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The Importance of Walking Your Dog/Want to Get Happy? Walk the Dog

by FireApps support on July 04, 2019

We all know that our dogs need walks. They need exercise, as well as mental stimulation, to be content and stable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt us to get some outdoor physical exercise, as well. So every day, we leash our dogs up and hit the pavement or the trail. But it isn’t just our sense of responsible dog ownership and the health benefits that get us (and keep us) walking. A small study. by a researcher at the University of Liverpool found that a prime motivation for walking our dogs is that it makes us happy. And why does it make us happy? Because we believe it makes our dogs happy, too.

The health benefits of dog walking to you and your dog

Dog owners enjoy numerous health and social benefits by walking their dog a few times a week. Benefits include improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones (built up by walking regularly), and decreased stress.

A regular walk is vitally important for your pet's health too. Obesity in pets is associated with a number of medical complaints including osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and insulin resistance.

Most dogs need to be walked at least once each day, though some dogs, particularly very active dogs, may require more. The breed of dog you have, as well as its level of fitness and age, will also determine how long and how vigorous your walk should be. 

A walk can make a dog very happy. They love to check out the sights and smells and will really look forward to spending time with you. A dog that doesn't receive sufficient exercise can easily become bored or destructive. 

Dogs get to smell interesting things, check out the sights, and spend time with their owners. And, the bonding, exercise, and connecting with nature raises our spirits, too. The research was conducted using interviews and personal written materials from a small group of dog owners. It revealed that they were motivated to continue walks because they felt their dogs were enjoying it. Their motivation decreased if the dog seemed too old or too lazy to walk regularly, or was misbehaving. The study found that, although dog owners described the walks as “for the dog,” their responses showed that the dog’s needs aligned with their own. Their happiness was contingent on believing that the dog was feeling happiness and enjoyment.

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Health benefits of pet ownership

Research studies from around the world have found that pets may offer health benefits to their owners, including:

  • People who walk their dogs are seen by other people as friendly and approachable.
  • A study of patients waiting in dentist surgeries found that watching fish swim around in an aquarium is as effective at reducing stress as hypnosis.
  • Stroking and patting a pet can reduce the physiological indicators of stress, including high blood pressure.
  • The non-judgemental companionship and unconditional love offered by pets is known to have considerable mental health benefits for owners, including increased self-esteem.
  • Boosts motivation to get some exercise, especially if you feel you’re doing it for your canine friend. In fact, dog owners walk significantly more than people who don’t own dogs, 150.3 minutes versus 110.9 minutes per week.
  • Helps manage stress. Just being around a dog can lower your levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone.
  • Increases self-esteem. The companionship of our nonjudgmental and loving canine friends has several mental health benefits, including increasing our sense of self-esteem.
  • Connects us with nature. While your dog is connecting with nature, so are you. If you put down your phone, pay attention to your surroundings, and get in touch with nature, it can increase your focus and well-being. Anecdotally, dog walking is useful for problem-solving and getting yourself “unstuck.”
  • Increases your sense of community. Dog walking is a great opportunity for socializing, for both you and your dog. Your dog gets to experience new people, surroundings, and other dogs. And you might find yourself chatting with other dog walkers or neighbors.
  • Alleviates boredom for both of you. Walking alone can feel lonely or even boring. And sitting alone in the yard isn’t too exciting for your dog, either. A walk with an enthusiastic canine is instant companionship.

Community health benefits of dog walking and pet ownership

Remember, too, that a sedentary pooch can quickly become an overweight one, and that brings potential health problems with it. Even if your dog is active inside the home, he or she still needs another outlet for pent-up energy. You’ll benefit from having a well-exercised dog, as tired dogs tend to behave better, and you’ll help your pet avoid unnecessary weight gain!

  • Research undertaken by the University of Western Australia has found that owning a pet can also benefit the whole community. The researchers found that pet owners, in particular dog owners, were more likely to:
    • acknowledge and greet other people in the street
    • exchange favours with neighbours
  • meet others in their neighbourhood.

Community health benefits of dog walking and pet ownership

Research undertaken by the University of Western Australia has found that owning a pet can also benefit the whole community. The researchers found that pet owners, in particular dog owners, were more likely to:
  • acknowledge and greet other people in the street
  • exchange favours with neighbours
  • meet others in their neighbourhood.
  • While out walking, your pooch is most likely going to meet other dogs. This is a great opportunity to help your dog learn acceptable ways of socially interacting with new animals. It will also help build doggy confidence so your pet will be less afraid to make friends. If your dog does show fear, taking them to a training class is a great way of removing that anxiety in a more controlled environment. Well-socialized pups still like a bit of rough-and-tumble play with other dogs when out for a walk, but they’ll know when to stop and will come away without any battle scars. Walking your dog and exposing him or her to different dogs, people, and situations is a win for everyone.

Dog walking tips

When you walk your dog:
  • Aim for 30 minute walks, five times per week.
  • Keep your dog on its leash in public areas, unless it’s an ‘off leash’ zone. Contact your local council about areas where dogs can be exercised off leash.
  • Supervise your dog around young children.
  • Take a plastic bag or scoop to clean up your dog’s poo.
  • Make sure your dog is properly identified.
  • Make sure your dog is desexed.
  • Avoid walking in extreme heat.
  • Take fresh water for you and your dog to drink.

Walking Your Dog is a Training Opportunity

When walking your dog, consider it a training opportunity. Dogs aren’t born knowing how to walk on a leash, so you’ll have to teach your dog how to follow your lead. On these walks, you can begin teaching commands like, “sit,” “stay,” and “heel,” especially if you take treats along to use during the process.

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Just Walking Your Dog May Not be Enough

Exercise needs are based on your dog's age, breed, size, and overall health, but a good rule of thumb is you should spend at least 30 minutes every day on an activity with your dog. Younger dogs and dogs bred for sports or herding activities may need much more.

If your dog has a yard to play in, walking isn’t the only form of exercise available. However, don’t expect your dog to create their own exercise routine just because you’ve put them outside. Dogs don’t self-entertain, so if you want to tire your pet out, play catch or fetch! Find more ideas on what activities you and your dog can do together in The Animal Foundation’s Guide to Your Dog’s Play Time and Activities.

If you’re at work all day, consider taking your dog to doggie daycare, hiring a dog walker or asking a friend to take your dog out during those hours. Your pet will enjoy the company, and you’ll come home to a happier dog waiting to greet you. 

Ready to get out of the house with your four-legged friend? With this insight, you’ll never look at a walk with your dog the same way again! Don’t have a dog of your own to walk? Volunteer with The Animal Foundation and help enrich the lives of our pawsome shelter pooches.

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