January is a time of fresh starts, and if you’re like many of us, there’s a chance one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get more exercise. Lucky for you (and your pooch), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has designated January as National Walk Your Dog Month—a perfect time for you and your canine companions to take a more active approach to health and wellness.
Importance of Exercising Dogs
Like humans, dogs derive a wealth of benefits from regular vigorous exercise. Not only does a brisk walk, hike, or game of fetch help build muscle tone, it helps reduce obesity and its attendant health risks. A significant number of dogs in the US suffer from some degree of obesity—a condition that can affect cardiovascular health, exacerbate orthopedic problems, and shorten life span.
Walking your dog for just half hour a day can significantly reduce the risk for canine obesity and can help already overweight dogs get back in shape. It’s also a great way to bond with your pet and work off stress (for both of you).
Dog Exercise Gear
Before you begin, your dog should have a collar that’s comfortable, yet secure enough that your pet can’t slip loose. Collars should never restrict an animal’s ability to breathe or swallow but should allow you to control your pet.
Leashes vary in length, strength, and features, but your choice of leash should be appropriate to your pet’s weight and strength. If your pet is a strong puller, you may want to consider a harness rather than a collar, as this reduces stress on the throat and allows you a greater degree of control. Retractable leashes offer your pet more freedom of movement over short distances, while gentle leaders are better for leash-biters and for training pets new to leash etiquette.
Dog Leash Etiquette
Generally public parks require your pet to be on leash at all times. Most beaches tend to be off limits to dogs during the busiest months but frequently relax these rules during the off-season. Even if you are in a state park this rule may apply, so be sure to check any signs posting park regulations before letting your dog off leash.
Each dog has its own personality, and you are the best judge of your dog’s character and behavior around people and other animals. If you know your dog to be aggressive with people or other pets, off-leash walking may not be appropriate. Similarly, if your pet spooks easily, doesn’t heed commands, or tends to run off when frightened, you may want to restrict or eliminate off-leash time. If your dog has a reliable temperament, or if your pet is new and you want to help it get socialized to other pets, a local dog park may be the perfect solution.
Paw Care Essentials
Remember that dogs don't have the benefit of hiking boots or sneakers to protect their paws. So, if you’re walking your pet in snow or ice, check periodically to see that no ice has accumulated between the paw pads. If you’re winter walking where road salt and chemical de-icers are used, gently clean your dog’s paws and pads with a damp rag after your walk. Chemical de-icers can irritate the skin and can be harmful if licked or swallowed. For long-haired breeds, you may want to trim the hairs around your pet’s paws, because these can easily trap moisture and create ice.
We hope you and your pets will take this opportunity to get outdoors and discover the many benefits of regular exercise. Healthy habits developed now can pay significant dividends as your pet ages.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.