Walking With Your Dog For Health and Weight Loss
By Rachele Baker, DVM – Walking with your dog on a regular basis is a great way to provide your dog with the aerobic exercise that he or she needs to be healthy. If your dog is overweight, regular aerobic exercise will also help him or her to lose weight. This post is the second in a three-part series. The first post in the series is called Is Your Dog Overweight? How To Develop A Weight Loss Plan For Your Dog. In the third post of this series called Fun Exercise Options For Your Dog, I will discuss innovative ways you can provide your dog with exercise other than just taking him or her for regular walks. The post about Fun Exercise Options also includes some very entertaining videos that I am sure you will enjoy.
Regularly walking with your dog is an easy way to help keep both you and your dog healthy and in shape. If you have not been walking your dog regularly, start out slowly and gradually work your way up to a brisk walk once or twice a day. You can start out with a five-minute walk and then gradually increase the time you spend walking until you are walking a total of thirty minutes each time. Dogs love to go on walks. Regularly walking with your dog will give your dog a lot of pleasure as well as helping him or her to lose weight, if needed.
When you are walking with your dog to help him or her lose weight, it is important to provide sustained aerobic exercise by walking briskly and keeping him or her moving. Before you begin your walk, give your dog time to relieve himself or herself so that he or she will not need to stop during your walk.
If your dog tries to stop and sniff or mark territories during your walk, continue looking straight ahead and keep moving. This should encourage your dog to keep moving with you, but if it does not, you can give your dog a command such as “come.” You can give your dog some time to sniff and explore on the way home after you have finished your brisk walk.
If your dog pulls on the leash by getting too far ahead or behind you, you may need to spend some time training your dog to walk on the leash without pulling before you can get serious about your exercise plan.
My golden retriever Savanna gets very excited about going for walks. She used to surge way ahead of me and start pulling me along. I researched training methods for teaching dogs not to pull on the leash and discovered the training method that I will describe here. I used this training method with my dog Savanna and it worked very well.
Training Your Dog Not To Pull On The Leash
To train your dog not to pull on the leash when you are going on a walk, use a six-foot leash rather than a retractable leash to give yourself more control. The minute your dog starts pulling on the leash, stop walking and stand very still. This will prevent your dog from going further and get his or her attention. When your dog stops pulling on the leash and turns to look at you, tell him or her to “come” to you and then “sit.” After your dog sits, give him or her some praise (and a low calorie treat if desired) and then start walking again.
Your dog will soon realize that every time he or she pulls on the leash, the fun stops. This can be a very effective method to train your dog not to pull on the leash when you are going on a walk. It is very important to be consistent once you start this training and never allow your dog to pull on the leash again. If you allow your dog to pull on the leash sometimes, then he or she will keep pulling because sometimes he or she can get away with it.
Until your dog learns to walk on the leash without pulling, consider your walks training sessions rather than exercise sessions. It may help to tire your dog out before a training session by throwing a ball or frisbee in the backyard for a while right before your walk.
If you do not feel that you can train your dog to stop pulling on the leash when going on a walk, another option is to use a special head halter meant to discourage leash pulling such as the Gentle Leader head halter.
Protect Your Dog’s Feet and Carry Essentials Like Water and Bags
If the ground or pavement where you walk your dog is very hot in the summer or cold in the winter, consider using protective coverings for your dog’s paws such as Muttluks dog boots. Avoid walking during the hottest part of the day when the pavement can burn your dog’s paw pads or walk somewhere that your dog can walk on grass or dirt instead of pavement.
It is always a good idea to carry water with you for both you and your dog. I like to carry a dog water bottle that has an attached water bowl. And, of course, do not forget to carry poop bags and pick up after your dog.
Your Dog Can Provide Motivation For You To Exercise
Walking with your dog has the added benefit of also providing you with exercise. The 2006 People Pet Exercising Together (PPET) study showed that dogs can serve as social support for owners that need encouragement and motivation to exercise regularly. The study demonstrated that dogs provide positive motivation for their owners’ exercise programs as “buddies,” “consistent initiators,” and as sources of joy and pride.
You may have noticed that your dog can be very good at being a “consistent initiator” when it is time for a meal or time for their walk. Sometimes it seems like they can tell time! When the dogs in the PPET study realized that they got to go on a walk at a certain time each day, they sought out their owners and urged them to take them on their walk. The people in the PPET study found that they enjoyed walking with their dogs, and they felt proud of doing something good for the health of their overweight dogs.
Check out my blog post entitled Hiking Or Walking With Your Dog: Free Apps For Active Pet Parents for information on a free app for finding local dog-friendly hiking and walking trails and other free apps for your exercise program.