A big backyard doesn't cut it. For physical, mental and social wellbeing, dogs need to roam the neighbourhood - and so do you.
Forty per cent of Australian households own a dog, but 40% of those dogs are not walked enough. Dog owners in the UK have to deal with more cold, rainy days but even they are more committed to exercising their dogs than Australians! That said, if you have an old dog or a flat-faced dog, exercise on hot days can be deadly. Read on for more details.
Why do dogs need to be walked?
Some people assume that a big backyard gives dogs enough exercise to keep them happy and healthy.
But dogs need to be walked for several reasons. As well as exercise, being walked lets them socialise and keep their brain active by sniffing out tantalising new smells.
What's more, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of one-on-one attention between owners and their dogs. People who are strongly bonded with their dogs are most likely to exercise them. Dogs, in turn, act as a prompt for us humans to get to know the people who live in our neighbourhood. And when we know our neighbours, we look out for them.
Just as it is for humans, without enough exercise, dogs can develop physical problems, such as muscular, cardiovascular or metabolic diseases, and behavioural problems that are manifestations of frustration and increased irritability.
The benefits of dog-walking for humans
Dog-walking offers an unrealised, but simple, community-wide solution to the challenge of human physical inactivity. One benefit is that walking can improve mental well-being and increase social connections for many people.
If most of the dog owners in Australia who currently don’t walk their dogs started going on 20-minute walks every day, 12-17% more adult Australians would be sufficiently active.
This could prevent up to 5% of all cases and deaths from heart disease and stroke, and up to 10% of major colon and breast cancers.
How much should you walk your dog?ten-year study in Perth found that people may not walk their dogs as much if the dog is sick, older, or a smaller breed. That's a fair reason to cut back on walks, but it's not not a reason to cut out walking altogether. If your dog has health issues or is elderly, just 20 minutes out of the house can do wonders.
What if your dog doesn't like being walked?
There are rare dogs that don’t seem to enjoy themselves when out on a leash. These are most commonly dogs that were not adequately socialised as pups. Others have learned that there is little they can do to assert themselves while on the leash and, as such, are examples of learned helplessness.
Also, as dogs age, they develop prejudices, aches and pains, and learned play styles that may not gel well with other dogs. These are the dogs that should be kept out of off-leash dog parks. The answer: walk them at night when there's chance of bumping into other dogs.
Some breeds, like the pitbull, provoke negative feedback from other dog owners, and there is evidence that overweight dogs embarrass their owners. Not talking your dog for a walk because you're afraid of snarky comments in dog park will only make these matters worse.