It’s a concern I often hear – is my dog too old to walk? Should I stop walking my senior dog?
No, your dog is never too old to walk. In fact, walking older dogs can help to support joint and muscle health and reduce mobility problems.
Now that we’ve established that, there’s a lot to discuss.
In this article, we’re going to dig into the importance of walking your senior dog, including discussing things like:
- Can you walk a dog too much?
- How far should you walk an old dog?
- What to do if your old dog won’t walk
- How to help a dog with mobility issues
Let’s get started…
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
Why Is It So Important to Walk Your Old Dog?
Sadly, many senior dogs don’t get out much. Some are only let out to pee and poop, and the rest of the time, they lie in their beds.
Sometimes it’s mobility that is the issue, but we’ll get to that later on.
- Dogs need a walk not only for much-needed physical exercise but for mental stimulation as well.
- Dogs who don’t go out for walks end up bored, depressed, frustrated and even destructive.
- They are likely to gain weight, which can cause health issues like diabetes. Carrying extra weight makes sore joints hurt even more. That makes walking more painful so they can’t go out and the vicious cycle continues.
- It’s an easy form of exercise that can be done to suit your dog’s pace
- It’s a good opportunity for your dog to socialize
- Walking actually helps with arthritis and joint pain.
- It’s a chance to spend quality time together and an excellent way to bond
- It’s just not fair to keep your dog cooped up all-day
According to Sean W. Aiken, DVM, MS, DACVS, “Resting or limiting exercise may seem appropriate, but in reality, it is the lack of exercise that can be most damaging, making your dog less flexible, with loss of muscle strength and increased joint pain and stiffness.”
Can You Walk a Dog Too Much?
Have you ever heard of weekend warriors? These are the people who don’t walk their dog much during the week because they’re busy or at work but take them for hikes that last hours on the weekend.
Okay, maybe not hours, but longer than their dog can handle.
The number of walks a day, how far you walk, and the intensity of those walks will depend on your dog’s ability.
Pushing your dog past their ability can increase the risk of injuries, sometimes causing long-term mobility problems.
You can’t judge by age because there are plenty of dogs who are “technically” seniors, but they’re just as energetic and ready to go as they were in their younger years.
Taking shorter, more frequent walks is better than one long walk a day. It staves off boredom, provides him with stimulation, and breaks up the day.
Walking more often can also help stimulate his appetite, important if your dog isn’t eating as well as he should.
Note: If your dog has arthritis or other joint pain, please consult with your vet about the frequency and intensity of your walks.
How Do I Get My Old Dog to Walk If He Doesn’t Want To?
First let’s look at some of the reasons why your dog doesn’t want to go for a walk. Then we’ll see what to do about it.
Note: Never force your dog. This can lead to even greater issues in the long run!
Reasons Why Your Dog May Not Want to Go for a Walk
There could be several reasons your dog may not want to go for a walk, including medical issues, injuries, and age-related pains.
Even orthopedic issues can make walking harder for an older dog .
Rarely is a dog too old to walk. Instead, we need to identify the reason they are hesitant to go out and address it directly.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the more common reasons below.
Arthritis, hip dysplasia and the like are not uncommon in old dogs. Left untreated or not as well managed as it could be, is a big reason why your dog would rather stay in his bed.
Other conditions that may spark an older dog’s refusal to go on a walk include:
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Vestibular disease
- Weakness in the hind leg
- A spinal cord injury or disease
- Joint disease
- Kidney disease
All of these conditions can ultimately affect your dog’s mobility; so much so that it gets to the point that your old dog can’t walk.
If your dog suddenly decides he doesn’t want to walk, he may be afraid.
Take a moment to think back on your previous walks and ask yourself the following questions:
- Did another dog scare him?
- Was there a huge bang close to where he was walking that frightened him?
- Did he encounter wildlife that spooked him?
- Did your dog experience a traumatic event while on a walk (like a dog attack or painful injury)?
Even if the answer to all these questions is a resounding “No,” something could have happened that you weren’t even aware of.
Maybe he’s been losing his sight or hearing and is having trouble adapting outside.
If your old dog is a recent adoptee, he may be nervous out there in the world. We don’t often know a dog’s history or his life before he was dumped (sorry, surrendered).
Never Been Out Before
If your senior dog is a new addition to your family, this may be his first time getting out and walking like an average dog.
He could have spent years breeding on a puppy farm or lived his life at the end of a chain.
These poor souls have no idea what it’s like to be loved and cared for, never mind how to cope with a walk.
Uncomfortable Walking Gear
Do a complete assessment of the gear that your dog is wearing when you take him walking.
Some issues to look out for include:
- A coat that’s too restrictive or limits movement
- A harness that doesn’t fit properly
- A collar that causes pain
- Dog boots that are too small or uncomfortable to wear
Even if your dog’s gear all fits properly, it could still be a limiting factor if he wasn’t introduced to and conditioned to new equipment when it was added.
If your dog is feeling uncomfortable, what are the chances he will want to go out?
Is it snowing, and the sidewalks are covered in salt that is burning his paws? Are the pavements so hot you can fry an egg, never mind his feet?
Older dogs often experience extreme temperatures far more than they did in their younger years.
Before heading out, ask yourself:
- “Is it too cold to walk my dog” If so, consider using gear that will help to keep him warm for a comfortable outing like a sweater or coat.
- “Is it too hot to walk a dog?” Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are very real risks! Consider limiting walks to early mornings and late evenings when the temperatures are lower.
Shortness of breath due to heart issues can make walking a struggle, so he doesn’t bother.
Other signs that your dog may be experiencing heart problems include:
- Frequent coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight changes
- Swollen stomach
- Fainting or collapse
If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Mobility Restrictions Due to His Weight
If your dog is very overweight, walking will be challenging and uncomfortable.
This can put added stress on your dog’s joints, making even the shortest walks incredibly painful and uncomfortable.
A dog that is obese may struggle to take more than a few steps without having to rest.
Consider talking to your vet about adjusting your dog’s diet for a weight loss goal. At the same time, start small and slowly increase your dog’s walks.
Helping an Older Dog with Weak Back Legs
One challenge that leads many owners to worry they have a dog too older to walk is weakness or trembling in a dog’s back legs.
Luckily, there is plenty that you can do to help an older dog experiencing this type of weakness.
But first, you need to understand the cause.
What Causes Leg Trembling in Dogs?
Pain is one of the more common reasons you may notice your dog’s leg trembling.
This pain can result from muscles, bones, or joints. It can also be due to a recent injury, overactivity, or a more chronic issue such as degenerative joint disease or arthritis.
It is, however, common for dogs to experience a loss of muscle mass as part of the natural aging process.
When your dog is in pain, and their legs are trembling, they may not want to go for a walk.
Leg trembling can also be a sign of more serious conditions, so be sure to take note of any other symptoms there may be and report this to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Ways to Help with Leg Weakness in Senior Dogs
The most important thing to keep in mind if your dog is experiencing weakness in their back legs is to be realistic with your expectations.
Don’t jump into suddenly walking your senior dog for an hour. Instead, work on strengthening those muscles slowly.
Stretching exercises or passive range of motion exercises can be used to improve mobility and address any stiffness or joint pain your senior dog may be feeling.
There are a variety of senior dog walking aids, including harnesses and braces, that could be used to support your dog when out for a walk.
A harness, for example, takes some of the strain off the dog’s limbs by helping lift him when it is time to get up, climb, or walk.
We will discuss these options in more detail later.
Weak legs are sometimes referred to as wobbler syndrome and can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs.
However, you should always consult your veterinarian before giving anything to your senior dog.
In more serious cases with a dog unable to walk, such as spinal diseases or advanced arthritis, pain medications may be prescribed.
Behavioral Changes in an Old Dog with Trouble Walking
If you suddenly notice your dog has trouble walking when they didn’t previously, pay attention.
Are there any changes in your dog’s behavior that line up with their sudden refusal to go for walks? If so, this could signal an injury and should be met with a visit to the vet.
If your dog’s behavior and refusal to go on walks is more gradual, this could be a sign that your dog has been steadily developing pain points.
10 Tips for Walking a Senior Dog
Since old dogs like to sleep a lot, you may be wondering how to get your senior dog interested in going for walks.
A lot of that depends on why your dog isn’t interested.
Here are several tips to help your senior dog be more excited and comfortable on walks.,
If one thing doesn’t work, you have several others to try.
1) Visit the Veterinarian to Get Help
There may be underlying conditions you’re unaware of that are causing your old dog not to walk.
If your dog is in pain from arthritis, they may be too stiff and sore.
Another possible explanation is that your dog is starting to lose their vision. He may be refusing to walk out of fear, uncertainty, or the inability to see where he’s going.
Your veterinarian can check for underlying conditions and recommend pain medication to help make your dog comfortable and get your dog mobile.
There are also lots of natural options for dog arthritis you consider listed in this article – “What is the Best Natural Arthritis Pain Relief for Dogs.”
Be sure to consult with your vet before trying something new.
2) Be Patient
Older dogs often develop canine cognitive dysfunction (or doggie dementia). This can cause a previously confident dog to become fearful and anxious.
If your dog is hesitant to walk, watch their behavior and see if you think that their reluctance might be due to fear or nervousness.
If so, consider walking your senior dog in a less busy place or at a time when there are few disturbances.
It’s normal for seniors to slow their walk as they age, so please don’t expect your old dog to walk as fast or as far as they used to.
Be patient and gently encourage them to move while respecting that they may not feel well that day.
And remember that some days your dog may not be “feeling it.”
3) Change the Routine
Sometimes, all it takes to motivate an old dog to walk is to change the routine.
Try going out the back door instead of the front. Believe it or not, that may be all that’s needed to get your dog interested in walking.
Varying your walking route can also help stimulate their brain and spur motivation.
Note: if your dog is experiencing vision loss, it may be better to stick to a familiar route to not cause anxiety.
4) Make Sure Your Dog’s Harness or Collar Is Comfortable
Ensure your dog’s harness is well fitting and comfortable, and check for sharp pieces or thick stitching that could be itchy.
Also, check your dog to make sure there is no rubbing or chafing after the walk. If there is, try a different harness next time.
5) Reward Progress
If getting your senior dog outside the door is an achievement, reward your pup for passing through the doorway.
If your dog takes a step in what could be the beginning of a walk, reward him again.
Your next goal could be walking to the top of the driveway, then the sidewalk.
You want to create positive associations with the collar, leash, being outside, and taking a few steps.
If he turns and is ready to come in, don’t give him treats, as that will reward him for going home.
Go in the house without saying a word and try again later.
6) Remember, It’s Your Senior Dog’s Walk
Maybe the reason your senior dog doesn’t want to walk is that you are asking him to go where you want and not letting him go in the direction that inspires him.
Some senior dogs may seem eager for a walk but then get stubborn when you are dictating where they can go and where they can’t.
Remember that getting your old dog for any walk is vital for health and mobility. Does it really matter where your dog walks?
For some senior dogs, it’s their way or the highway, so just go with it and let your dog lead the way.
7) Don’t Push Your Senior Dog to Walk Too Far
If your dog overdoes it on a walk – especially when they are sore after, they may not want to do it again.
When you’re out, watch your dog’s body language. When he’s had enough, recognize that it is time to return home.
It is better to take your senior dog out 3 or 4 times a day for 10 or 15 minutes each, then one long walk for an hour.
Walking too far or too frequently can be hard on an old dog’s joints, and once a day leaves many hours for him to be bored.
8) Give Your Dog Plenty of Breaks
Take breaks, even on short walks, and be sure to bring water.
There is nothing wrong with sitting in the park on a lovely summer day to let your dog rest.
While your dog will not be physically exerting himself during this time, there will be plenty of sights and smells to provide mental “exercise.”
9) Prepare for Bad Weather
Old dogs have a harder time regulating their body temperature, especially when wet.
If your dog refuses to walk in the rain, maybe a raincoat will help.
A sweater and maybe even a coat can make all the difference if it’s cold.
Snow means salt, so consider introducing him to booties or paw wax for added protection.
10) Stick to Even Surfaces
Be mindful of where you’re walking the dog. A few questions to ask yourself about your chosen routes include:
- Are they on rocky or uneven surfaces?
- Are they on a path with fallen branches and inclines?
- Is there grass with holes he can hurt his foot in?
Try a level, smooth sidewalk instead and see if that makes your senior dog more willing to go out.
What Else Can Help Your Old Dog on His Walks?
That’s right, there are several options that will make walking easier, and when it’s easier, your old dog is more likely to want to and be able to do it.
Here are a few options to consider:
The Pet Stroller
This is my absolute favorite. It has been the biggest help to me in ways almost too numerous to mention (although I DID list 21 reasons you should consider using a dog stroller).
It helped a lot when it came to walking, and here’s how.
I used to take my older dog out for a few short walks a day, but when the weather was nice on the weekends, we liked to take our other younger dog to run around the beach.
Although our sweet senior was small enough to carry, even little dogs get heavy after a short while.
The stroller was the perfect solution.
Our senior dog could walk for a few minutes or until she was tired. Then, I would put her in the stroller so we could keep going.
It meant she was always included in our outings and had the chance to get some exercise without overdoing it.
Whether you have a senior dog who can’t walk as far as he used to or a dog recovering from illness or surgery and is only allowed 5-minute walks, you can’t find anything better than a pet stroller.
There are several styles and sizes of dog strollers to choose from, including:
- simple small dog strollers,
- strollers made for larger dogs,
- and even strollers made for more “heavy-duty” use (like trail walks).
There are some situations where a dog not only would benefit from a mobility aid but actually requires one to move around.
Wheelchairs can help dogs with the following:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Neurological Issues
- Surgical Recovery
- Improve Balance and Stability
This list was taken from the Handicapped Pets website.
We often overlook the benefits of dog boots for mobility. But boots are a great way to provide traction for dogs that are unsteady on their feet.
They are also a wonderful solution for dogs that drag their feet due to joint pain.
Splints and Leg Supports
Designed to support front or back legs, these splints and leg supports are a tremendous help for dogs dealing with conditions such as:
- Degenerative joint disease
- Soft tissue injuries
- And more…
Padded Velcro straps are used for adjusting, the padding on the inside ensures your dog is comfortable, and non-slip pads on the bottom keep him stable and sure-footed.
Dog Support Sling/Harness
The sling is another mobility aid you will find helpful if your dog is having trouble walking. They help dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis, and general leg weakness.
A harness can support the dog’s weight and take the pressure off the joints, relieving joint pain.
If you’re considering a sling but don’t want to invest until you know it will help, you can DIY a temporary sling by cutting up an old t-shirt, towel, sheet, or reusable tote bag – especially for smaller dogs.
However, there are plenty of “proper” dog slings and harnesses to choose from that are more comfortable and will last longer.
One brand many senior dog parents love is the COODEO Dog Lift Harness, and another very popular one is the GingerLead, which has been reviewed here previously.
Is it OK Not to Walk an Old Dog?
You may be reading all this and thinking, “But my dog can barely walk. Is it in his best interest to try pushing him to do it?”
There are some situations where walking your dog traditionally may not be in their best interest. This could be due to an injury or advanced arthritis, among other concerns.
Consider very short but frequent exercise sessions, even if that is just a walk to the corner of your road and back. This will keep their muscles working, helping to slow the loss of muscle that comes with aging.
Of course, the physical exercise your older dog can handle may not be enough to meet their mental needs.
This is where mobility aids like strollers allow you to bring your senior dog still out to enjoy the sounds, sights, and scents of the world, challenging their mind while keeping them comfortable.
What is the Best Exercise for Older Dogs (Besides Walking)?
The best exercise for an older dog is, arguably, taking them for short and frequent walks. But there are other options you can incorporate to help get them up and moving.
Swimming is a great, low-impact exercise for dogs that enjoy the water.
The buoyancy of the water helps to support your dog’s weight, taking the pressure off their joints while their muscles are still challenged to move against the resistance created by the water.
Whether you live by a lake or have a pool in your yard, incorporating swimming days this summer can positively impact your senior dog’s health.
But keep sessions short. You don’t want to exhaust your dog, creating a potentially dangerous situation in the water.
If you’re concerned about your dog getting too tired during a swim session, you can always outfit him with a life jacket as an added safety measure.
Pair these forms of physical exercise with mental stimulation like training (yes, you CAN train an old dog to do new tricks), food puzzles, snuffle mats, and interactive toys.
Conclusion: Walking Your Senior Dog
The bottom line is that there is no dog too old to walk. But some dogs may need a little extra consideration in terms of the tools you use, the length of your walk, or the area you are exploring.
Most dogs will start to experience aches and pains as they get older. It’s an unfortunate part of aging.
However, if you notice a sudden change in your dog’s behavior or mobility levels, contact your veterinarian. This could indicate an injury that requires treatment.
For dogs that are hesitant to go walking but still have plenty of “pep in their step,” take a moment to consider the challenges that may be preventing them from wanting to go – such as uncomfortable gear (harness, collar, coat) or a frightening situation on a previous walk.
You can use positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to come out, offering treats when they step out the door, move to the sidewalk, or walk alongside you.
This is a great way to help them overcome any fear or anxiety that may hold them back.
If your dog’s challenges are related to physical struggles, there are mobility aids that can make walking easier and more comfortable, including harnesses, slings, braces, wheelchairs, and strollers.
But keeping your senior dog active and moving (within reason) should be a top priority for their health and well-being!