Getting a dog is one sure way to get some exercise – or it should be! Regardless of the type of dog you have, your canine companion needs to stretch his legs daily. While a Shih Tzu won’t keep the same pace as a Lab, canines big and small love to see you strapping on your running shoes and grabbing a leash.
But is your walk the best it could be? Here are a few dos and don’ts to remember before you and your dog hit the street or trail (especially if one or both of you is new to the exercise game).
DO start off slow and be consistent. Ten to 15 minutes a day is all you need at the beginning. Increase your time as your cardiovascular strength builds. Work up to an hour a day if you’re both game for it. Remember, though, consistency is important. You can’t expect your dog to go from a ten-minute walk during the week to a two-hour hike on the weekend, even if he seems more than willing.
DO rest when your dog wants to. Look for any signs of fatigue or breathing problems and try not to overdo it, especially when you’re first starting out.
DON’T forget to wear reflectors when walking at night. Clothing, collar and leash reflectors could save your life, especially if you have a fairly long leash or accidentally run into the path of a car or a territorial animal.
DO take care on asphalt roads and sidewalks. They can be hard on paws due to summer heat or salt and ice in winter. Buy a set of dog boots or, if possible, keep your canine on the grass.
DON’T forget to take a poop bag. In many public areas, cleaning up after your dog is the law. Even if it’s not, it’s to everyone’s advantage to keep sidewalks, parks and walking trails clean.
DON’T go for walks during extreme weather. If it’s “40 below” or hot as a sauna, neither you nor your dog should be exercising outdoors.
DO take refreshments. The more active your dog is, the more water he’ll need. Make sure he has plenty of fresh water before and after your run. If you’re going for a long hike, take some water and treats along with you.
DO vary your route. Even dogs can get bored with the same old routine. Taking him a different way once or twice a week will keep him mentally stimulated and is also more interesting for you.
DO consider a dog walking buddy. It’s always more fun to do things with a friend, so if you know someone who also has a dog, plan to take your walks together. Just ensure the dogs are going to be compatible, and that they match in terms of exercise ability, so one doesn’t tire before the other is even warmed up.
DON’T neglect to use caution when meeting other dogs. Keep your dog on a leash and ask about the other dog’s temperament before approaching. Keep an eye on their body language – if either dog shows signs of nervousness or aggression, back off.
DO avoid areas sprayed with pesticides. Because they’re closer to the ground than we are, dogs are much more likely to ingest or absorb these toxins. Beat a hasty retreat if you see lawn-spraying signs or smell chemicals.
DON’T forget to check his collar and leash before heading out. Make sure both are in good condition and are in no danger of breaking or coming apart, and that your dog’s ID information is intact.
DO let your dog walk you on occasion. Allow him to decide which way to go and see where he leads you. Just make sure he sticks to safe and acceptable routes.
DO get a pedometer. This is an excellent way to keep a record of how many miles you and your buddy walk on a weekly basis, and how many calories you’re burning.
Last but not least, DO take notice of the sights, smells and sounds around you . . . and enjoy yourselves!
Exercise offers the same benefits to your dog as it does to you.
• tones muscles
• helps prevent obesity
• strengthens the cardiovascular system
• strengthens bones
• improves sleep
• provides mood-stabilizing benefits
• enhances mental alertness
• promotes overall health
• provides socialization opportunities