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Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

Posted March 25, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

One-third of America's dogs are overweight or obese. While this is less than the number of Americans themselves, it will probably continue to climb. A few extra pounds on Fido might look cute, but they put a strain on his body – causing problems like heart disease, joint problems, diabetes, and arthritis. Together, owner and faithful dog can get some exercise that's mutually beneficial in more ways than one.

As temperatures in upstate New York have reached highs of 40s and even 50s, I've been taking my pair of beagles for regular walks. Even at ages 8 and 14 they can both keep up a brisk pace for 30 minutes (on average, we cover a mile). The biggest roadblock we usually run in to is that being beagles, they want to stop and sniff everything!

Before You Go

It's helpful if your dog has manners while he's on the leash. A basic understanding of simple commands like "sit", "heel", "stay", "no", and "come" are essential before you hit the trail or road. If your dog respects these commands at home, he's more likely to respond to you when he sees that squirrel, is thinking about taking on that rival dog, or wants to go play in the water. When you're in control, you don't get dragged from Point A to Point B and none of your fellow walkers get jumped all over, either.

Remember to start a new walking program slowly. Just as an unfit person should adjust to an exercise regimen, an unfit dog should also start gradually. I usually start my dogs with 15 minutes at a slow pace and build from there.

Equipment

I prefer to outfit my dogs with harnesses rather than regular collars. One of my dogs has disc problems in her neck and a harness distributes the pressure more evenly. Harnesses are also more challenging to slip out of, and less likely to lead to an escape in the event you need to tie up your dog for a second.

Leash type comes down to personal preference. I like a plain five or six foot leash, while others like the retractable versions that extend up to 15 feet or so (be sure to check your local laws about acceptable leash length). Since I still have the scars behind my knees from a bad rope burn experience with a retractable leash, I'll stick with the old standby for now! A gentle leader can also be helpful for working with dogs that pull – if they'll tolerate one.

While it may be tempting to let your dog off the leash, it's usually safer to keep him on it. Even when I lived in a rural area, my dogs were leashed when they were not on my property. One time we came into an awkward situation with another dog and my little beagles were accused of bothering an old lady and her big black lab. I could back up my story by saying they had been on the opposite side of the street on short leashes – you never know.

Health Benefits

While the benefits of walking may seem obvious, some other good things come from walking with your dog that you may not have thought about before.

  • Regular physical activity and pet ownership both help improve chronic diseases – put them together, and you could feel even better
  • 25-40% of America's dogs are overweight or obese… walking can help dogs shed pounds along with their owners!
  • According to a National Household Travel Survey (numbers approximate):
    • 80% of owners walk their dogs once a day for 10 minutes
    • 60% of owners walk their dogs twice a day for 10 minutes
    • 40% of owners walk their dogs a total of 30 minutes a day

Resources:

http://www.petplace.com/dogs/lose-your-holiday-weight-walk-your-dog/page1.aspx

http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2006/apr/05_0106.htm

http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSN0739250820080207

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#1

Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/25/2009 6:46 PM

Excellent.

Neither my pup or myself are obese, but i agree we both need to remove ourselves from the drywall box, and get out in the elements a bit more.

(maybe one day the rain will stop in Portland)

In addition to walking with a leash, we enjoy time in the community Dog parks, where All the k-9's can frolic and play to their hearts desire.

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#6
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 7:43 AM

Agreed - my vet is happy with my dogs' weights and my doctor is happy with mine, but going out for a walk has other benefits! It makes my arthritic dog feel better, reduces my own fatigue and joint aches, and improves all of our moods. And it works off the excess energy my hyperactive dog has!

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#2

Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/25/2009 10:59 PM

Have you seen the latest research where a Scientist has found 9 viruses that increase the fat cell development rates in animals and humans too.

The Viruses are a type of Bird Flu.

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#5
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 7:42 AM

I have not seen it. Do you have links to any articles? It might make a good topic for the Animal Science blog.

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#3

Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/25/2009 11:56 PM

Well if the Owner is Obese, he won't take fifi out much for a walk.

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#4
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 7:40 AM

That's the point - even a few minutes a day can help kick off a weight loss program - and it's important to start slowly. Taking a pet or friend along for motivation is a great way to stick to a program.

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#7
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 8:46 AM

Dogs are great companions no doubt, great for the mind and body and it should work both ways! (for you and your dog). All dogs and dog owners can benefit in so many ways by making regular dogs walks a part of their daily routine. The more time you are able to spare the better morning and evening. It is great exercise for the both of you and makes for a happy escape for your dog. After all do you want to sit around the house all day every day?

If you are afforded the luxury of enjoying nature when you walk it's even better. Just last night we saw a bobcat while walking not far from home. I have also recently purchased some "Best Hikes with Dogs" books. With the warmer weather on its way I am looking forward to jumping in the car on weekends and heading off to enjoy some nice hiking trails here in the northeast. Of course there is one draw back to hiking opposed to sticking to the road for dog walks.....ticks!! I think a blog on tick prevention would be a great topic. I have been doing a little research and I am trying some options for dog healthy "natural" tick prevention rather than the typical toxic forms of tick prevention that have become so popular and accepted over the years.

Dog parks are great too. I like to think my 13 month old Rotty feels like she is at a birthday party when we are at the dog park.

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#8
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 9:18 AM

My dogs and I usually walk on quiet roads or a bike path near my house. This summer I would love to take them to some nearby state parks. If you have any suggestions for dog hikes please let me know! (Easy to moderate - one is 14 and does best with walks of a few miles that aren't too strenuous.)

Tick prevention is important. I'm writing a blog entry about Lyme disease and some things you can do about ticks. While I don't go into much detail about specific products, I hope readers will share what they use! I hope to post it next week.

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#9
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Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 9:12 PM

If these owners let their dogs grow fat than

1 they are obese themselves and going from the couch to the refrigerator takes already a lot of effort.

2 the overprotective owner "oh fifi are you tired let me carry you, have a chocolate()"

i would not surprise me if they would use somekind of electric scooter so they don't have to walk themselves

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#10

Re: Behind the Leash – Mutual Health Benefits

03/26/2009 9:56 PM

Great job!

Nothing is more important than the "walk" for dogs and their owners. It releases pent up energy for the dogs, teaches and cements the concept of leadership for the dog owner over the dog, and improves the bond between you and your dog.

Dog walks should be done every day, which is very hard, but really essential.

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