Walking is an essential bonding experience that enhances the connection between us and our dogs.
Today, I’d like to outline some of the many benefits:
Walking is cheap. You just need a good pair of shoes and you’ll be well on your way to improving the wellbeing of both yourself + your doggo.
While you’re out walking -- it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on all the good things in life. (E.g., Things like being grateful for waking up every morning, experiencing the wonder of nature, and being in the present moment with another being who’s your companion.)
The act of moving benefits us and our pets in many ways as well. We get to breathe fresh air + improve our aerobic health all at the same time.
Walking also tones and helps the nervous system better than just about anything else.
Outside of enjoying daily interaction with our pets, it also gives us opportunities to have conversations with other people while we're out and about.
This is great if you're extroverted, because you can socialize.
It's great if you're introverted, because it'll challenge you to come out of their shell, have a good talk, and maybe even make some new human friends!
I've seen folks who use motorized wheelchairs out walking their dogs as well, putting aside any handicaps they have and valuing the friendship + exercise needs of their furry friend.
Dogs need daily physical and mental stimulation.
Walking is the perfect way to give them both by getting movement and exerting calm (yet assertive) energy while you're out to reinforce that they mind / listen.
This translates so much once you're back at home.
If you can get your dog to be obedient and respectful on a daily walk, then you're far less likely to deal with things like chewing / destroying items when you aren't home, separation anxiety, or excessive barking.
It serves as a moving meditation and will leave you both with a clear head to start the day.
In essence, the experience of the walk can be a time of great soul cleansing and refreshment.
Six years ago, I personally was infected with a common virus.
In all honesty, I wasn’t taking very good care of myself at the time and I got really sick because of it.
Dilative Cardiomyopathy and Congestive Heart Failure.
I spent 3 days in the hospital receiving intense IV therapy and heart medications.
This was the first time I’d been able to lie flat and sleep in a while.
Something they measure in situations like this is called your “ejection fraction”.
It’s essentially just how much blood the left ventricle of your heart is estimated to pump with each heartbeat.
My ejection fraction was estimated at 5-10%...in the death zone.
I was told people start dying when this gets to the 10-15% range and most are dead at 5-10%.
Needless to say...when I got back home, I was very weak.
I knew I needed to start getting regular movement if I was going to survive.
I had to wear a Zoll life vest for 11 months, because I was in great danger of my heart just stopping all of a sudden.
They told me that I only had about 2 minutes to be revived in the event my heart was to act up and the only way it could be done in a timely manner would be this vest.
They never sent me to cardiac rehab and to this day, I’m not quite sure why.
Could it be that they thought I was most likely going to die?
These were the types of questions rolling around in my head, so I realized I HAD to start walking regularly to get my blood flowing and get back in shape.
When I asked my heart failure doctor what precautions I needed to take to not overdo it, she said, “If your chest starts to hurt or if you have a hard time breathing, you should stop immediately.”
I had my marching orders!
Luckily, I have a really cool dog named Dingo who I had adopted from our local animal shelter.
He quickly became my accountability partner and bestest walking buddy.
He absolutely LOVES going for walks and was ready anytime I was.
At first, I could only go a few hundred yards, so he had to be patient with me.
After about a month, I got a bit stronger and was able to go about a mile.
Then after a while longer, 2 miles.
Dingo was pleased as I continued to make progress, because he’s a very brisk walker!
Now I wouldn’t be slowing him down anymore!
To this day, anytime I get anywhere near his harness and lead, he gets amped up and does the WALK TIME dance.
(He would have made a very good strength and conditioning coach.)
If you've been looking for the ultimate accountability partner for getting you up and moving, look no further than your canine counterpart.
You'll both get some exercise + relieve stress by getting outside into the fresh air.
While we're on this topic, I'd like to remind you of just how important it is to keep your doggos healthy so they'll feel up to the task of going on regular walks with you.
I've put together a 1-page cheat sheet that sums up all the best nutrition advice I give my clients to keep their pets healthy here in my clinic.
If you're interested, feel free to download it below and I'll send it over right away!
My soapbox statement about retractable dog leashes; please don't use them.
"Why?", you might ask.
Here are some examples based on my experience with thousands of dog owners over the years:
With retractable leashes, your dog can easily get into trouble because the leash enables him/her to interact with other pets that in some cases they shouldn't be close to. E.g., They could get hurt if the other dog is aggressive. Become sick if the other pet happens to have an illness that's contagious (that your pet hasn't been vaccinated for), etc.
These leashes can easily get tangled up with furniture and other items, sometimes causing the pet to choke
If the pet sees something that it wants to chase, it's very possible the line could break loose when it hits the end of the spool...and now your dog is running free
Several times a year, a dog owner will get a finger caught in a loop in the line and if the pet runs off chasing something, that finger can easily be severed
A big point of regular walks with your dog is to instill a sense in them that you're the pack leader (AKA the alpha). If you let them run 10 feet ahead of you at all times, this conditions them to believe THEY are the one in charge, which can lead to them not being as obedient. (You ideally want your dog to walk right alongside you or slightly behind you without pulling.)
Another common issue I see is when dog owners tend to let Fido's collar or harness fit too loose.
I highly recommend ensuring you properly adjust whichever of these you use and if it doesn't fit well, go buy a new one ASAP.
I say this because if your dog balks and doesn't want to be on the leash, he/she can simply pull back and slip right out of the collar or harness.
I strongly encourage all dog owners when coming to my clinic, to have a well-fitting collar or harness before arriving.
Trust me, they can slip off much easier than you think.
Many veterinary clinics are near busy streets and highways, so if your pet panics...they could get loose and run into traffic and be in danger of getting hit by a car.
As far as navigating the walk, I recommend choosing and walking the route by yourself first, so that you can be sure it's a safe route to take with your pooch.
Be on the lookout for other dogs running loose, aggressive dogs kept in by ramshackle fences, traffic dangers, etc.
You may have to adjust your route accordingly.
I also suggest carrying pepper gel and/or a taser to protect yourself and your pet if you would happen to be confronted by an aggressive dog or wild animal.
My friend Angel Soriano, who owns K-9 University (the largest dog training facility in Oklahoma City) recommends this as well.
And of course, when the weather is going to be hot out, make a habit of scheduling your walks for early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid heat exhausting for both you and your dog.
(A nice benefit of this is that you'll be able to witness some spectacular sunrises and sunsets!)
Back to hot weather, keep in mind that when temps are up, that your dog easily burn their paws on hot pavement.
If you can't hold your fingers on the sidewalk for seven seconds without it burning, it's too hot for your pet to be walking.
Also during the heat, be sure and take some water and a portable / collapsible dish they can drink out of.
As for as my preference on collars or harnesses, I've seen way too many collars injure the pet's neck (and again, many dogs can easily slip out of them).
I ultimately recommend a chest harness that fits very well and a five-foot lead to keep your best friend close without wandering too far.
I prefer synthetic materials, as leather absorbs water and gets weak / brittle with age.
The last thing you want is a worn-out leash breaking when your dog sees a squirrel and makes a mad dash for it!
And lastly, if your dog doesn't do well on a leash or is aggressive with other dogs they meet on the trail, that's definitely an indicator that you should enroll in some obedience classes.
It may take some time for your dog to acclimate to behaving on walks, but if you prioritize this and set aside the time, you'll both be rewarded in many ways.
Now that I've given you the lowdown, it's time to start getting outside and exploring the world with your dog!
Dr. Terry R. Wood