In my household, taking the dogs for a walk is an activity as essential as eating breakfast or getting dressed in the morning – the only excuse for not doing so is if we are too ill to get out of bed!
Regardless of rain or howling winds, at some point in the day our dogs will go for their daily outing. I think that I probably inherited my commitment to dog walking from my parents who insisted on taking our family dog out at least once if not twice or three times a day, but over the years I have come to realise just why daily dog walking is so important:
1. Physical wellbeing – A fit and healthy dog is a beautiful sight. Their muscles are strong and their bodies are sleek. To stay fit and strong, lungs and muscles need to be exercised on a regular basis. Many dogs suffer from health problems simply because they are overweight – heart problems, breathing difficulties and joint pain are the most common. Even thirty minutes of brisk exercise (a steady walk) can go a long way to keeping weight under control.
2. Mental wellbeing – Dogs were not made to sit around all day long and do nothing. They are intelligent animals with keen senses that would naturally be used for scavenging and in some cases hunting. By taking your dog out of his property on a daily basis you are giving him an opportunity to use his senses and to engage his mind.
3. Socialising opportunities – While many people make an effort to socialise their puppies, they don’t realise that socialising should be a life-long endeavour. Dogs that continue to go out of their properties on a regular basis have the chance to meet other people and dogs as well as to experience the world around them. Such dogs will remain well socialised for the rest of their lives and will often become more and more of a pleasure to take out as time goes by.
4. Outlet for excess energy – Young healthy dogs are extremely energetic. They need an outlet for their energy in order not to become over-excitable and uncontrollable in the home. One of the most common behavioural problems I encounter is dogs that don’t settle down and jump all over their owners or bark excitably for no reason. The common denominator in most of these cases is that the dogs are seldom or never taken for walks. They have no outlet for their energy and so direct it towards getting their owners’ attention instead.
5. Reduction in behavioural problems – Digging, destructive chewing and barking can all occur as a result of boredom – the dog has nothing else to do and so turns to the only available activities in the home. Taking your dog for a walk gives him something positive to do instead. Once a dog knows he can count on a daily walk he will usually stop trying to find other undesirable things to do while he is at home.
6. Training & bonding opportunities – By taking your dog out with you on a daily basis you will have many opportunities to teach him new things. He could learn to sit before crossing a road, to lie down quietly while you rest on a bench and read the paper and to follow you at all times or get left behind! The more that you share in life the stronger your bond with your dog will be.
7. Longevity – Because dogs that get regular exercise are fitter and healthier than those that don’t, they usually live longer. As joints weaken with age it is extremely important to keep muscles as strong as possible so that they can support the joints and enable the dog to continue to get around for as long as possible. Moderate daily exercise helps enormously in this regard.
8. Getting the most out of your companion animal– Dogs are companion animals. A companion is someone who spends time with you and shares things with you. To get the best out of our dogs they should be part of the family, included in family activities and outings. A dog that is used to daily walks will easily fit in on family hikes, picnics and visits to the beach.
9. Sheer enjoyment – Although I am sure that there will be many people who will be quick to correct me for applying human emotions to dogs, I have to state that I do believe that going for a walk makes dogs happy. As soon as we start to get ready for a walk our generally calm and relaxed dogs start to show excitement and come to supervise as we put on walking shoes etc. They cannot wait to grab a ball and get out the gate or in the car. I am sure that I am not imagining the look of sheer delight on their faces when they are let loose in a wide open space and when they return home afterwards there is the look of complete contentment as they flop down for a rest.
10. Human Benefits – People who walk their dogs daily experience many of the same benefits that their canine companions do: Good health, fitness and weight control, as well as the pleasure of experiencing the outdoors and meeting other dog owners. Certainly one of my greatest enjoyments in life is watching my dogs have such a good time.
Walks do not have to be terribly long (just thirty minutes of moderate exercise may be enough in some cases), but they must take place daily. Determining to walk one’s dog every second day or three times a week does not work, because the inconsistency usually causes the dog to become frustrated on the days it doesn’t get to go out. Also the commitment on the part of the owner tends to be very tenuous and walks will easily be put off until tomorrow, until eventually the dog will be lucky to go out at all.