The Benefits of Dog Walking
Susan E. Davis, PT
One of the best ways to enjoy time with your dog is on a leash walk. It’s beneficial for both of you!
Human Benefits of Dog Walking
Dogs play a role in improving our physical and mental health. Dogs keep us focused on a daily routine, and can be a powerful secret to productivity. On the days you dread getting started, you will always honor your commitment to get going and take care of your dog. The walk begins after the morning ‘outdoor business’ and feeding are complete. Walking stimulates your and your dog’s metabolic rate for the day. Simply participating in this routine will give you energy, meaning and purpose to start your busy day. If you can return home during the day to play and visit your dog then it provides a break from the grind. Most importantly, your dog’s greeting at the end of the day is always exuberant and helps you feel happy. It provides emotional well-being for both of you.
Research shows that dog owners are more likely to engage in moderate intensity walking two or three times more a week than non-dog owners. This added exercise can lead to lower blood pressure and reduced minor health problems.
Dog Benefits of Dog Walking
Your dog LOVES to spend time with you! The dog is a member of your family and has a natural instinct to be with their pack. I recommend families take a group walk together with their dog at least once a week. It’s important to start out with proper equipment, such as a lead, harness, collar, pick-up bag, water and pet ID. Your dog should be tagged and micro chipped before you begin your walk. I also recommend carrying a photo of the dog in your pack or wallet.
Start slow and gradually pick up the pace allowing your dog’s muscles to warm up and the cardiopulmonary system to adjust to the exercise. The gradual pace will also reduce the stress on your dog’s paw pads. Remember to go at a pace both of you can enjoy.
There are instances where you will need to do slower and controlled leash walks. These are important for more than ‘canine good citizen’ manners! If your dog is starting leash walks after an injury or has a chronic condition, such as arthritis, then it is important to do a slower controlled speed of walking to allow maximum usage of the affected limb. You should also use a shorter leash. If the dog is allowed to move too fast then they will spend less time on the limb during the stance phase of gait, and hold the limb up longer during the swing phase. In this case, the dog will simply do what is easiest to hold the affected limb up. Therefore, the dog will not use it deliberately, and will likely compensate by overusing the sounds limbs. Going slower will force the dog to touch down and push off using the affected limb and bearing more weight on it.
It’s important to take breaks to allow your dog to reset his or her rhythm, and to avoid too much repetitive force on their limbs and paws. This is especially true if your dog is older or has chronic inflammatory conditions. These slow walks will result in your dog gaining more strength, and building tissue bulk from previously atrophied musculature. This type of walk will be challenging and fun for both of you, serving as a positive reward during the recovery process.
If your dog is able to maintain good symmetry and equal use of the limbs during walking then you can add mini intervals of intensity to increase your dog’s endurance. This will also stimulate fat burning. These can be brief bursts of faster pace jogging or trotting. You can also incorporate hills and inclines. These intervals should be between 5 and 30 seconds long, and should be repeated 3 to 4 times during the course of your walk.
How long should your walk be? In general, you should start with 5 to 10 minutes of walking if your dog is injured or had surgery. From there, you should gradually increase the time if your dog is not limping, and is able to stay symmetrical using both sides evenly at a controlled speed.
You should be able to cover a quarter of a mile in about 5 minutes, or a half a mile in 10 minutes at an average, moderate speed. When in doubt, you can always slow it down to a pace that covers a quarter of a mile in 7 to 8 minutes. Over a few weeks, work up gradually to one walk a week that is 30 to 40 minutes long, and a second walk a week that is 10 to 15 minutes long.
Pay attention to the sounds and sights during your walk. Stay off your cellphone, and try to avoid using headphones. It’s also important to keep a sharp eye out for dangers that could be lurking in leaf piles that your dog may try to eat, such as discarded food, candy or bones.
You should avoid extremes in weather, and you should watch for any signs of heatstroke. Symptoms included rapid breathing, drooling, stumbling, lethargy, bright redness of the gums and tongue, thick saliva and vomiting. If these symptoms occur, go to a shady area to apply cool water to the neck, face and paws. You should also contact your Vet.