Dog Rest Days...For lazy dog owners only?
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Does my dog need a rest day?
“What?! My dog spends most of the day on the sofa anyway! Aren’t rest days for dogs just an excuse for lazy people not to walk their dog?”.
As a dog trainer, I come across some dogs who don’t get enough exercise and others who get too much. But there are different reasons why our dogs may benefit from a rest day.
If a dog participates in a physically demanding type of dog sport, it’s easier to see that giving that dog’s body a rest makes sense – like my son has a rest day from the gym to allow his muscles to recover.
But what about family dogs who go on a regular dog walk? Well, rest doesn’t only benefit our dog’s muscles. Longer periods of exercise can cause stress hormones to be released into our dog’s bodies. Exciting, scary or frustrating events that happen on walks can also trigger the release of stress hormones. And for dogs that are not comfortable with other dogs or people, walks can turn into really stressful events. Having a rest day can help dogs to de-stress. And that’s a good thing, because stressed dogs do not thrive.
“Won’t my dog go crazy without their walk?” That depends. Possibly, if we don’t replace it with anything. I might train my dog instead, teach my dog something new – a new training game or a trick, or give her lots of enrichment activities - like finding hidden food or toys (or even me in a game of hide and seek) or feeding with interactive feeders like Kongs and puzzle feeders, or having a natural chew or a raw meaty bone.
A rest day might mean no walk, or it could include a short walk. When I give my dog a rest day (I aim for one a week, but don’t always manage it) I do take her for a short walk with a few minutes of off lead running, because I find that works better for us. Again – different needs for different dogs. (I try to keep the walk to under 20 minutes on a rest day as research on humans show that exercising for longer than that increases stress hormones). And if our dog is new to resting – we can reduce the activity on rest days gradually, so it is not such a shock for us or our dog.
The other advantage is that our dogs learn to be more flexible. That is handy when normal routines go out the window, e.g. when we or our loved ones fall ill.
Personally, with my own dog, I find rest days harder work for me than when we go our usual walk. I need to make sure my dog has adequate mental stimulation and my dog needs a little exercise through our training, and that can take a little extra effort on my part. Other dogs might find resting a little easier. Rest days are not just a lazy option, they can be a positive choice.