When it comes to walking partners, it’s hard to beat your dog.
Your dog will never get caught in a meeting, cancel because of a cold or choose a must-see-TV marathon over a long walk. The fact that dogs love walks is good for humans, too.
HOW WALKING WITH FIDO KEEPS YOU FIT
1. DOGS KEEP YOU MORE ACTIVE
A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that 60% of dog owners who took their dogs for regular walks met the minimum federal recommendations (150 minutes) for moderate exercise per week. And, thanks to Fido, almost half of dog walkers exercised at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Only 1/3 of non-dog owners got that much exercise.
2. DOGS ENCOURAGE YOU TO WALK FASTER
Dogs influence more than the amount of activity you get each week. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that walking a puppy increased walking speed 28% compared with just a 4% increase when walking with a friend.
3. DOGS FORCE CONSISTENCY
“Speaking from personal experience, when you have a dog as a running partner, you are more likely to stick to your own plan,” says Glenn Pierce, DogTown behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Society.
Just as studies have shown cardiovascular exercise can alleviate mild to moderate depression in humans, Pierce notes that, in dogs, it can help with anxious behavior.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR DOG FOR SERIOUS WALKING OR RUNNING
For short walks around the block, grabbing the leash and telling the dog it’s time to go is often enough. Going for longer walks (or runs) takes training — and a little caution.
“Someone who has never run before doesn’t start out doing five miles,” says Sharon Crowell-Davis, PhD, a veterinary behaviorist and professor at the University of Georgia. “You need to build your dog up to go longer distances.”
A Couch to 5K-like program is a great approach for training your dog to go longer distances or faster speeds: Start slow, integrating running intervals into your walks. Your dog will build up endurance gradually.
KNOW YOUR DOG
While dogs ranging from teacup Yorkies to Great Danes love to go for walks, some dogs were not made for distance or speed.
“You have to know your dog,” Crowell-Davis warns.
Short-legged dogs like dachshunds might have trouble keeping up; short-nosed breeds like pugs might have trouble breathing on a run; and older dogs and dogs with health issues like arthritis or hip dysplasia are better suited to leisurely strolls in the park rather than high-speed or long-distance jaunts.
Younger, active dogs in good health tend to be the best choices for long walks and runs. But puppies younger than 18 months, whose bones are still developing, are too young to safely run with you.
It’s a good idea to get the green light from your vet before signing up for a dog-friendly 5K, or just embarking on a running routine. “Just like you would do before you start an exercise regimen, it is crucial that you take your dog to your veterinarian, get a good physical and discuss your exercise goals,” says Pierce. “Your veterinarian can guide you how to build up to increase gradually.”
SIGNS OF FATIGUE
During a long walk or run, keep a close watch on your dog. If it starts to slow down, falls back, tries to make a break for the shade or lie down in the grass, it’s probably tired or overheated. Some panting is normal but excessive panting is a sign of exhaustion. “You need to watch for signs you’re pushing too hard,” Crowell-Davis says.
Most important, watch for signs that your dog likes running with you. It should act excited and ready to go when the leash comes out. If it hides at the sight of the leash or needs to be pulled along, it’s better to leave the dog at home.
“As long as your dog is raring to go and walking or running out in front of you or by your side, you’re good. If they are lagging or resisting, stop,” adds Pierce.
For longer walks, take extra water for the dog — you’re not the only one who needs to stay hydrated during exercise. If you’re walking at night, use a reflective leash or collar to make your dog more visible. After long walks or runs, check your dog’s paws for blisters (dogs can get them, too) and give it a break until they heal.
Long walks and runs are great exercise — for both you and the dog — and a fun way to spend time together.