I realize that exercise and mental stimulation are important for dogs. How can I convince owners that taking their dog for a walk is a good idea?
Providing exercise and mental stimulation for our pets are necessary and nothing does so better than a good walk (see Why Walk the Dog?, below). Most of our dog breeds have characteristics designed for a specific purpose that would keep them engaged (eg, sporting dogs, working dogs, herding dogs). However, adult household dogs without the opportunity to pursue that purpose generally do not exercise themselves and, if they have access to a backyard, it usually provides the same scents and sights day after day.
Generally, people walk their dogs for 4 reasons:
2. Mental stimulation
Starting Off Right
The time for the “taking a walk” discussion begins with a new puppy. Before taking a puppy for its first walk, it needs to be vacccinated against communicable diseases (see Resources, below). Once adequately protected, the owner can begin to take the puppy outside the home to other places (eg, walks and puppy classes).
Make sure that the puppy is microchipped and wearing a collar for identification and the handler is using an age appropriate control device, such as a head halter, no-pull harness, or flat collar and leash. Avoid choke collars, pinch collars, and extendible leashes.
Initial walks that teach the puppy to accept the leash should be short so that neither the owner nor the puppy becomes frustrated or tired. This can vary from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the puppy. Walks can help with early socialization, learning basic control tasks, and allowing exploration and exercise.
Other sources have detailed information on puppy training and socialization; an in-depth discussion is beyond the scope of this article.1
Fulfilling Each Dog’s Needs
Most important, a dog needs to eliminate and have access to the appropriate place to eliminate.
In addition, a dog often enjoys the chance to sniff and investigate the environment:
- Some dogs are able to sniff and keep walking; others may want to spend more time investigating and perhaps marking with urine the interesting smells they encounter.
- One study noted that off-leash dogs sniff for longer periods when compared with dogs walking on a leash.2 Naturally, the significance is not clear, but perhaps it has to do with the ability to sniff uninterrupted.
- Giving the dog an opportunity for sniffing and marking during each walk is a good idea. This can be under owner control using commands such as “free dog” when sniffing is allowed and a “heel” command for walking without stopping.
The goal of the walk should not necessarily be to create an athlete, but to give sufficient time for exercise and sniffing.
Exercise needs vary from dog to dog and breed to breed:
- The goal of the walk should not necessarily be to create an athlete, but to give sufficient time for exercise and sniffing. A large-breed dog may enjoy running while smaller dogs may be content with slower walks, but exceptions abound. Therefore, walks should be tailored to individual needs.
- If a safe, controlled, open space (ie, fenced yard) is available, games, such as fetch, may be possible and offer great aerobic exercise.
- When planning exercise, accommodations are necessary for age, physical ability, and breed. In dogs prone to lameness, overheating, and cardiac problems, avoid any situation that may exacerbate these issues.