Walk Alternatives – thriving without dog walks

Posted On Dec 11, 2023 |

In my last post, I deconstructed dog walks and looked at what it is they offer to our dogs. To recap the main purposes of a dog walk were to provide for:

  • Mental stimulation,
  • Physical fitness,
  • Emotional well-being,
  • Sensory stimulation, and
  • Training.

To cater for our dog’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, a great walk alternative should be able to meet this list of needs. That might feel overwhelming, but there are many ways to do this. Today we will be looking at a selection of them:

  • ACE Free Work
  • Scenting
  • Enrichment
  • Tricks and Games
  • Training

ACE Free Work

ACE Free Work is an excellent walk alternative. If this is something that you are reading about for the first time, you may want to check out this introductory post. [Link to blog post on ACE Free Work].

Dogs are mentally stimulated by the change to their environment, unfamiliar layouts, the act of exploring new items or stations, and any problem-solving they may do along the way. The process is one of unrestrained physical exploration, and physical fitness can be improved by creating stretches, or items they can put two feet on, or move under, over, or through.

Emotional well-being is supported by the dog being in full control of their body and their choices. Positive “feel-good” emotions are triggered by the act of seeking. This, and the sensory aspects of ACE Free Work, are what make it an excellent alternative for a dog who needs calming or decompressing activities.

Free Work is a feast of sensory enrichment. It provides an opportunity to scent, lick, chew, balance, wobble, listen, watch, and engage with a variety of textures including walking surfaces, licki mats, and smooth items for licking. Food is also often varied in texture from soft spreadable cheese to a firm meaty chew.

While training isn’t a major element of Free Work, there are ways of interacting with your dog in the set-up. One is using the Counting Game to invite engagement with a specific station or item of equipment. Free Work can be used indoors or in a yard or garden. Endless setups can be created using household objects, packaging, recycling, and dog toys.


Scent work is a fun and rewarding activity that makes a great alternative to a walk. It engages your dog’s superpower – the amazing ability to sniff out different odours. You can provide scenting fun for your dog at any skill level, ranging from snuffle mats to simple food searches, or active learning programs – such as my Scent Detectives course. (LINK)

Depending on your dog’s level of skill and interest you might want to try some (or all) of the following suggestions.

  • Snuffle mats.
  • Treat throws.
  • Hide and seek with food.
  • Hide and seek with a toy.
  • Structured progression through food searches (our 4-week mini-course will help with this).
  • Structured progression through foundational skills for non-food searches (our Scent Detectives – Active Searches course).
  • Structured progression through non-food searches (our Scent Detectives – Kong course).

The benefits of scent work include physical activity when searching and activation of the emotional seeking system, which creates anticipation, eagerness, euphoria, and positive feelings in your dog. This helps to alleviate negative emotions, such as frustration, fear, or anxiety. If your dog is nervous, anxious, or sensitive, this is a perfect activity to enjoy in the safety and comfort of your home.

Scent work is thought to be more energy-intensive minute-for-minute than walking and provides oodles of mental stimulation. It also builds a strong connection between you and your dog as it is such a fun activity for both of you. A very worthy candidate for a walk alternative.

Enrichment for Your Dog

Enrichment is a lovely word that refers to optimising the way that we:

  • actively meet our dog’s needs,
  • enable them to express their natural behaviours, and
  • offer them choice and control over their environment.

These are all things that serve to increase their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Just from that working definition, it’s easy to see how enrichment would make an excellent alternative to a walk.

However, the practical outworking of “offering enrichment” is vast and some types of enrichment are more holistic than others. Scent work, for instance, is enrichment that ticks every box for a walk alternative. Offering a lick mat is also enriching, but it would offer much less in the way of physical enrichment, relationship building and training opportunities.

In this case, we can combine enrichment activities to meet our dog’s needs. So, a lick mat alongside some time spent in a relational, physical activity such as tug or fetch would fulfil the requirements of an alternative to a dog walk.

Enrichment falls into the following broad categories:

  • Calming enrichment,
  • Olfactory (smell) enrichment,
  • Food enrichment,
  • Cognitive enrichment,
  • Physical enrichment, and
  • Visual & auditory enrichment.

However, there is a great deal of overlap, and many activities straddle several categories. If you would like to take a deep dive into enrichment for your dog, I have a lovely course with Jules Ballard that covers all these types of enrichment in detail, with oodles of ideas and activities for you to try. (LINK)

Tricks, Games and Training.

I’m bunching these together because many of the tricks and games for dogs involve training. Training offers mental stimulation, engagement with you, and positive reinforcement – usually with food or a toy. This reward adds the ‘feel good’ factor for your dog and helps to reinforce the specific behaviour you are training.

Some tricks and games are purely for fun and pleasure for both you and your dog, but some are useful tools in daily life and care. Examples of this would be:

  • Nose touch
  • Chin rest
  • Paw
  • Drop
  • Middle

There are also 5 tricks and games that are foundational to training most other tricks and games. These are:

  1. Nose touch
  2. Hold
  3. Paw target
  4. Pull
  5. Drop

If you are going to dive into the world of training tricks and games, (LINK) then these 5 behaviours are the place to begin. Once you have them down it makes training many other tricks quicker and easier. The main aim of trick training is for both of you to have fun, but these activities are usually able to provide all the benefits of a walk and, therefore, make a great walk replacement.

I hope I have given you plenty of ideas for activities that can provide a walk replacement for your dog. If you’d like to join us at the Confident Canine Hub, all our courses are included at no extra charge as part of the membership. You’ll also have a one-to-one with me, and access to our awesome community where you can share your progress and ask any questions as they crop up. I look forward to welcoming you aboard.