Happy New Year and welcome to 2023! January is Walk Your Pet Month! What better way to kick off your new year's resolutions than with a simple but healthy solution for you and your pup? Take your dog for a walk! It's easy because all you need to get started is a harness, a 6 ft leash and 10-20 minutes a day! Walking your dog has numerous benefits for both of you, so let’s explore some of the many ways taking more dog walks can effectively improve and change your lives.
Dog Walking Can Improve Everyone's Health
According to VCA, keeping your dog active maintains their joint health by reducing stiffness and increasing flexibility. Walking your dog often helps to prevent constipation, and also reduces the risk of bladder infections from urine sitting in the bladder for too long. Currently, over 50% of dogs in the U.S. are classified as being obese (APOP). Obesity affects dogs similarly to humans as it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other weight-related illnesses. Taking your dog on regular walks will help keep their weight regulated, and improve their circulatory and muscular systems.
Dogs are great motivators for pet owners who are generally couch potatoes. If you need an exercise buddy to keep you on track, look to your dog! According to the CDC, the obesity prevalence for human adults in the U.S. has increased to 41.9% (2020 stats), and heart disease is still the leading cause of human deaths in the U.S. (2022 stats). Obesity is less likely to occur in dog owners who walk their dogs regularly, according to studies (sciencedirect), which in turn will reduce the risk of heart disease. Owning and walking a dog may decrease the risk of heart disease-related deaths by 36% (TreeHugger)!
The Goal: Walking your dog for 30 minutes, five days per week is the recommendation to keep you both on your paws! (A variation would be 20 minutes a day, seven days a week.) But you don’t have to start there. Begin with a 10-minute walk twice a day for a few weeks, then slowly increase your time. Soon you can get you to where you need to be.
For senior dogs, you may not be able to walk them for as long, but having a dog stroller available can keep you mobile for the full 30 minutes. This can promote your dog’s mental wellbeing by allowing it to take in the sights and smells of the environment.
Walking Relieves Depression & Anxiety
Like humans, dogs can get bored by being in a familiar yard or home every day, which over time can cause unwanted behaviors. Highly active dogs need neighborhood walks to provide benefits which a yard cannot, and taking your dog for a long walk in unfamiliar territory is one of the best things you can do for their overall wellness. Dogs often work things out through their noses, so smelling new dogs and other scents can help to calm them while they process all the wonderful new data coming in. Physical exercise plus the sensory/mental activity makes going for a walk one of the best energy releasing activities possible and will help them sleep better at night as well.
The global prevalence of anxiety and depression in humans increased by 25% during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic (WHO), and 50% of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder (MedAlertHelp). WHO also suggested these statistics were a “wake up call” to the importance of supporting mental health globally. Taking your dog for a walk helps relieve your anxiety and depression for multiple reasons.
Nature - Studies have shown that being in nature helps restore your attention and increase your sense of well-being (PsychologyToday).
Releasing happy hormones - Spending time with your dog and looking them in the eye releases oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which reduces stress and therefore reduces risk of heart disease.
Socialization - Research done in Australia found dog owners were more likely to greet other neighbors and be helpful in the community. Connecting with others can help with depression and also increases dog socialization.
Bonding - Recent statistics show 79% of pet owners claim their pets have helped them reduce stress (petpedia.co), and ten minutes of petting your dog can help lower levels of the hormone cortisol, which become elevated in times of stress (TreeHugger).
Walking Time is Training Time
Training your dog for improved walking skills exercises your dog’s mind and body. Leash obedience produces polite and socially confident dogs and reduces your anxiety during walks. Training your dog with simple commands builds a lasting relationship between you and your pet, allows them to understand the social structure they live within, and helps them to feel more secure and exhibit less anxiety or unwanted behaviors. (If your dog is food motivated, remember to take high value treats on your walks for training.)
Sit & Stay Training Suggestions:
When going for walks, teach your dog to “sit” and “wait” so you may go through the door first. This shows them you are the leader, and also allows you to view the area for any triggers which may cause your dog to react with barking or lunging.
Teach your dog to not pull on its leash while walking. This builds safety and confidence in your dog, and also helps them feel secure. (Find our leash training tips here.)
Teach the “heel” command. “Heeling” will reduce lunging and reactivity to other dogs, and also establish you as the leader.
Walk your dog, don’t let your dog walk you. Many trainers agree that having your dog behind you gives your dog the confidence you will protect it from any oncoming threat, and therefore will not feel the need to bark at every person or every animal crossing your paths.
Sit & Stay Pet Care Services wishes everyone a happy and safe new year! Remember, reward your dog for a walk well done! And don’t forget to give yourself something, because humans like treats too :)
Side Note: Don't forget your cats - they can also go out for walks!
Take the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2022 Pet Parent Survey for Obesity Prevalence here.