10 reasons to walk your dog

photo of cute mixed-breed dog with leash in his mouthPhysical fitness is important for humans and their pets, and that’s the basis for National Walk Your Dog Month in January. What better way to start the New Year off than with a joint fitness program based around walking with your dog? There’s more than one reason why walking your dog is beneficial to health and well being for both of you. Just make sure that you are walking the dog, not the dog walking you.

1. Provides an energy outlet. Dogs, especially those who are left alone during most of the day while their owner out of the house, spend a lot of the day sleeping or lounging around. As a result, unexpended energy builds up which requires an outlet. That’s why dogs seem to go crazy when their owner returns home – racing around the house, jumping up and over furniture, running in circles, bouncing up and down. Walking is a great way to use up that pent-up energy, and it helps invigorate the dog walkers too. If surplus energy is not burned up, destructive behavior may result.

2. Walking is a form of training. Once the pent-up over-exuberance has been largely depleted by walking, the dog becomes calmer and more submissive, and is much more likely to follow commands and focus on your lead. The walk itself is training in action, reinforcing the bond between dog and owner, because your dog’s security is literally in your hands at the end of the leash. And it helps distinguish you as the pack leader.

3. Is physically and mentally stimulating. When you take your dog for a walk, your dog will smell, hear and see new stimuli. Dogs instinctively use all of their senses to investigate their surroundings, and this fuels the brain. And all this stimulation can tire them out.

4. Fulfills the “call of the wild” natural instincts for exploration and roaming. Does your dog seem to sniff out every possible aspect of a mail box or bush? Do they like to pace across a yard back and forth with their nose to the ground? Does a squirrel sighting have them tugging at their leash? It’s a natural instinct to hunt for food while on the prowl and even though your dog is no longer in the wild, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and purpose (besides eating and sleeping). Plus, when they know they will have their chance to sniff and roam on a walk, it’s been documented that their instinct to bolt out the door every time it opens is curbed.

5. It provides socialization opportunities. On a walk you may encounter other people, dogs, tykes on trikes and strollers, many of whom will want to say hello in one way or another. Social skills are important during these meetings to develop confidence and interaction skills with humans and other dogs. An unsocialized dog may become scared, growl, nip or lunge, or cringe behind you.

6. Acclimates them to outdoor surroundings. It’s not usually quiet outside, unless you live in a remote area. Exposing them to noises and moving objects such as traffic, skateboards and bicycles, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, sirens, trash trucks removes their sense of threat and territorialism. The result, a calmer dog who takes strange people, objects and noises in stride.

7. Personal attention. Dogs crave our attention and love and when on a walk together, they know you are focusing on them. However, blabbing on the cell phone while walking your dog minimizes the experience, and they would respectfully request your undivided attention if they could.

8. Joint walks help bonding between other dogs. If you walk your dog with a friend and their dog(s), or you have more than one, walking them together helps them bond as a pack and minimizes behavior problems between them.

9. Health. Walking on a regular basis helps strengthen the heart, lungs, muscles, burns calories, and can lengthen and improve the quality of life for both you and your dog.

10. Motivation. If getting yourself up and out has been a challenge, now you have a reason to and purpose for taking a walk yourself. All it takes is 30 minutes a day.

Having trouble on your walks establishing control? Do you feel that you are the one being walked, or your dog bolts at every sound, or encounters with others are just not pleasant and are to be avoided at all cost? Maybe it is time to invest in an obedience training class for you and your dog. Also be sure to observe your dog’s cues he’s had enough – like panting, slowing down, or just stopping altogether and plopping down on a cool patch of grass. If suddenly your usual walk is more than your dog can handle, a pet wellness check-up at Whitworth Animal Clinic, providing animal care to the residents of Madison, Huntsville, Decatur and other surrounding areas for over 30 years, is recommended. Oh, and most important, always carry a plastic bag and pick up after your pet. No one likes little “surprises” while they are taking their walk.

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