argue that less walking begets more of the same behavior. Moreover, I’ll posit, there are plenty of remedies for dogs who pull and bite. Gentle Leaders (those halter things plenty of dogs wear) and basket muzzles are safe, inexpensive and available everywhere. If they make you “uncomfortable” or “self-conscious” –– well, you’ll just have to get over it.

Walking and Old Age

Then there’s the “too old” issue, in which owners claim their dogs no longer want to walk. While this is a reasonable excuse, I always urge people to consider the down-side of not walking. Consider that not walking at all almost always leads to increased loss of muscle mass and greater stiffness. It’s inevitable. They should at the very least ask their veterinarian how much walking is safe and shoot for a minimum distance.

Illness and Disability

But what if your dog is truly sick or disabled, you ask? As with old dogs, I’ll argue, it’s the owner’s responsibility to take dogs out for “walks” even when exercise is no longer feasible. After all, exercise isn’t always the goal of “walking.” Consider that walks are at least as much for exercise as they are for socialization. Which is why I’ll heartily recommend those canine baby strollers and even Radio Flyer-style wagons for pulling dogs along. Environmental stimulation is, to be sure, the true secret of canine longevity.

So you see, there’s not one single type of dog who should not walk. This is especially true if you broaden the meaning of the word “walk” to include any kind of activity that keeps dogs’ brains active in the process of being out and about. And, of course, any kind of activity that gives you both a perfect excuse to bond.

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