We all know it is very important to walk our dogs, but today I want to share some of my own experiences and explore WHY it’s important to walk dogs. Here are my top 10 reasons to walk your dog. I’ve broken it down into the top 5 reasons for dogs and the top 5 reasons for humans, but there’s a lot of overlap and these only touch the surface of the tremendous benefits gained from walking our dogs.
1. Our Dog’s Health Is Our Responsibility
The minute we become pet owners we take our pet’s health into our hands. We become responsible for their health, safety, and well-being. Walking our dogs regularly is one of the first steps to both their physical and mental health. When our dogs are more physically fit, they feel better, are more energetic, experience less behavioral problems associated with feeling unhealthy, and live longer. Our friend Steve of Petnetio and SlimDoggy reminded me that fit dogs can live two or more years longer than obese dogs.
Dog owners often hear that socialization is important when dogs are puppies, especially in the first four months of their lives. While this is true, socialization shouldn’t stop there. Dogs that lose the “practice” of socialization with other dogs and people can develop anxiety or phobias over time. Walking our dogs and exposing them to different dogs, people and situations is a win for everyone. For dogs that already have anxiety or fears, it might seem counter-intuitive to put them in situations that make them fearful, but with the right tools and leadership, both the socialization and physical act of walking can help completely reverse behavioral problems.
Walking our dogs can be a great source of structure and complements the structure that we provide inside the home. In fact, the two are inseparable: structure inside the home translates to good behavior outside the home; and structure that’s reinforced outside the home translates to improved behavior inside the home. Because we love our dogs we often believe they should have all the freedom in the world. But structure is hard-wired into dogs: they seek it, crave it and are happier with it. Even a dog’s free time is better enjoyed by them (and safer) when it’s presented in a structured way.
In a pack, a dog could almost completely rely on the leadership of the pack leaders to derive their confidence. Living with humans doesn’t mean that dogs don’t need confidence; they need it even more so since the rhythm of our lives can be hectic and emotional. Dogs build confidence when they’re able to see, smell and experience many different things and can learn about different areas of the world. This is yet another way that walking benefits dogs.
There is no more basic rhythm for dogs than walking; it makes their lives whole. A dog’s excitement to eat or to greet us coming home from work is different than them being happy and fulfilled. Excitement in dogs can turn into aggression in an instant: it doesn’t mean a dog is happy. Fulfillment, on the other hand, is a calm and balanced presence where a dog and their person have built a relationship of respect and trust; the first step of which is walking together.
1. Human Health
My stepdad’s mother lived to be 104 years old. She wasn’t in a wheelchair until after she was 100. For as long as she could, she walked at least two miles every day. When people asked how she’d stayed so healthy to live such a long life, walking was one of her main ingredients. Walking is just as basic for humans as it is for dogs; we just forget more easily because we’ve devised alternatives to it. Here are some benefits of walking from the Mayo Clinic: maintain a healthy weight, prevent or manage conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, strengthen your bones, lift your mood and improve your balance and coordination. They also say “the faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits.”
2. Trust and Confidence
I always encourage people who don’t walk their dogs to do so. One thing I find is that people who’ve never walked their dogs often lose the confidence to do so before they’ve even tried. I also find that they might have a lot of fun with their dogs but their dogs do not truly trust or respect them. In crucial moments, their dogs make all the decisions and refuse to listen to them. For humans, the more we walk our dogs the more we convince ourselves that we can do it, and we build confidence. For dogs, the more confident we become, the more they trust and respect us; they are then far more likely to listen to us when asked.
If you like making friends, meeting new people is much easier when you have a dog. People will strike up a conversation about your dog’s breed or unique look, or other dog owners might ask if your dogs can meet. I’ve made several friends because we started talking about our dogs, and even offered to help a couple of gals find a dog-friendly apartment in my neighborhood simply because we struck up a conversation after they asked if Kayo was part Dutch Shepherd. Several polls done in the last few years have also shown that singles walking their dogs find more dates. A recent topic on PBS also highlighted that people are happier when they’re social.
You can build a relationship fastest with a dog when you walk together—it will deepen your bond. When bringing home a new dog, take a few good long walks to get to know each other and build your relationship. Many people try to use treats and physical affection first to build their relationships with their dogs, but the way to a dog’s heart is not through their mouths. The way to a dog’s heart is through the walk.
When you have a great relationship with your dog, you’re in good health, and you’re making new friends, you’re bound to experience more joy in life. And best of all, even with all of these incredible benefits: it’s free! Your and your dog’s health, happiness, and bond all for the price of nothing is, well, priceless.
These are our top 10 reasons to walk your dog. Got any others?
Tell us what you love and what you gain from walking your dog, or what you’d like to gain now that you’ve decided to start walking him, her or them!
About the Author: Mahogany Gamble is a lifetime dog lover who spends her days joyously caring for dogs. She owns The Balanced K9, a San Francisco Bay Area-based dog walking, boarding and training company; and she’s the creator of the BoingyDog blog. Her aim is to share with dog owners everywhere the importance of exercise, engagement, leadership and training for raising happy and balanced dogs. This article was originally posted on October 6, 2013 on BoingyDog.