It’s that time of year where people frequently resolve to make positive changes in their lifestyle. It’s easy to overlook that our behavior can sometimes affect our dog’s health, too. Unlike us, our canine companions can’t initiate a new exercise routine without our help. Some dogs even suffer from behavioral problems as a result of lack of activity and may result in destructive behavior. This year, consider a simple yet greatly beneficial resolution: to walk with your dog! For the same reasons regular exercise benefits our cardiovascular, respiratory, and skeletal systems (as well as our emotional state), dogs benefit as well. Walking is an easy and inexpensive weight loss program and can help build and maintain muscle strength – in both you and your dog. Here are a few tips on starting a walking plan with your pet that will help you achieve the best outcome while minimizing the chance for injury:
- Start Slow. Just as if a human who decided to take up running should not perform a 5K on their very first run, your dog also could overexert themselves resulting in injury. If it’s been awhile since you or your dog have participated in an exercise routine, aim to walk for a certain amount of time or set up short distance milestones to build upon. Tracking devices such as a canine pedometer can be useful to monitor progress and also act as a fun motivational tool. A reasonable goal is to complete thirty minutes of walking daily. However, if this is too much, start with a pace and frequency that is realistic for you and gradually increase the goal each week.
- Dress accordingly. The month of January can mean frigid temperatures in some areas. Some small and petite breeds or breeds with short coats may benefit from jackets. It can also mean that salt is on sidewalks and roads. Keep in mind that salt is very irritating to canine paw pads and is best avoided (or consider placing snow booties on each foot prior to the walk). In some cases, rinsing your dog’s feet upon return may be necessary. Also remember that leash walks are safest for your dog, as off leash exercise can lead to injury via traffic or dog fights. Finally, if you are walking in the dark, try to incorporate reflective clothing so you and your dog are easily seen.
- Consistency is key. The best way to incorporate a new habit is to stay consistent. Some people prefer morning walks as a positive and peaceful way to start their day. Other people prefer evening walks with their dog to decompress after a busy day. Whichever you prefer, stick to your preplanned time of day and duration. Your dog will also appreciate this as most dogs prefer an established routine.
Maintain optimum joint health. Some dogs benefit from joint supplements if they have previously suffered an orthopedic injury and/or are predisposed to developing joint problems. Joint supplements such as those containing UC-II®, a patented form of undenatured collagen that uniquely targets inflammation via the immune system, or more traditional supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin, may help keep your dog’s joints healthy. As always, consult your veterinarian before starting any new exercise routine or supplements. See you – and your dog – out there!