My dog Daisy is athletic. I remember a time when she could play fetch for what seemed like hours. She once hiked nearly 50 miles over a three-day weekend with me.

Those days are gone. Although neither of us has fully accepted this, we have adapted. Daisy is a senior.

At almost 13 years old, Daisy, a Labrador mix, has slowed down. She can’t complete the same mileage that she used to during walks. I also have to take care to walk her in the morning or evening so she doesn’t overheat from the Southwest sun’s monster rays. She trips sometimes and has even face-planted while going up stairs or jumping onto a sidewalk from the street.

This does not mean that Daisy does not want or need exercise daily. Quite the opposite. Daisy’s eyes light up when I ask “Do you wanna go for a walk?” She loves being outside and she loves exploring.

Besides decreasing mileage and paying greater attention to the weather, there is one big change I’ve made to our walks–Daisy leads.

Letting Your Senior Dog Design Their Own Walk

OK. You might think I’m crazy, but I let Daisy decide where we go and how we get there. That means letting her decide the route, smell fire hydrants for five minutes if she chooses, wander around a neighborhood park or sit down and chew a stick if she pleases.

Daisy is living her golden years and I want her to enjoy her walks. That means exploring what she wants to explore and not pushing her beyond a pace that she’s comfortable with. And Daisy has some pretty reasonable routes, to be honest. She more or less knows when it’s time to come home.

Because I’m not pushing Daisy, I know that she is always physically comfortable on our walks. This does not mean that walks become a free-for-all. I still have guidelines about which neighborhoods I’m willing to walk in and when it’s time to turn around and come home. And I always watch for Daisy’s body cues. Sometimes even though she wants to keep going, she is clearly tired or stumbling from tired hind legs. In these situations, I have to step in and say “no more.”

Our pack has been going on Daisy-led walks for about six months now, and every day is an adventure–she truly has a mind of her own. I enjoy these walks because I see how much Daisy enjoys them. And we’ve stepped out of the predictability of any walk I would have taken her on.

Tips For Letting Your Dog Lead the Walk

If you decide that you’d like to turn the leash over to your dog and let them lead walks, I have a few suggestions.

  1. Calculate a reasonable walk mileage and keep track with a GPS app on your phone. When you get to your halfway point, gently coerce your dog to head back in the direction of home.
  2. If you have parks in your neighborhood, your dog will no doubt want to visit them. If not, gently lead him or her to one during your walk in case they need some shade or just a few minutes to rest.
  3. Never push your dog to walk faster, but do gently encourage them to change route if necessary for distance or safety. Sometimes Daisy is quite set on going to certain places, but because she leads the majority of the walk, she eventually accepts my persuasion to change course.
  4. Enjoy yourself. I truly believe walks are about your dogs, not you. I see too many people getting caught up in controlling their dogs during walks: not letting them smell, requiring them to heel, getting over-anxious if the dog reacts to a cat or squirrel. When you go with the flow, you’ll both enjoy the walk more, however. That doesn’t mean you can’t correct your dog. But it does mean you can loosen up about the rules a bit and let everyone enjoy the great outdoors.