Why Walk Your Dog: It’s Not Just Walking, It’s Therapy!

Hmmmmm, are you wondering just what type of therapy I mean?  Physical?  Emotional?  Mental?

And the answer is all of these! If you consider your dog to be a big part of daily life, then the time spent with them takes on great importance.

One of the most valuable ways to enjoy your time together and accomplish great things for both of you is–go on a leash walk!

Why Walk Your Dog: It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy!

Benefits of walking for you

Let’s examine the benefits to you, the human person, first.

Dogs keep us focused on a daily routine and can be a powerful secret to productivity. On those days you dread getting started, you will always honor the commitment to get going and take care of your dog. After the morning “outdoor business” and feeding are completed, the walk begins. It stimulates both your and the dog’s metabolic rate to ramp up. Simply participating in this normal rhythm of life will give you energy, meaning and purpose to start your busy day.

If you can return home during the day for a quick time-out to play and visit your dog. That provides a break from the grind.  At the day’s end, regardless of what has happened, your dog’s greeting is always exuberant and helps you feel that life is still safe, just as you left it in the morning. It provides emotional well-being for both of you.

Dogs also play a role in improving our physical and mental health. 

Research shows that exercising with your dog can lower blood pressure. Studies involving patients with coronary artery disease show a pattern that those with pets were more likely to survive one year after the incident. This finding is supported by the fact that dog owners have the added benefit of more exercise through regular walks. Dog owners are considerably more likely to engage in moderate-intensity walking three or more times per week, which results in a reduction of minor health problems.

Benefits of walking for your dog

Now, how about the benefits to your dog?  

Your dog LOVES time spent with you!  The dog is a member of your family and has a natural instinct to be with their pack.  Although the usual daily walks are one on one with you and your dog, I like to recommend that families take a group walk together with their dogs at least once per week.

Start out with proper equipment such as a lead and harness or collar, pick-up bag, water, and pet ID. Your dog should be tagged and microchipped.  I also recommend carrying a photo of the dog in your pack, wallet, etc.

Best strategies

Starting slow and gradually picking up the pace allows the muscles to warm up, the cardiopulmonary system to accommodate and less stress on the paw pads.  

Go at a pace both of you can enjoy.

Potential limitations

There are instances where you will need to do slower, “controlled” leash walks.  

These are important for more than “canine good citizen “manners! If your dog is starting leash walks after an injury or surgery or has a chronic condition such as arthritis, it is important to do a slower, “controlled” speed of walking to allow maximum usage of the affected limb.

A shorter lead should be used. If the dog is allowed to move too fast they will spend less time on the limb during the “stance” phase of gait and hold the limb up longer during the “swing” phase.

The dog will simply do what is easiest and “hold the affected limb up”, therefore not using it “deliberately” and compensating by overusing the sound limbs.

Going slower will force the dog to touch down and push off from the affected limb, bearing more weight on it. 

Physical benefits

Take breaks to allow your dog to “reset” their rhythm and avoid too many repetitive forces on their limbs and paws, especially if they are older or have chronic inflammatory conditions.

The result will be that your dog will gain more strength and build tissue bulk from previously atrophied musculature.  

This type of walk will be challenging and fun for both of you, serving as a positive reward during the recovery process.

If your dog is able to maintain good symmetry and equal use of the limbs during walking, you can add mini “intervals’ of intensity, to increase their endurance and stimulate fat burning.  

These can be brief bursts of a faster pace, jogging or trotting, moving up and down small hills or inclines, or going up and down a few steps. I suggest these intervals be between 5-30 seconds in duration and be inserted 3-4 times during the course of your walk.

How long should your walk be?  

This is a difficult question to answer but in general, start with 5-10 minutes if your dog has been injured or had surgery. Only gradually increase the time if they are not limping and are able to stay symmetrical, using both sides evenly at a controlled speed.

You should be able to cover a ¼ mile in about 5 minutes or ½ mile in 10 minutes for an average, moderate speed. When in doubt, you can always slow it down to a pace that covers a ¼ mile in 7 to 8 minutes, for example.

Work up gradually over a few weeks to a good maintenance level of 30-40minutes of dog walking once per day, with a second shorter walk of 10-15 minutes.

For safety, pay attention to sounds and sights during the walk. Stay off cellphones, tablets, and avoid headphones. Keep a sharp eye out for dangers lurking in leaf piles or next to curbs that your dog might try to eat such as discarded food, candy, and bones.

Avoid extremes in weather and watch for any signs of heatstroke:  rapid breathing, drooling, stumbling, lethargy, bright redness of the gums and tongue, thick saliva, vomiting.  If this occurs, go to a shady area, apply cool water to the neck, face, and paws, assist or carry your dog to shelter and contact the Vet.

Related articles:
DIY Physical Therapy for Dogs: What Can You Do at Home?

Further reading:
4 Therapies That Can Speed Up Your Dog’s Healing

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