Walking is healthy for you and your dog. Not only is it physical activity, but it’s mental stimulation for your dog to smell, see and hear beyond the limits of your yard. Walking helps preserve your pet’s muscle tone and joint movement. If your pet is overweight or obese, walking can be a great way to shed those extra pounds.
The following tips can help you design a safe walking program for your dog…or even for your cat. (Yes, it is possible to train a cat to accept a harness and go for walks!)
- Consult your veterinarian before starting any new exercise program with your pet. You need to make sure your pet is healthy enough for the exercise you plan.
Train your dog to behave on a leash, and seek help to address any behavioral problems.
- Begin with short, frequent walks, and take frequent rests as needed.
- If your pet seems to just want to go back home, try driving to a nearby park or less familiar area for your walks.
- Remember that walks are also a means for your dog to enjoy his/her environment; allow your dog to take “sniff breaks” within reason.
- Build gradually to one or more 15 minutes periods of brisk walking, then allow for cool-down time and recovery.
- Avoid walks during the hottest parts of the day during warmer weather. Learn the signs of heat stress (Your veterinarian can teach you!) so you can recognize and address any problems that occur.
- During warm, sunny weather, avoid hot surfaces – such as asphalt – that can burn your pet’s feet.
- Avoid walks during the coldest parts of the day during cold weather, based on your pet’s cold tolerance. Learn to recognize signs of frostbite and hypothermia so you can address any problems that occur.
- Walk on safe footing to avoid slips, falls or injuries.
- Avoid deep sand or similar footing because it can cause fatigue and injuries.
- If your pet shows signs of lameness, difficulty breathing, or seems to tire quickly, consult your veterinarian.
- Obey leash laws, and always clean up after your dog.
Starting an exercise program for your pet.
You’ve probably seen the warnings on fitness equipment that instruct you to consult your physician before starting an exercise program. The same applies to your pet, for good reason; it’s best to make sure that your pet is healthy enough to begin an exercise program and that the program is tailored to fit your pet’s health needs. Not sure where to start with your pet’s exercise program? Start with your veterinarian! In addition to walking, there are other opportunities for exercise programs that you can do together with your pet.
If your pet is recovering from injuries, talk to your veterinarian about exercise options (water treadmill sessions, swimming, etc.) that provide no- or low-impact exercise and can be used in the short term and/or incorporated into your pet’s exercise regimen.