By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant
Regular walks pack major benefits for humans, from curbing stress eating to reducing the risk of breast cancer. But humans aren't the only ones who can get a health and wellness boost from walks. Walking your dog daily can be even more beneficial to their mental and physical well-being than yours, yet an average of 41% of dog owners don't do it.
5 Reasons Pet Parents Skip Regular Walks
We all have barriers to what we want to do personally, academically, socially, professionally, or even for others we love, like our furry family members. Pet parents cite a variety of barriers when it comes to getting walks in with their pup, including:
1. My dog is reactive to dogs and other distractions.
2. My dog is old and/or can't keep up with my younger dog.
3. I have a backyard for my dog to run in.
4. I don't have time to walk my dog between work and family responsibilities.
5. I have a small dog, and I don't think they need to walk.
Sound familiar? While these reasons may feel like valid reasons to forgo regular walks with your dog, your pup is missing out on some serious benefits that can help them live a happier, healthier life now and in the future. In this article, we'll explore the benefits of walking your dog and pro tips to overcome common barriers that may be holding you back.
The Amazing Health Benefits of Walking Your Dog
Many pet parents make the mistake of reducing the purpose of dog walking to simple necessities like potty breaks. The truth is, there are many mental and physical benefits to taking regular strolls with your furry friend.
Improved mental wellness
The outside world hosts an abundance of benefits that engage your dog's primary sense, their olfactory perception. Those cute little cold noses take in lots of information, providing many opportunities for learning, critical social exposure, and confidence-boosting experiences. When your dog doesn't get outside their home, yard, or everyday routine, they're deprived of those experiences that lead to better mental health.
Physical health plays a vital role in your dog's mental health. Studies have shown a correlation between an active, healthy lifestyle involving physical fitness and the feeling of overall happiness. Our dogs reap the same health benefits from walking as we do, including:
Decreased risk for diabetes
Regular physical activity allows your dog's muscle cells to use insulin and glucose more efficiently, which can help stabilize their blood sugar levels.
Did you know?
Studies have shown that pet parents with diabetic dogs are more likely to develop type-2 diabetes, linking diabetogenic behaviors between owners and their dogs.
Decreased risk for obesity
Dog breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Scottish Terriers, Pugs, Dachshunds, and Golden Retrievers are more susceptible to being severely overweight. Regardless of propensity, obese dogs aren't getting enough exercise to support the amount of food they consume.
Slowing down degenerative diseases
Degenerative diseases like hip dysplasia and arthritis are commonly found in large breed dogs. Forming strong and healthy muscle tissue through physical exercise and meaningful nutrition will better support and protect bones and improve joint health.
Reducing idiopathic seizures
Stress and sleep deprivation are two of the most frequently reported seizure-precipitating factors in dogs. Physical activity like walking decreases stress and aids in restful sleep. That's a double win to help large breed dogs predisposed to this condition.
How to Make Regular Walks with Your Dog Part of Your Routine
Committing to increasing your walks with your dog is the first step toward many good things.
Start with a reasonable, attainable goal
Set realistic expectations to remain motivated and keep walking long enough to reap the benefits.
For example, rather than jumping from zero walks a week to taking walks twice a day for seven days, start with a concise and practicable goal, such as a once-daily, ten-minute walk. Try Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:15 AM before your dog eats breakfast.
After two weeks of meeting your goal, ask yourself:
- Can we walk on this schedule for the next six months?
- Can we walk more frequently than this?
- Did I take too big of a first step? (If yes, you may need to recalibrate to keep up the good work.)
Make the habit stick
To keep up with a newly formed habit, you need to subtract time from another activity or responsibility to get on a routine and stick with it. Treat the time you spend walking your dog like other daily scheduled tasks. If your work hours, date night, hangouts, and haircut are important enough to be solidified on your calendar, prioritizing quality time with your dog should be a no-brainer.
If scheduling in that time isn't possible right now due to a new baby, move, or other life circumstances, recruit help such as a dog walker to help out. Or, if you're like 32% of survey respondents who admitted to canceling regular walks due to laziness, a trusted dog walker makes a great solution for those times you need to kick back and unwind.
5 Pro Tips to Make the Most of Your Walks Together
Remember those barriers from before? Get past them with these simple tips.
#1. Reactive dog? Consider your route
If your dog consistently reacts to other dogs, people, or outdoor distractions, pick a wide-open location such as a park or a field and bring them out on a 30-foot longline (not a flexi-lead or retractable leash) attached to a properly fitted martingale collar.
Give your dog freedom and encouragement to sniff and explore the environment at a fair distance from distractions and stay calm and quiet. Reward your dog with a treat or a quick squeak of their favorite toy when they give you voluntary eye contact or come in for a comfort check. You can also schedule a consultation with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant like myself to help support you through public outings with your dog using exercises like this one.
#2. Older dog? Modify your routine
Remember that older dogs still need exercise, even if your senior dog doesn't move quite like they used to. Think of it like working out during pregnancy. You don't stop working out altogether. You simply modify the same activities you did pre-pregnancy to continue exercising safely.
If you have an older dog and a younger pup, try taking them on separate, short walks multiple times a week. That allows for more casual strolls for your senior dog with lots of sniffer action. Talk to your vet about adding joint support supplements to their diet, like Native Pet Relief Chews. These chews have joint-boosting natural ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties like Green Lipped Mussel and Turmeric.
Frequent walks that invite your dog to smell the trees, grass, and neighborhood scenery around them provide mental stimulation that contributes to slowing cognitive decline. As dogs age, they're more susceptible to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), also known as doggie dementia. Fortunately, regular walks, mental stimulation, and nutritional cognitive support such as layering in reliable daily PUFAs (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids) can help prevent the onset and slow the decline of CCD.
#3. Know your breed and walk accordingly
What breed of dog are you walking?
Brachycephalic dogs like English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Shih-Tzus have less-than-ideal airways that hinder normal respiration and lead to a higher potential for heat stroke and dehydration, so long walks may not be a safe option for them.
If your dog has a double coat like a Siberian Husky or Great Pyrenees, avoid shaving these heavy shedders and brush them daily to remove loose undercoat hair. During warmer weather, walk your poofy pup and their brachycephalic friends in the morning or evening hours to help keep them from overheating.
#4. Don't deprive your little guy
Yes, even your tiny teacup chihuahua will experience immense health benefits from daily exercise outside your home and yard. Many small dogs have high energy levels, so they need physical activity using their brains.
Make no mistake. These pint-sized but often spunky breeds need the same amount of training as big dogs. Social exposure and training is imperative to building confidence and preventing behavior issues, fear, and anxiety.
If you haven't been walking your small dog, start with short walks to get acclimated. Eventually, you'll enjoy taking long walks together but start by setting that attainable and repeatable goal with shorter walks first.
#5. Ask your vet what's best
Lastly, keep in mind that age, breed, coat characteristics, and health conditions all influence what a healthy walking schedule looks like for your dog. Talk with your vet for guidance on creating an appropriate walking plan based on your pup's unique needs and abilities.
Start Slow and Grow
Active dogs lead healthier lives, but that's not just true for one end of the leash. While it would be great for every pet parent to take three hour-long walks a day with their dog, that's not feasible for everyone or every dog for that matter. When it comes to goal-setting, focus on quality over quantity and frequency over distance. Your health and your dog's health depend on it.