Dog walking on a leash
As a veterinarian, I hear from lots of people who worry that they’re not being good dog owners if they don’t do certain things or don’t do them frequently enough. One of their bigger concerns is the amount of exercise their pets get. If they’re not walking their dogs every single day, they ask, does that make them bad pet owners?

We all know that it’s important for our dogs to get daily exercise. In fact, many of us get dogs to help ensure that we get more — and more consistent — exercise. But sometimes life gets in the way, and when you’re scrambling to finish that big project at work, get the kids to soccer practice, and pick up something healthy to cook for dinner, walking the dog can fall to the bottom of the priority list.

I know how it goes. He has a backyard, you think to yourself. He can always run around there. But is that really enough?

What’s My Motivation?

The problem is that dogs sometimes need as much motivation as we do to exercise. I think most of us would agree that it’s more fun to go for a walk or work out with a friend instead of by ourselves. Our dogs probably feel the same way. The walk isn’t just exercise for your pooch; it’s a chance to spend some quality time with you. And committing time to a walk does more than just keep your dog in shape; it helps stave off boredom, which can lead to bad behavior like chewing or digging.

Whether your dog needs a daily walk or three also depends in large part on his breed. Any of the sporting breeds, such as Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Brittanys and German Shorthaired Pointers, practically demand strenuous walks at least a couple of times a day. Herding breeds such as Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are also high-energy dogs who need lots of opportunities to stretch their legs. Other breeds may be satisfied with shorter or less frequent walks. They include retired racing Greyhounds, giant breeds such as Great Danes or Mastiffs, and dogs such as Bichons Frise, Lhasa Apsos, Chow Chows and Chinese Shar-Pei.

Options for Activity

But there’s good news! While a walk provides your dog with physical exercise (important for keeping off excess pounds) and mental stimulation (to prevent boredom-induced destructive behavior), skipping a day here and there isn’t going to put you on the Top 10 Most Wanted Bad Dog Owners list. There are some easy ways to spend time with your dog and help him get in some activity when work, weather or weariness preclude a walk.

  • If you have a backyard, play a fast game of fetch. It’s something you and your dog can do together, and it doesn’t require going anywhere.
  • Play indoors. This is perfect for small breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Papillons and Yorkshire Terriers, who will enjoy chasing a ball down the hall as many times as you’ll throw it.
  • Bring out a puzzle toy. Load it with kibble and let your dog “hunt” for his dinner. This is a great option for any size or breed of dog.
  • Do a quick training session. A series of sits, downs, stays, comes and spins — or whatever else your dog knows — challenges his brain, gets in some activity and reinforces his good behavior.
  • Play a hide-and-seek game. Hide some treats throughout the house and let your dog go find them. Or have him go find your kids or spouse. If he does nose work, it’s easy to play at home, both indoors and out. 
You’re not failing as a pet owner if you miss a walk — just be sure your dog is getting the attention and exercise he needs on a regular basis.

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