9 Reasons NOT to walk your dog!
For most dog owners, daily walks are an essential part of their dog’s routine. Daily walks not only help to keep your dog physically fit, but they also provide mental stimulation & enrichment. Not only that but being with your dog (preferably in nature) helps foster your relationship and can also decrease your stress levels and lower your blood pressure.
So, it might come as a surprise when I tell you…
STOP walking your dog!
Many clients and owners are shocked when I suggest skipping a dog walk as they feel like they are failing their dog. They usually ask questions such as ‘Doesn’t a dog need exercising every day?’ ‘How can I keep my dog fit if I don't take them for a walk?’ ‘Don’t dogs need daily opportunities to run and let off steam?’
Niki French, Pro Dog Trainer – Absolute Dogs, answers these questions and more in her bestselling book ‘STOP Walking Your Dog.’
Niki explains that walking your dog daily is an old and outdated practice. The notion of having to walk your dog daily is a human invention. I personally feel that this is also heightened by Kennel Club breed standards, stating certain breeds need more than 2 hours of exercise per day. This includes Labradors and German Shepherds.
Niki founded ‘National Don’t Walk Your Dog Day’ on April 2nd to raise awareness that not all dogs thrive on daily walks. In turn she encourages owners to replace their usual daily walk with game-based training at home to give dogs the skills to live calm and happy lives.
In her book Niki addresses 9 reasons not to walk your dog. These includes;
1. If your dog gets stressed or anxious on walks
2. If your dog gets over excitable on walks
3. If your dog needs time to recover from a stressful event
4. If there is a chance of fireworks going off
5. If you have an injury, condition or illness that restricts your mobility
6. If you have a dog recovering from surgery, has a medical condition or injury
7. Weather extremes – too hot or too cold, snow, rain, etc
8. If you have a Bitch in season
9. If you have a puppy
9 Reasons NOT to walk your dog!
A Canine Massage Therapists Perspective
As a Canine Massage Therapist, I fully support Niki’s message and would like to elaborate on some of Niki’s reasons, whilst also highlighting a few of my own.
1. Injury, surgery, illness
This is an obvious one, but you will be amazed at the number of owners who still take their dog for a walk because they seem ‘fine.’ They truly believe they are doing the right thing for their dog. If your dog is recovering from surgery or an illness always ensure to take the advice of your vet.
Strains – The strain, restrain cycle
A strain is one of the most common muscular injuries your dog is likely to sustain. Responsible owners, if they see their dog in pain and limping will take their dog to the vet. The vet will usually recommend rest and prescribe a course of pain killers/ anti-inflammatories. The limp usually dissipates within a few days and so owners continue life and walks as normal.
But then the limp comes back!
This is because strains go through 3 stages of injury repair.
Stage 1 (acute) - occurs immediately after the muscle has been injured and can last 3-5 days. Pain, swelling, heat, redness and loss of function/ range of motion is often seen.
Stage 2 (Sub-acute) - can last up to approximately 6 – 8 weeks. The injured area is prone to re-injury due to the weakness and instability of the muscle fibres. However, because the injury is passed the acute stage your dog will start to feel better, overdo it and re-strain the area. This causes intermittent lameness.
Stage 3 (Chronic) - begins at about 6 weeks post injury. The muscular injury is well on its way to healing however the scar tissue that has formed will restrict and shorten the muscle fibres by up to 50% making the area more vulnerable to restrain in the future.
To prevent the strain, restrain cycle as a Canine Massage Therapist, I may suggest short lead walks and potters around the garden, no sudden acceleration/ deceleration, preventing your dog from turning quickly/ tightly, jumping up as well as any other activities that may cause a restrain. This is not always easy especially if you have a lively and energetic dog. This is where Niki’s game-based training comes in very handy.
2. Over exercise
Did you realise that there is a risk of over exercising your dog? Dogs that over exercise are at a higher risk of developing.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) - Muscle is like an elastic band. If you constantly stretch and stretch it, microtears within the elastic band start to form. The elastic band will become weaker and eventually snap. RSI can be caused by a range of repetitive activities including constantly jumping up, slipping on laminate/tiled flooring and chase games.
Hypertonicity - means too much resting muscle tone (tension). It is a very common condition which occurs when a muscle has been overused. Overtime the muscle becomes tightened, shortened, and inflexible (hard & stiff). A hypertonic muscle will require more effort than is necessary to produce the movement of a healthy muscle. Your dog will become fatigued quicker look stiff and will be at a higher risk of developing an injury.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) – is where muscle pain or stiffness occurs a day or two after exercise. This usually happens when your dog increases the duration or intensity of their walk. For example, ‘Weekend Warriors,’ dogs that spend most of the week on the sofa when their owners are at work and then have two days of high activity on the weekend. Therefore, rest days between long strenuous walks are so important (see reason 3).
Increased hyper-activity levels - The aim of a dog walk is to calmly and gently tire your dog out, not to exhaust them and make them overtired. The worst way I see this happen is repetitive ball throwing using ball launchers (wangers). This repetitive high energy game can raise levels of adrenaline and can make some dogs more hyper-active at home. Any activity that requires your dog to suddenly use their hindlegs to propel forward, or to jump upwards, and then the forelimbs to steer and brake, will eventually cause (RSI) and potential lameness. Neck injuries can also occur from sudden braking or turning to catch the ball. Plus, these types of repetitive activities can also increase wear and tear on your dog’s joints and the risk of early onset arthritis.
Therefore, rest days are so important!
3. Rest days
When your dog is resting it allows their body to regenerate and self-heal. It is imperative that your dog has rest days especially if they have had a busy weekend, exerted themselves doing a sport, had a hard training session or a stressful event. This is because without creating the right balance between activity and rest, your dog could be more at risk of injury and more prone to developing behavioural problems. Not only that but a lack of sleep can make your dog more prone to infection and more likely to react to stressful stimuli. It can also affect your dog’s brain development, memory, and learning capacity.
Dogs sleep between 12 – 14 hours per day. Unlike us humans who should average about 7- 8 hours per day.
But what do rest days look like? There are many activities that your dog may find relaxing this includes, sleeping, wandering around the home to rest in different areas, changing sleep positions, short potters in the garden to sniff and go to the toilet, cleaning their fur and body, stretching, scratching, rolling on their backs and being close to their owner i.e. lying on their lap/ by their feet. Rest days are not, barking at the door, running up/down the stairs and around the house, playing with toys or other dogs, running around the garden, jumping up at people/gate/fence or short lead walks.
Rest days for your dog are equivalent to our duvet days, curled up on the sofa, binge watching our favourite Netflix programme, drinking endless cups of tea and eating too much chocolate. Niki French promotes passive calmness through the use of stuffed Kongs, lick mats and snuffle mats.
4. Healing crisis
If your dog has ever had canine massage therapy you will be all too aware of the aftercare advice which states:
Give your dog full and complete rest for 24 hours, no walks, excitement, or boisterous play!
This is all because of the healing crisis (Herxheimer Reaction). This reaction occurs after massage as your dog’s body goes through a cleansing process of ridding itself of impurities, toxins and muscular imbalances. This is a perfectly normal reaction which is characterized by a temporary increase of original issues/symptoms which can be mild or severe. Symptoms include;
Lethargy, increase in sleeping (tired)
Increased joint/ muscle pain/ stiffness (you may see lameness for 48 hours)
Lack of appetite
Believe it or not this is a good sign that the treatment is working and sets the stage for cellular regeneration. Remember rest days allow the body to regenerate and self-heal.
5. Too hot
Heatstroke can come on suddenly and can be fatal. Please don’t take the risk. The graphic below states what temperature is too hot to walk your dog however this is just a guide and there are certain types of dogs that will be more at risk.
Dogs with flat faces (brachycephalic) – these dogs have shorter muzzles and smaller airways, making it more difficult to breath.
Elderly dogs – are more sensitive to the heat and may have underlining medical conditions which puts them at a higher risk of developing heatstroke.
Puppies - are not able to self-regulate their body temperature as well as adult dogs and are high-energy. They are at a higher risk of overexerting themselves.
Overweight dogs - are more likely to develop heatstroke due to the increased insulation the fat cells provide, and increased heat generated from mild exercise.
Dogs with dark fur – the darker your dog’s fur the more heat it will absorb.
Dogs with double coats – including Labradors, Huskies, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are double coated and have hairs which are thicker and longer. Have you ever tried walking in the sun with a thick coat on?
Never shave dogs with double coats as this increase the risk of developing heatstroke, sunburn, and skin cancer!
Another risk to walking your dog in the heat include burning their pads on pavements and hard ground. Dogs sweat through their paws so burning their pads not only causes blisters or sores but makes it increasingly difficult to self-regulate their temperature.
6. Too cold
Those of you with short, coated dogs such as a Whippet or Greyhound probably already have a warm cosy coat for them to wear when out on walks. But did you know that the cold weather and freezing temperatures can cause orthopaedic conditions to ‘flare up?’ Not only that but cold weather causes your dog to tense their muscles, so any extra movement such as a slip, or sudden burst in activity such as running, jumping, or chasing would cause your dog to over stretch a muscle, causing a strain (see reason 1). The cold weather also hinders your dog’s ability to warm up their muscles, resulting in them becoming more prone to injury.
I am sure you have heard of the fair-weather walker but in extreme weather conditions such as snow and heavy rain. It is probably best for you and your dog to stay home and do some game-based training.
7. Old/ Elderly dogs
Older dogs are more likely to have health conditions, orthopaedic conditions or other problems that will naturally limit how much they can exercise. If you notice that your dog is struggling on walks i.e. slowing down, stopping or resting more than normal there are things that you can consider;
Terrain – is you walk full of ascents and descents? This will put considerably more stress on arthritic joints. Try walking in areas where it is flatter.
Distance – make sure to stick to short out and back walks so you can easily turn around if your dog is getting tired.
Time – Go at your dog’s pace. Do not rush them or try to make them exercise for longer than they are capable.
Weather conditions – Cold weather and freezing temperatures can cause orthopaedic conditions to ‘flare up’ whereas walking elderly dogs in hot weather puts them at a higher risk of developing heatstroke.
Ground conditions – Mud and snow are a common issues when walking elderly dogs as they will have to work much harder to pull their feet out of the mud or snow. This will place increased pressure on their joints and ligaments causing pain, inflammation, stiffness and swelling.
If your elderly dog looks tired and stiff and struggles to get up after resting. It does not hurt to skip a walk.
8. Puppies and young
It is very tempting to think that puppies have lots of energy, so you need to take them on long, daily walks to tire them out. But did you know that over-exercising a puppy can be detrimental to their health?
At the ends of long bones are growth plates. These are areas of soft tissue and where new bone cells are laid down allowing your puppy to grow. Once your puppy has finished growing (usually at 18 months but this varies greatly depending on breed) their growth plates close and are replaced by dense, solid bone.
Growth plates are fragile and vulnerable to injury. If an injury occurs to the growth plate it may cause the growth of new bone cells to slow down or to simply stop altogether. So, while the other three of your puppy’s legs grow at a normal, healthy rate, the remaining leg might not, causing future issues such as a predisposition to arthritis and over compensatory issues.
Soft tissue also needs plenty of time to grow and repair. Too much physical activity and not enough rest can have a detrimental effect on your puppy’s health and development. The Kennel club recommend about 5 minutes of exercise for every month of a puppies age, once or twice a day. However, these are just guidelines, if your puppy sits or lies down during a walk or wanders off during playtime, give them a rest or carry them. Similarly, opting out of a walking and doing some game-based training at home will not only support your puppy’s development but also help foster your relationship.
9. Bitch in season
If you have a Bitch in season, apart from attracting all male dogs in a mile radius and your Bitch feeling anxious, or amorous due to hormones, they may also be in discomfort. Signs to lookout for include;
Roached (arched) back and a tucked stomach
All Bitches are different, and many will show no signs of discomfort however it is important to monitor Bitches in season carefully. If they are showing any signs of abnormal behaviour or discomfort it may be worth skipping a dog walk or two until they seem more like themselves again.
I hope this blog has expelled some myths about taking your dog on daily walks and highlighted the physiological and psychological effects too much exercise can have on their health and wellbeing. There are so many games you can play with your dog at home that give your dog a physical work out and mental stimulation.
So STOP walking your dog!
If you would like to find out more, check out Niki French’s book ‘STOP Walking Your Dog’ https://go.puptalk.co.uk/stopwalkingyourdog/
If you want to join one of the friendliest communities of dog lovers of Facebook, click here www.facebook.com/groups/puptalk/
If you would like more support join ‘pup talk the pack’ a supportive online dog training membership which includes a private Facebook group with direct access to Niki French and a membership website with regular new training games, library of expert workshops, access to training modules, live Q&A sessions, and fun challenges to keep you accountable and motivated.
If your dog is slowing down on walks, suffering with intermittent lameness or seems old before their time then please get in touch for a FREE chat. https://www.forestcanine.co.uk/contact
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