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When it’s time to walk the dog, many assume that it’s simply for your pup to do its “business”. However, while regularly walks are essential for keeping the carpet in your home spotless and accident-free, taking a stroll with your pooch does provide many other benefits too!
Walks keep your dog healthy
If you’re not taking your dog out on walks regularly, here’s why you should start — it’s a simple task that has a positive impact on your dog’s physical and mental health, including:
Weight & Body Condition
A major health issue (read more on the prevalence and dangers of obesity here), obesity has a rather simple solution if there are no medical complications involved: have your pet burn more calories than it consumes!
Regular exercise, such as moderate walking every day, is a good way for your pet to burn excess calories and maintain its ideal body weight. You’ll benefit from it too!
Immobility is also a common ailment in dogs. Caused by joint problems (read this to know how to tell if your dog has joint problems), which can occur whether the dog is young or old, big or small, one way to improve joint function is to ensure that they are kept in motion and not left sedentary for too long, or they will start to get stiff.
Regular walks will also help to strengthen the muscles that support the joints, which relieves the strain and pressure on them.
Digestive & Urinary Health
Regular walking will help to regulate your dog’s digestive tract. Just like us humans, some dogs may do its “business” on a schedule, so establishing a routine to go outdoors will maintain and encourage good bowel movements.
When urine is stored in the bladder for long periods of time, bladder infections are more likely to occur as well, so emptying it regularly will greatly reduce the risk of bladder problems too!
That said, it’s important to consult your veterinarian first before you decide on an exercise programme for your pet. A professional veterinarian will be able to best advise you on the duration, speed, intensity, and frequency of the walks, according to your pet’s health condition, age, and so on.
Why is running around at home not enough?
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More than just physical health benefits, bringing your dog for walks outdoors also serve other beneficial purposes that cannot be recreated at home. These consist of:
Unlike us, whose world is vast with many different sources of entertainment, a pet dog’s whole world is its home and its owner. Without new sights, smells, sounds, and constructive things to do, a dog is very naturally going to be bored. This may result in destructive behaviours to keep itself occupied and expend energy, such as chewing on furniture.
Walking a dog outdoors will not only exercise the body, but also the mind as it gets to watch wildlife, explore new paths, interact with other people and their pets, and so on! These provide great mental stimulation that cannot be achieved by being in the same enclosed area all the time.
Your dog craves your attention the most. Talking your dog out for a walk is one of the best ways to spend quality time with it and fulfil its emotional needs! This one-on-one activity will also help to strengthen your bond and keep attention-seeking behaviour such as excessive barking at bay.
Walks in public places are also excellent opportunities for your dog to develop important social skills through healthy interactions with other dogs and humans alike.
Personal Health (for you!)
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Hands up if you’ve almost always failed to stick to your New Year’s resolution of working out more! One good way to ensure that you stay committed to your exercise and fitness goals is to find yourself a dedicated work out buddy who’s always up for some fresh air outdoors — your pooch!
Dog walkers: Healthier people with healthier dogs
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By now, it should be clear as day that taking your dog out for walks regularly benefits both humans and canines. In addition to the various health, mental, and emotional benefits it provides, regular walks also help to prevent obesity, which is a serious problem that both species needs to fight!
According to the Ministry of Health, Singapore’s obesity rate is rising, with 30% of us overweight and 10% of us obese. However, walking for just 30 minutes a day will reduce the risk of diseases related to obesity, which includes coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, colon and breast cancer, and type-2 diabetes!
Canine obesity is a huge problem here in Singapore too, with about 40% – 50% of the dogs that The Animal Clinic sees as patients being overweight or obese. Canine obesity can lead to a whole slew of health problems, and in general, moderate excess weight alone (not yet obesity) is enough to shorten a pet’s life expectancy by as much as 2 years.
Walking to Lose a Few Extra Pounds
However, do note: if your dog is in dire need of losing some weight, walks in the form of leisurely strolls will not be sufficient; particularly if your dog is curious and frequently pauses along the way to sniff at peculiar objects or if the handler chats with other passing dog walkers.
The walk needs to be more focused and rigorous with the intention of exercise. To generate an increased heart rate necessary for aerobic exercise, the walk should be the opposite of a stroll: brisk and sustained.
Moreover, here are some additional advice for brisk walking your dog:
- Use a head halter or walking harness consisting of wide, soft, padded straps and breathable materials.
- Collars are NOT recommended because they may compress your dog’s windpipe when your dog pulls against the leash.
- Choke chains are obviously not condoned.
- For better leash control, opt for a short and strong leash.
- Retractable leashes may be a danger to both you and your pet.
So, how much should we walk?
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According to the World Health Organization, children aged 5 – 17 years old should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. As for adults aged 18 – 64 years old, they should strive to engage in moderate exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week, and take part in strengthening exercises at least twice weekly!
Seniors above the age of 65 years old should also partake in moderate exercise 5 days a week, engage in strengthening exercise at least twice a week, and participate in flexibility and balance routines at least thrice a week.
Needless to say, walking your dog is a fun activity that helps everyone to meet their daily exercise quotas together! To get started, simply create a reasonable walking plan that does not overwhelm you. Make sure it is not overly taxing on you and your pet’s bodies, and that it does not crowd your busy schedule. This will help you to stay motivated!
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You can start slow by taking a few 10-minute walks around the neighbourhood before gradually increasing the distance and time according to you and your dog’s pace. An important tip is to keep the walks interesting by taking different paths and exploring new areas constantly, so that it provides new sights and smells for you and your dog!
When you and your pooch are ready, you can extend the walking duration to 30 minutes. This doesn’t have to be done in one seating either. You can split them up into three 10-minute walks, two 15-minute walks, and so on to work around your schedule and ensure it’s not too taxing on your pet.
In general, leisure walks provide great mental, social stimulation and mild musculoskeletal benefit. Strolls are especially appropriate for senior dogs and dogs with degenerative joint disease, heart disease or respiratory disease. However, if the aim is to burn calories, improve cardiovascular health and strengthen the lungs, active walking or running is recommended instead.
Depending on age, breed, and tolerance, you’ll need to adjust your dog’s exercise quota accordingly. For instance, herding breeds tend to require time running around to burn off their excess energy. Nonetheless, Overall, all dogs need aerobic exercise to stay healthy, regardless of breed.
Also, be sure to take note of the weather. If the sun is too hot, it’s best to keep your dog indoors to avoid risk of heat stress and heat strokes. Hence, longer walks should be reserved for early mornings or late evenings.
For outdoor pee or poo sessions, keeping their duration to a minimum in the late morning or afternoons are best. Upon reaching home, remember to replenish your pup with some well-deserved cool water.
In conclusion, regardless of whichever activity your dog engages in, the goal is to hit 30 minutes of routine exercise daily. Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself for your workout efforts. Grab a smoothie or a snack, or let your pooch’s affection be the calorie-free reward that you need!
This article was written with the professional veterinary advice from Dr Lennie Lee of The Animal Clinic.