Want to find the fountain of youth?
Just take a walk. No, seriously … doctors who study human health and longevity have emphasized how good walking is for humans. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health says it’s a great way to boost healthy aging. Harvard says that walking nine miles a week lowered the premature death rate in males by a whopping 22 percent. Maybe even more astonishing, walking three hours a week lowered a woman’s risk of heart attack, cardiac death and stroke by 34 or 35 percent.
So, there you have it. We humans were built for walking.
Guess who else is? Your dog. It is, naturally, exercise. But it also provides mental stimulation, according to the Animal Foundation, which dogs need. Even those lazy potatoes who love to spend hours snoring away on the sofa need mental stimulation. And a walk is great for that. Different sights, smells, and the potential for an enriched social life all lead to a happier, more well-adjusted pup.
Dogs who get regular exercise also have a tendency to be less destructive. And, one of the best things … it’s a great time for training and bonding with you.
All that to say, it’s time to go take a walk. Here are some tips we have to do so safely:
Stay clear of retractable leads: There are many, many horror stories of people and pets being injured by these. That includes people losing fingers. A moment of inattentiveness can result in a pet getting tangled and being so scared that they twist and turn until it’s impossible to free them. It’s not hard to imagine legs, tails, noses, even necks being critically injured in this scenario. Bystanders have even been hurt by the long cords on retractable leads. It’s also hard to control a dog in an emergency when they are 20 or more feet away from you.
No chokers or pinchers: Pinchers can help you control a dog but they also cause pain, which is how they work. Better to work on additional training than risk the possibility of an injury. Chokers, too, can injure dogs, up to and including damaging their cervical vertebrae and esophagus. This is especially true for smaller dogs.
Consider a harness: There are many different types, including several that will reduce or eliminate pulling. And the good part? The right harness will not hurt your dog while making the walk easier because they give you more control.
Martingale for the win: If you have a greyhound or another breed with a very aerodynamic head (where their neck is larger than their head) a traditional collar is easy to slip out of for those dogs. A Martingale is like a traditional collar only it tightens a little when pulled in so they can’t slip out of it. It’s a bit like a choke collar only it doesn’t continue to tighten down the more the dog pulls. Also, they are wider and typically made of material vs. metal so there’s give to them.
Train, train, train: Your dog might be reactive to other dogs, people, or being on a lead. That’s why you should “desensitize your dog.” This means lots of walks where you use positive reinforcement to redirect negative behavior. It could be praise, a ball they love or, the best option: treats. High-value treats will help direct your dogs attention away from the thing that is causing the issue. It will also help them rethink their feelings about certain triggers. So instead of the dog next door getting your dog excited and reactive, that barking dog might be associated with something tasty coming from his or her favorite person.
Now Get Out There and Get Those Steps In
Okay, we do have to offer a subtle warning. Start slow. Also make sure walking is something your doctor would recommend if you have any conditions or ailments that might be aggravated by walking. Check out this information from the Mayo Clinic on easing into a walking plan.
But if you’re ready to go - and you know it - get out there. A general rule of thumb is three times a week for 30 minutes each and move up from there as you’re able. No doubt your dog will go as often as you want and won’t complain. Just be careful of weather issues while you’re out. Heat can affect dogs much more rapidly than it does for humans. The larger and the more muscled the dog is, the easier it is for them to be impacted by the heat. And hot pavement can burn paws. On the flip side, cold can cause frostbite and ice melt can burn paw pads or be licked off and cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure.
Now, go take a walk. Your furry friend will thank you for it. And so will your body.