Walking your Dog: The Benefits and How to get Started
Healthful food feeds the body; petting and attention feeds your dog’s mind. Walking benefits your dog’s body as well as his mind. Many dogs who don’t get the walks they need, and this lack of exercise may negatively effect their mental and physical wellbeing.
Walking is very beneficial for both you and your dog. Below, the benefits of walking and how to train your dog to be a good walking partner are discussed.
Why You Should Walk Your Dog?
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, because the physical exertion builds muscle tone and improves cardiovascular health. Walking is also very natural for dogs, with wild dogs and wolves being extremely active compared to their modern day counterparts. In addition to this, the sights and smells a dog is exposed to on a walk are good for his mind as well. [Dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose compared to our 5 million, so being exposed to different smells is very stimulating for their mind (“The Dog’s Sense of Smell”)]. The mental stimulation a walk provides is far superior to the limited sights and smells a dog has access to around his house and yard.
For high energy dogs in particular, walks are a must. A daily walk will help calm your dog down. If your dog is exhibiting bad behaviors, such as excessive chewing, digging, barking etc., you need to make sure he is being exercised regularly in conjunction with training. It is not fair to expect a dog to behave when he is not being given any outlet for his energy. While some dogs are so high energy that they may never be walked to exhaustion, regular walks will still take the edge off their hyper active nature and make them more responsive to training.
Even elderly dogs can benefit from regular walks. My elderly dog has arthritis, but she still enjoys slow walks around the neighborhood. Walks help keep her muscles strong, which reduces the stress on her joints. I also feel that walking my old dog helps keep her mentally sharp. Dogs can develop dementia just as people can as they age. While regular walks aren’t a tested and true way of preventing memory loss and confusion due to advancing age, it seems reasonable to me that the mental stimulation provided by walking can only be good for her mind.
It is important to check with your vet when exercising a dog with health conditions, and if your dog has any signs of pain, his exercise routine should be adjusted accordingly with the guidance of a veterinarian.
How much Walking:
Energetic Dogs: These are the dogs that never seem to settle down. Many are decedents from working breeds, such as herding dogs or terriers. Without exercise, these animals become destructive, disruptive, and unmanageable. For energetic dogs, a 45-minute walk is the bare minimum, with 1 – 2 hours of brisk walking being preferable. High energy dogs who can only be walked for shorter periods of time should also receive plenty of exercise in other ways, such as fetch and playtime with other dogs. You may also buy weighted vests to make walking more tiring for your dog.
Moderately Energetic Dogs: Moderately active dogs may behave without daily walks, but they will still be healthier and happier with regular chances to explore the great outdoors through walking. A 20 to 30 minute walk either daily or 3 times a week will greatly enrich the life of a dog with a moderate energy level.
Low Energy Dogs: If your dog seems completely disinterested in walking, you should probably take him in for a checkup at the vet. While some dogs really don’t have any interest in walking (like one of my own dogs), it is good to rule out any medical issues. Also, a dog who previously loved walking suddenly has no interest in his daily walks should be taken into a vet for a checkup.
True couch potato dogs can be exercised with a couple of short walks a week and/or regular play sessions at home and around the yard.
Safety While Walking:
Exercise your dog during the coolest time of the day in hot weather to avoid dehydration and heat stroke. Be very careful with brachycephalic breeds such as boxers and bulldogs. These breeds have less of an ability to cool themselves and are therefore much more susceptible to heat stroke.
In cold weather, make sure the temperature is bearable for your dog. Every dog is an individual, so what one dog can handle is very different from what another one can. An Alaskan Malamute is going to fair better in frigid temperatures than a Doberman Pinscher. Very old and very young dogs are also less tolerant to extreme temperatures.
Always walk in well-lit areas for both your dog’s safety and your own. If possible, walk with others. Carry pepper spray and/or a walking stick to defend yourself and your dog from stray dogs or dogs that aren’t leashed. I avoid streets where I know dog owners irresponsibly let their untrained dogs go about off leash. It only takes one bad experience with an aggressive dog for a previously friendly dog to become dog aggressive.
Training Your Dog to Walk Nicely on a Leash:
Some dogs walk nicely on leash from day one, but it seems to me that most dogs need to be trained to not pull while on leash. This is especially true for hyper active dogs, who ironically oftentimes don’t get the walks they desperately need because they are so poorly behaved while on a leash.
Before you begin training, decide how you want your dog to walk. Determine ahead of time if you want your dog on your left or right side, and also decide if you mind your dog walking in front of you as long as he doesn’t pull. Changing what your expect from your dog on a daily basis will slow training.
The most effective way I have found to train a stubborn dog to walk politely on leash is to abruptly turn and walk in the opposite direction when the dog begins pulling or surges ahead of you. When done consistently, this teaches the dog that it is most comfortable to pay attention to where you are. For the first several days, you may feel as if you are walking in circles, but most dogs get the point. A regular, well fitting collar can be used for this, but if you have a dog who is prone to backing out of collars, a martingale is a safer, better choice. Other training aids that can be used are addressed below.
Turning abruptly when the dog surges ahead is effective, but I feel it is a little too harsh for puppies, many small breed dogs, or for dogs that are simply more biddable to gentler methods. For these dog, simply stopping and remaining completely still when the dog surges ahead works very effectively. As soon as the dog puts pressure on the leash, plant your feet, and don’t begin walking again until your dog reduces tension on the leash.
Types of Walking Aids:
Martingale collars: Martingale collars will tighten enough to prevent a dog from slipping out of his collar when properly fit, but they will not tighten completely as a choke chain will. I love these collars for daily walks.
Harnesses: Not all harnesses are created equal. If you want a harness to reduce pulling, look for ones they are specifically labeled as tools designed to reduce pulling. Many harnesses will actually encourage a determined dog to pull and will give a strong animal more power to take you on a walk!
When using any harness, check your dogs chest and armpits regularly for chaffing and irritation, which can occur from the friction from the harness against your dogs skin.
Note: Small dogs often have delicate windpipes, and it is best to walk them on a harness as opposed to a collar to prevent damage to their throats. Also, if any dog of any size exhibits problems such as excessive coughing with a conventional collar, it is a good idea to try a harness to see if that helps the problem.
Headcollars: Headcollars can reduces a dog’s pulling. A popular headcollar, The Gentle Leader®, is the one I used with several of my dogs. While it would reduce their pulling ability, it made them snort any time they became excited on the walk, even when not putting pressure on the leash. While they never seemed to be in any pain, I would get strange looks from other people because of my dogs’ peculiar noises. Also, my most determined dog would still pull while wearing the headcollar if she saw something she really wanted to get, such as a squirrel.
As with most quick fix solutions, headcollars are no substitute for consistent training. If you do use one, I would recommend using it in conjunction with one of the methods given above and transitioning to a regular collar or martingale once your dog is reliable on leash, so you don’t become dependent on the training aid.
Most dogs love walking, and it is one of the easiest ways to improve your dog’s behavior as well as build his cardiovascular health. While your dog may behave poorly on the leash because of his excitement over walking, regular training can correct this problem.
“The Dog’s Sense of Smell” – https://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0066/UNP-0066.pdf