Q: My veterinarian says we should walk our 10-year-old Shih-tzu more, but she hates it! She won’t go farther than a couple of blocks. She’s so small and old I’m not sure it’s fair to put her through it.
A: Last month we celebrated National Walk Your Dog Week. Every year, this “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 buddy who's up to the task. After all, some dogs are very young, others are old, and still more might be too ill or arthritic. Aggression and leash-pulling are other common issues.
Which begs the question: Should all dogs walk, or are there some who simply do not qualify as walk-able?
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As a veterinarian I’m treated to lots of reasons (excuses?) for not walking. But I can honestly say that I’ve met few –– regardless of size, shape, behavior or health status –– who I deemed completely incapable of joining their person for a walk. Furthermore, I contend that all dogs are social creatures that must go for walks, regardless of size, age, temperament, health status or disability.
For the aggressive and rambunctious, I’ll argue that less walking begets more of the same. Moreover, there are plenty of remedies for dogs who pull and bite. Head halters and basket muzzles are safe, inexpensive and available everywhere.
For the “too old” issue, 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.
But what if your dog is truly sick or disabled, you ask? Exercise isn’t always the goal of “walking.” They’re for socialization and environmental stimulation too. To that end, “baby” strollers and even Radio Flyer-style wagons are great tools.
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 an excuse to bond.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.