Why Walk? Part 1

This is a blog post I have been meaning to write for a while because it is about a subject on which I have very strong feelings- walking your dog.  It is my belief that walking your dog is the single most important thing you can do for the physical and mental health of your pet. There are numerous benefits associated with walking your dog, not only for your dog, but for you as well.  This will be a two-part post.  One part about the benefits that walking provides for your dog, and the other about the benefits walking provides for you (of which there are many!).

Part 1:  The Canine Benefits of Walking

1. Physical exercise:  This is likely the most obvious benefit of walking your dog.  Just like in humans, a sedentary dog is not a healthy dog.  Cruising around the backyard for a few minutes a day does not provide the proper aerobic activity needed for a healthy dog, just as moving around one’s house does not provide enough exercise for a person. Walking has many physical benefits for your pet, here are a few:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight for your pet- Dogs that are overweight should certainly include exercise in their weight-loss routine, as opposed to relying solely on less food consumption.
  • Strengthening their cardiovascular system- This is very important for dogs of any sizes and will help keep them healthy as they age.
  • Increasing muscle mass and tone-  Daily exercise helps to build up a proper level of muscle mass on your dog that is needed to support their bones and joints.  This helps to prevent some joint problems as they age, and also improves their overall metabolism.  Plus, it gives dogs that handsome toned look without having to hit the gym.
  • Strengthening bones and joints-  When dogs are exposed to aerobic activity, it puts a very small amount of stress on their bones.  This stress causes tiny, tiny, tiny breaks and weaknesses in their bones, which are then repaired by their body while they are resting.  When their body repairs these weakened areas of bone, the repair is made to be stronger than the bone was originally.  Over time, this causes higher bone density and stronger bones and joints for your dog. Even in older pets, daily walking is helpful to maintain the flexibility of their joints which will help to battle stiffness, arthritis, and joint problems that are associated with senior pets.

These are all important health reasons, but let’s not forget that dogs also just have a lot of energy.  Walking is the best way to let them release some stress and energy so they will be significantly calmer around the house.

2. Mental stimulation:  In my opinion, the mental stimulation that a dog gains from going for walks is just as important as the physical benefits.  Dogs are natural inquisitive creatures and are also very intelligent, but, like humans, they need mental stimulation to maintain their brain activity.  By sitting around the house all day and only being exposed to the same area of backyard, your dog’s brain function will drop over time, as it doesn’t take a lot of thinking or problem solving to walk around the same plot of land each day.  However, during walks dogs are constantly exposed to new smells that need to be processed, visual stimulation from variety of different sights, and auditory stimulation from various unknown sounds.  These factors combined with an increased level of overall activity cause an strong increase in brain function. Dogs also have a natural desire to roam and inspect their area, so walking in an area near your house gives your dog a feeling of accomplishment as he surveys his “territory”. These factors all cause your dog to increase the use of many parts of its brain that only get minimal use at home.  This higher level of mental activity has other sub-benefits that occur also such as….

3.  Improved behavior:  Dogs, like children, don’t innately go looking for trouble, they often just find it when they are bored.  A dog that receives stimulation from walks is significantly less likely to try to dig out of the yard, shred your favorite couch,or raid your closet for your most expensive pair of heels to chew.   Granted, walking is not a miracle cure for all behavior problems, but by providing your dog with mental stimulation and activity through walks, they are much less likely to feel the need to find their own forms of stimulation/ trouble.

4. Training:  Walks are a great time to catch up on some training.  This can be as basic as asking your dog to sit while you put their leash or before you cross a street, or can get as intricate as off-leash agility training (but I’ll save that for another post).  It is important to establish a good walking routine in which you are the leader of the walk, as opposed to the dog walking you.*  Once this routine is established, you will notice that your dog is very responsive to your commands and actually enjoys responding to your cues.  Most breeds were bred over time to be some form of working dog, and therefore they actually crave the stimulation of following commands.

*More on good on-leash walking techniques to come soon in a future post.

5. Toe Nails:  This one may seem a little random, but trust me, it’s important.  Anyone who has ever tried to clip their dogs toe nails knows that it is generally a bit of an ordeal (unless you have one of those wonder dogs that doesn’t mind in the slightest, in which case, count your blessings!).  Oswald, for example, has never had his toe nails clipped, nor has he ever needed to.  Walking daily on different surfaces, but especially concrete sidewalks, naturally files his nails and keeps them at a normal length.  No traumatic nail trimmings for us.

6. Socialization:  Dogs are naturally social creatures.  In the wild, they live in packs together, and their social bonds with humans were one of the main reasons dogs were chosen for domestication all those years ago.  When out walking, dogs have the opportunity to meet up with other dogs and other people.  If you have a dog that is slightly skittish of people they don’t know, keep some treats in your pocket and allow interested people to offer a couple to your dog.  Over time, your dog will become much less anxious when meeting new people.  If you have a dog that loves everyone and everything (i.e. my dog Rupert), then use meeting other dogs an people as a training moment.  Ask your dog to sit as other dogs or people approach, and once they sit quietly then they get the reward of the attention from the other dog or human.  This method also prevents any lunging and jumping up that can be a problematic behavior.

7. Your dog with love you for it:  If all those other reasons weren’t enough, this reason will get you. I see it twice a day, every day when I put on my shoes to take the dogs out- that looks of pure happiness on their faces.  Dogs love their walks so much, and they will love you and appreciate you even more for taking them.

So, whether you need to start this process or just get back into the routine, get going!  Dig out your tennis shoes and pull out the leash.  Even 15 minutes a day is enough to provide all of these benefits for your dog, and it will be well worth it in the long run.

Look for our next post of why walking is so important for you, as well!

Happy Trails!

Oswald taking a 7 am walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Oswald taking a 7 am walking through the French Quarter in New Orleans.