What to do when you can’t exercise the dog
Provide environmental enrichment with Snuffle mats, Lick mats, Food Puzzles and simple tricks to encourage engagement. The goal will be having the dog work/hunt for most of their food which is closer to a natural lifestyle rather than the free bowl of food. This requires more planning but the dog benefits 10-fold from the new routine.
If possible have a chat beforehand with the owner and ask about the dog and find out what their normal routine is. To begin you will want to stick as closely to the normal routine as you can, then you can slowly introduce change. Ask the owner what they are expecting, some are happy and trusting and others are a little more emotionally attached to their pet and feel guilty not being able to provide the care they did before.
Ask if the dog experiences any problems with other dogs while on lead. These dogs tend to be called lead aggressive, fearful or stressed but are actually just Reactive dogs and require sensitive handling. Always stay in your comfort zone and don’t feel obliged to walk dogs that may be difficult on the lead with other dogs. The same rule applies if you are uncomfortable/unfamiliar with using a muzzle, large heavy dogs or walking alone in remote areas.
It is very important to know if there are any medical conditions that may require you to adjust your plans for walking. For example, best not to go on a long remote walk with a dog with a history of seizures/epilepsy especially if it’s a large dog that will be too heavy for you to carry comfortably over distance.
One of the most common medical issues is arthritis and not just in old dogs, many are undiagnosed and due to the mechanism of the condition it tends to manifest the day after a walk when the dog becomes painful and can be mistaken for just being tired and stiff. In general, it’s best to exercise in short frequent sessions, so for the older or arthritic dogs keep the walks to under 30 mins. The dog will be more comfortable with multiple shorter walks rather than a single long walk.
This is a good time to mention some common practices that are now considered bad for joint health and cause repetitive strain injury. Dogs can easily become obsessive with having the ball thrown but this can cause joint and ligament damage so the new recommendations are to restrict throwing the ball to just a few minutes and to not throw far. The damage occurs when the dog chases the ball long enough to gain speed and then has to de-accelerate suddenly. An alternative to those plastic ball throwers would be a Frisbee and because the direction of the flight is curved it reduces the fast-deceleration phase.
Another habit that can cause injury is throwing sticks, it is now recommended not to throw any kind of stick you find on your walk because they can splinter and cause injury to the mouth, be inhaled and be life threatening and there have been serious accidents where the dog has been impaled on the stick.
Check with the owner for any food allergies, having treats available when walking is a great way to get the attention of a reactive dog or as an aid to training but make sure they are safe beforehand and use them sparingly to prevent diarrhea or GI upset later. Treats tend to be very high in calories and fats so please ensure the dog has no history of Pancreatitis, Diabetes, IBD or is overweight.
Plan your walk to fit the dog’s requirements and the facilities available. Practice fitting harness/head collar beforehand and become familiar with the many different makes and models. The harness must be firm enough to prevent the dog from escaping backwards. Remember you are responsible for the safety of the dog so feel free to make adjustments and make sure the equipment is safe and suitable, we do not recommend using choke collars, pinch collars or retractable leads.
If you have a dog that pulls excessively, changing to a harness where the lead attaches at the front or using a halti-collar may help but first discuss with the owner before changing the dog’s equipment and only use it if you are confident using the product.
Check that the dog has a name tag on the collar or harness, this a legal requirement for all dogs not on their own property. During the winter months, make sure you have a torch or light on the dog’s collar and Hi-Viz jacket.
Plan for enough time once you have finished the walk to towel dry the dog or wipe mud/salt from their feet and do a quick Tick check.
In Hot weather, check the temperature of the pavement with your hand and try to walk on grass which is always cooler.
Never leave a hot panting dog without ensuring they have access to water and cool shade. The Brachycephalic/short nosed dogs such as bulldogs, Frenchie’s, Pugs and Pekinese may require artificial cooling with a fan if the ambient temperature is warm. Remember the main cooling mechanism for the dog is evaporation from panting, this is a slow process and completely ineffective for these types of dogs as their ability to breath is severely restricted by the shortened snout. It is safer to walk these breeds during the cooler mornings or evening and even then, you should keep the walks short and slow. During hot weather it may be best to not walk at all.
For beach walks it’s very important to offer fresh water even if the dog has not entered the sea as the sand is just as salty and easily blown into their mouths on windy days. Do not throw balls into the sea as this allows the dogs to ingest an abnormal amount of saltwater which can cause vomiting and possibly more serious harm. It’s good practice to rinse the dog in fresh water after a beach walk to remove any salt which they may later ingest when grooming themselves.
For female dogs you suspect that might be in heat and you are unable to walk in a secluded area. It may be safest to not walk the dog at all for a few days because it can be very dangerous if you are approached by unleashed male dogs.
If you need to drive to a suitable place to walk, please be aware it is now Law to secure the dogs in the car either with a dog harness/seatbelt, in a secure crate or behind a barrier in the back of a hatchback. Carry a towel to dry the dog and protect your seats and provide freshwater + bowl.
Practice good biosecurity and wash boots after walks especially if visiting different places.
It is always good practice to avoid walking on any playing fields or areas close to children’s play equipment and always attach a lead when walking on public highways or crossing the road.
Always leave an itinerary and contact info. Have your phone with you and have the number and address of the veterinarian in case of emergency. Have the owner inform the vets office that you have the owner’s permission to bring the dog in if needed.
It’s a good idea to download the “What 3 Words” app. This will give your exact location for the emergency services.