Q: Buster, our American bulldog, used to love his walks. Now it’s a miracle if he makes it around the block in half an hour. He’s not overweight and he’s on medications for arthritis, which have helped a lot, but it looks like it might be time to stop walking him. My husband disagrees. He thinks Buster should be walked anyway. He says all dogs benefit from walks, regardless of their condition. Is this true?
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A: Walking is a basic dog function, one which almost every dog person looks forward to. Trouble is, not every dog owner has a canine buddy who’s necessarily up to the task.
After all, some dogs are very young, other are exceedingly old, still more might be too ill or arthritic (like Buster) to move well enough to walk far. Then there’s the behavior factor. Some are aggressive with other pets or people, pull too hard on their leashes, or are otherwise difficult to handle.
Which brings us to the question: Should all dogs walk or are there some who simply do not qualify as walk-able?
As the past and present primary person of dozens of dogs, I can honestly say that I never met one –– regardless of size, shape, behavior or health status –– whom I deemed incapable of going for a walk. They all “walked” in some fashion or another. Furthermore, I contend that all dogs are social creatures that must go for walks, regardless of size, age, temperament, health status or disability.
Yet, as a veterinarian, I’m constantly informed that dogs “cannot walk” because of x, y or z behavior or infirmity.
In the case of behavior issues, I’ll argue in favor of basket muzzles for the aggressive (many attractive options are available on Amazon) and head halter-style leaders instead of collars for the hard-to-handle pullers and the unpredictably rambunctious. After all, less walking begets more of the same difficult behavior. These dogs stand to benefit most from being walked!
For the old, I always urge people to ponder the downside of not walking. Consider that not walking at all almost always leads to increased loss of muscle mass, increased weakness and greater stiffness.
For the sick, tiny or truly disabled, consider that exercise isn’t always the goal of “walking.” After all, walks are as much for exercise as they are for socialization and environmental stimulation. And this class of dogs, like Buster, tend to be especially needy in this regard.
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.