The Benefits of Dog Walking
Walking the dog has many benefits for dog and owner. Mostly if there is a benefit for the dog, there is a benefit for the owner. Whilst it is possible to dog walk with the dog and owner both using a treadmill, this sort of walking has fewer benefits then getting outside and going for a proper walk.
Walking the Dogs
Health benefits of Walking
Walking has health benefits for dogs and humans:
In humans, studies have shown that walking can prevent, reduce or alleviate many illnesses for example regular exercise, such as walking the dog, reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease by up to 40% (walking for Health.org.uk) and walking regularly can prevent us developing type 2 diabetes,reducing the risk by 26-60%. (The Textbook of Diabetes, Holt I G et al, 2010). In addition, ‘The British Association for Cardiac Rehabilitation’ recommends “appropriate walking as part of a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programme”.
Having a dog to walk increases the chance of us making walking a regular activity, Most dogs are prepared to take the odd day off from walking, but if they are used to being walked you will find they have ways of reminding you that it’s time you both went for a walk again.
Although I haven’t seen any similar studies done for dogs it’s reasonable to suspect that as they suffer from many of the same diseases as us, they might similarly benefit. Certainly my own vet believes that the longevity of my own 16 year old German Shepherd type dog, is partly down to regular walking. Although he walks very slowly now up to two miles a day, the change of scenery seems to keep him alert and interested in life. It also helps him to maintain some muscle tone which, along with medication and supplements, supports his arthritic joints.
For both dogs and humans exercise such as walking helps to burn calories so is good for maintaining a healthy weight or as part of a weight loss program. For example, according to about.com a 180lb (approx. 13stone) person would use 400 calories walking 4 miles in an hour or 286 calories walking 3 miles in an hour.
The Psychological Benefits of Walking
The jury’s out as to whether dogs understand human smiles and have true smiles of their own, but never the less, it looks to me as though dogs are usually pretty happy and relaxed out on a walk and are often alert and interested and keen to investigate sights, sounds and especially smells. Speaking from experience, dogs who have used up some of their energy in a walk which has engaged their interest, are less likely to chew up household items out of boredom and are more relaxed when left home alone if you have to leave them.
Something to Smile about
What is Happening over There?
Although dogs are many generations removed from their wolf relatives they do still share a desire to roam and explore. One study by David Meach and Dean Cluff (Movements of Wolves at the Northern Extreme of the Species' Range, Including during Four Months of Darkness) showed wolves often travelling up to 25 miles a day, but was based on straight line distance between recorded points, so actual distance travelled is likely to be further. A walk fulfils some of this instinctive need in your dog to travel and work for their food. Although it is fair to say that this instinct is very well hidden in some couch potato canines!
For people there are positive psychological effects to being out and looking at a natural environment which walking encourages. Even if you have to walk mostly in town you will find areas planted with trees which are soothing to look at and be surprised to find nature such wild flowers in unexpected crevices and even peregrine falcons gazing down from high rise buildings on the lookout for a pigeon dinner.
The Social Benefits of Walking
Because you lead the activity, walking is a particularly good opportunity to bond with your dog. Unless your dog is a reluctant walker, or a fair weather walker and you’re out in the rain! Your dog will see you as a provider of interest and good things whilst out enjoying a walk. It’s also an especially good chance for you and the dog to meet new and old canine and human friends. Out on walks you can accustom your dog to other new things as well, such as livestock or passing traffic. A well socialised dog makes for a much better companion and is likely to be perceived more positively by none dog owners too.
Meet New Friends While Walking
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How Far Should I Walk my Dog?
How far you walk depends on the individual health and fitness of both human and canine and the breed or type of dog. Tiny dogs such as Chihuahuas often love walking but are putting in a lot more effort to travel a mile then a Labrador is for example. Brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds such as british bulldogs and pugs can struggle to walk far because their breathing is often hampered by the shape of their nose and muzzle.
As a guide I have found 1 ½ hours walking covering up to six miles is quite acceptable to German Shepherd dogs, a Belgian shepherd dog, greyhound, lurchers, terriers, a Labrador and several mongrel dogs I’ve owned. They were all happy to do more on days when time allowed.
If you and or your dog are not fit and used to walking any distance, it is worth starting of with 20 minutes twice a day for at least a week and building distance and speed up from there.