The Importance of Taking Your Dog for a Walk

woman and dog in a park

The Importance of Taking Your Dog for a Walk

If you are the proud owner of a home with a fully fenced in yard, you might think that your dog has access to all of the exercise he needs. But you’d be wrong. While dogs do love to have recreational space of their own to enjoy, there are benefits to taking a walk with their beloved owners that they just can’t get any other way.

Taking your dog for regular walks is an exercise that does you both good. Yet with today’s busy schedules, many owners find it challenging to secure even a half hour for a leisurely stroll with Fido. Can your dog get by with romping around your yard, or does he really need to go for a walk?

5 Reasons Why Fido Really Needs a Walk

Just like human beings, Fido craves a change of scenery. His yard provides a bit of that, but in truth, there really aren’t that many interesting new smells to explore, and it’s not a whole lot of fun chasing yourself around. Even though our couches seductively call our names after a long, hard day of work, Fido really does need to go for a walk, and as much as we hate to admit it, we could benefit from one too.

It helps Fido maintain a healthy weight.

Our dogs are little canine opportunists.  Most dogs love food, and they will use every tool at their disposal to convince you that they are starving and could benefit from a few extra treats.  The truth is we all fall victim to their wily ways, and if we do it on a continual basis, it won’t be long before those few added treats per day combine to make a few extra pounds around Fido’s middle. We don’t like to have to refuse Fido because he’s starting to pack on the pounds, but we do need to address the problem to prevent unhealthful weight gain and potential problems as a result of it. Walking is the ideal solution to allow Fido to have his cake, and so long as he takes a daily walk, he can get to eat it too.

Taking Fido for regular walks can help combat weight gain from added treats or even a sedentary lifestyle. Moving is good for Fido’s joints particularly as he begins to age, and keeping him fit and trim reduces excess pressure on his hips and knees, leaving him far less prone to pain and injury.

It encourages proper social behavior.
While walking is an enjoyable bonding experience for you and your dog, it also provides many different opportunities for your dog to engage in social behaviors and to learn how to appropriately behave politely in society. Where else would you run across people jogging, babies in strollers being walked by their parents, or even other dogs?

Yes, a good dog walk affords your dog the opportunity to experience new social situations and to practice his manners.

It is an excellent bonding time for you and Fido.
Sometimes your dog just craves a little one on one time with you. When you’re out on a walk and enjoying your neighborhood together, you aren’t focusing on anything but the beauty of nature all around you and how great your dog is.  Taking Fido for a walk provides an opportunity like no other. You get to connect with your dog and the outdoors in a way that you both enjoy.  After all, being with you is always Fido’s favorite thing to do, but if you partner that with a little bit of running and some new exciting smells, you’ve just taken fun to a whole new level! 

It provides mental and physical stimulation.
Your backyard is great, and no doubt your dog appreciates it. But, it’s pretty much the same day in and day out. Your dog likes to go out there and check things out.  After all, even minute differences are still fun to note, sniff, and mark, but with no one to play with and nothing different to do, your dog gets bored pretty quickly.

But taking a trek in the great outdoors with you affords Fido the occasion to stretch his legs and his brain at the same time. Who knows what exciting things might await you? There could be a cat to chase or a dead bird carcass to roll in, and OH, THE POOP!  There will be lots of poo and pee-mail awaiting Fido at all of his favorite walking haunts. Yes, a walk is a great thing for a dog indeed.  Best way ever to productively “wear out” both his mind and his body.

It is an excellent time to work on training issues.
Got some training you’ve been hoping to do? Dogs don’t generalize very well, and because of this, commands they have learned at home aren’t always strictly obeyed in a different environment. Taking a walk allows you to practice behaviors you’ve been working on at a home by requesting them in a different setting to help Fido learn that a command must be obeyed regardless of location. This can help in shoring up basic manners training that needs a bit of refreshing or can work as “proofing” for dog performance sports where your dog may be required to comply with an exercise via verbal cue or hand signal.  As with all training, the key is to keep things fun.

Choosing to train while on a walk is also a great idea because of the distractions. It is a great way to help your dog build focus and to learn to look to you for direction. This also helps to intensify your bond as dog and best friend.

Some Precautions to Observe

It is important to note that not all dogs are comfortable with the social aspects of a walk.  Some dogs might be shy or fearful, and exposure to too many new things might cause them to shut down or even become reactive.

Here are some things to bear in mind when out for a walk with Fido:

Let Fido’s comfort level be your guide.
If you have a dog who is experiencing a fear period or who can become reactive around dogs or other stimuli when out on a walk, you need to let your dog be your guide.  Your dog does not have to meet every dog or person who wants to meet him.  In fact, if your dog is letting you know that he’s not comfortable doing so, it is your job to advocate for him and protect him from prying people and dogs, no matter how well-intended they may be.

If your dog displays leash reactivity, you would benefit from a consultation with a reputable and qualified professional dog trainer who can assist you with formulating a strategy to help Fido learn that new experiences don’t have to be scary. With some time spent working on desensitization and counterconditioning exercises, Fido can learn to appreciate new things.  As with all training, these approaches take time, and progress can only be made when your dog indicates that he is ready. 

Always take poop bags with you.
Most city by-laws mandate the picking up and proper disposal of all dog waste. Because you never know when nature is going to call, make certain that you have numerous poop bags with you when taking your dog for a walk. We all must do our part to keep our environment safe and clean for all to enjoy. 

Keep the duration of your walks moderate.
As with all things in life, it is possible to over do it.  Keep Fido’s walks moderate in length and difficulty and stick to a schedule that is manageable for you both.  Better to decide ahead of time that you will do three half hour walks a week and stick to it than to attempt the Boston Marathon the first day and not lace up your walking shoes again for six months.

Work up to lengthier or more vigorous walks over a period of time and always be sensitive to weather conditions and your dog’s age as they play a factor in your dog’s enjoyment of a walk as well.

Bring high value treats.
It’s always a great idea to have high value treats with you when out on a walk. Accidents can happen, and high value treats can help you prevent problems. For example, if your dog accidentally slips his harness and attempts to run away from you, a tasty treat might be all it takes to lure him back to your side, so you can get his harness securely back on him.

Treats are a great way to reinforce training as well as to refocus your dog’s attention on you if necessary.

Yes, Fido really does need to go for a walk. The mental and physical benefits of communing with nature with his favorite person by his side are undeniable.  Grab your running shoes and Fido’s leash and head outside for some fresh air with your favorite canine pal today!

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