Walking with Your Dog
Let’s face it; we all have great intentions to exercise every day. Exercise should be like brushing our teeth, a habit we do ritually without premeditated thought. Having a friend to walk with everyday helps, but finding daily partner with the same schedule is difficult. Instead look to man’s best friend, a dog. We have the most lovable chocolate lab in the world. However, labs are creatures of habit and once I got Miss Munson ritualized to walking three miles first thing in the morning; my choice to exercise was no longer voluntary. Indeed a dog is an excellent companion for your daily walks providing both motivation and company. Given that 45% of America’s dogs are clinically obese, you are also doing them a great favor both physically and mentally. Dogs need a sense of purpose and a job. What better job than keeping you fit and healthy?
When to Start
While our canned advice is to always check with your physician before starting a walking program, also please check with your veterinarian to insure your dog is healthy and mature enough to start a walking program. Pushing a puppy to walk too many miles can damage its bones, ligaments and tendons, especially for breed with known concerns with hip dysplasia. Typically, a dog should be one to two years old (but not all breeds are equal as larger dogs may take longer to mature) before starting a formal exercise walking program. Like a human, you’ll want to slowly build up the distance and let your dog’s body get used to the increased stress gradually. Unlike a human, it’s not as easy to tell if your dog is sore, so always use caution.
Keep Your Dog Safe
Your dog should always be tethered to you via a collar / harness and a leash. We used to use a retractable leash, but found we had less control over our dog and thus now use a fixed-length leash. Retractable leashes can also be a safety hazard if they break. Why risk it? If your dog is a puller, use a halter so that you do not pull on its neck and potentially damage its larynx. Some trainers recommend a choke collar, but we personally do not like them. The key is to make sure you are in command of your dog. This is both for your dog’s safety and the safety of others. Practice commands to sit or heel and always be consistent with the commands you give. Initially, always lead your dog. You must be in control. We always carry small, healthy treats to inspire obedience for our very food motivated Labrador. Since my wife likes to take a more leisurely walk, letting Munson sniff and explore and I like to walk with a more exercise-purposed gait, we found that switching Munson’s leash in coordination with the type of walk is a good visual cue to our dog so she understands the purpose of the walk.
Safety for both you and your dog is paramount. Walk against traffic so that those driving can see you and you can see them. Dress in bright, reflective clothes if you go out at night and wear a headlamp. If walking in the heat, apply common sense and don’t force your dog to walk farther than its comfortable. Also, carry water for you and your dog. Walking on a trail, as opposed to pavement, is a great way to beat the heat and provide a change of pace. The heat of black pavement in the summer can burn the sensitive paws of your pal, so be careful. In the winter, be aware of the hazard ice poses for you and your dog. A distracted dog pulling you when you are placing your foot on the ice could end in disaster. Also, inspect your dog’s paws. If the road is salted, you need to clean your dog’s paws or have them wear booties or a place a protective cream on their paws.
Training Program for You and Your Dog
Walking the same path every day can get boring and lead to a less successful outcome for your exercise program. Vary where you walk each day. You and your dog will appreciate the change. The scenery isn’t the only aspect to mix up. Once you build up to a base of three to four miles per day, start to vary how far you walk and how quickly you walk. You can change up your walking program to include a longer day per week and a shorter, quicker walk. I really enjoy using a Sweedish technique called the fartlek which means speed play. After a warm up of a mile you alter walking faster and slower. I usually do it without a watch and solely for fun and an increased aerobic workout. Miss Munson loves when I issue the “Pick it Up” command followed by a quicker-paced walk for the next five to ten houses.
Walking in the Neighborhood
Walking through your neighborhood is a great way to build a relationship with between your dog and your neighbors. More people neighbors know Munson’s name than our own. Her friendly tail wag invites people to introduce themselves. Having race walked for years around my house I met few people who weren’t living in a small circumference from our house. Now we know just about everyone, except a few curmudgeons, whom live within a few miles of our house. As the daily patrol through the neighborhood, not much goes on that we and our fellow dog walkers do not notice. This provides an extra sense of security for all.
A final note; be responsible. Be aware not all people are dog lovers. Even in our very dog friendly neighborhood, we’ve had more than one unruly person bark worse than a dog at us for our dog using their lawn to do its business. Therefore, it’s always important to only let your dog walk where they are permitted so you don’t create a bad name for dog owners. Obviously, be prepared and always clean up after them. We typically carry three bags for the triple poop days. All that food has to go somewhere.
Beginning a Walking Program >