When many of us think of owning a dog, we think daily walks, maybe even twice a day, before and after work.
But what do we really mean when we say our dogs need to be walked EVERY day. We mean they need exercise, we mean they need mental stimulation, we mean they need a chance to engage in their natural behaviours, but is a walk the only thing that can meet all of these needs? And is it always the best way to meet all of these needs?
Most dogs do enjoy walks. They enjoy running, playing, sniffing, exploring, socialising. Good stuff right? Of course it is, but all of these things also cause arousal. Arousal is a dog's excitement level, and a highly aroused dog will have an increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. You may be familiar with these symptoms as they are the same symptoms you will see with stress. So a highly aroused dog is a stressed dog.
In this state, they will have poorer impulse control. So you might see a decline in their behaviour. They might stop listening to you, pulling more or the lead and they won't be as good at coping with their environment which might look like increased fearfulness or inappropriate interactions with other dogs.
And if they are filling up their arousal day after day and not getting the chance to truly relax and destress, it's going to keep stacking up, resulting in a pretty stressed dog that isn't feeling or behaving at their best.
So what should we do about this? I'm not saying never walk your dog. Walks are still a
great way to meet many of our dogs needs. But a day off every week of every couple of days can have great benefits for all dogs. We call these 'Rest' days. A particularly stressed, nervous or fearful dog may need a few extra rest days to really relax and destress putting them in a better position mentally and physically to face the next walk.
This doesn't mean you get the day off from your parental duties however. Remember, we still have our dogs needs to meet. Alongside plenty of sleep, you want to be giving your dog some calm and mentally stimulating activities to do. This might be in the form of chews, kongs, snuffle mats, learning a new trick, scatter feeding, food puzzles, toy or treat hide and seek, really anything that gets their brains going or noses sniffing. You also want to be encouraging and reward lots of calm time, both on walk and rest days.