I used to think of walking the dog as just another daily chore until I had surgery on my right knee and couldn’t walk under my own power for months. Beyond a doubt, the most painful thing about rehab was the sad look on my dog’s face day after a walkless day. Since then, our walks are not only our primary form of bonding and exercise, but also the fulfillment of a promise I made to her.
Walking the dog doesn’t have to be just another part of the daily grind. When it’s part of your regular routine, dog walking has long-term benefits for both of you. Here are some simple steps you can take to turn your dog walk into more of a workout.
Tricia Montgomery, founder and CEO of K9 Fit Club, said the first step is “knowing your body and knowing your dog.” A puppy’s ability is different than a senior dog’s, and a Bluetick Coonhound needs more exercise than a Min Pin. Getting into a rhythm that works for both of you matters.
Your ability to walk with your dog, rather than pulling each other, matters, too. I’d never noticed how often I tugged on the leash hooked to her collar when my dog, Baby, stopped to smell an interesting leaf or how hard she jerked at the scent of a squirrel.
JT Clough, author of 5K Training Guide: Running with Dogs, told me that “the way we’ve always been taught to control our dogs” causes serious “wear and tear on their bodies” and that I might try a harness instead. I did, and both of us felt the difference immediately.
Angel Wasserman, founder of Raleigh’s Paws in Training, suggested creating “a daily walking routine that fits into your daily schedule.” Two 30-minute walks, three to five times a week, is ideal. No matter how far you walk, both you and your dog will be rewarded physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Wasserman said a healthy dog walk “should be about focused, brisk-paced exercise.” To Clough, that means walking fast enough that you’re “just slightly on the edge of being able to talk normally.”
A walk around the block is OK, but, for Clough, “when you get on hilly terrain, grass, or trails — something that’s not just flat surface,” you build more strength and endurance.
Any time you spend exercising with your dog is better than none at all. Montgomery said that there are many “little things that you can add to improve not only the bonding time but also the exercise component for both you and your dog.” Clough suggested “pushing the pace” and “walking as hard as you can” if you only have 10 minutes. Wasserman recommended throwing “tennis balls for the dog to chase while you’re getting ready for work” as one way to make the most of your time together.
If you are comfortable with a hands-free dog leash, carrying small hand weights adds extra effort to your 10-minute workout. What about weighted dog vests? Montgomery insisted that you consult a veterinarian first, since improper use may lead to unnecessary back, hip, and knee problems for your dog. It’s better, Clough said, to engage your dog’s mind by “breaking up the walk and putting some fun play into it,” adding to both your exercise and enjoyment.
Any routine can become stale over time, so how do you keep the daily walk fresh? Vary your routine — a longer walk, a faster pace, or more challenging terrain — adds physical and mental stimulation and keeps both you and your dog involved and motivated!
How can you tell if your dog is getting the most out of your walks? Wasserman said, “Listen to your dog. Does he lie down to rest when he comes home, or is he still full of energy and racing around the house?” Adjust your efforts accordingly.
The benefits of walking your dog pass up and down the leash. Exercise routines that become habits decrease anxiety and hyperactivity, increase energy, aid digestion, and help us sleep better.
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About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a two-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Baby, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.
Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February/March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.