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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why You Shouldn't WALK Your Dog Every Day

by Carrie Boyko
© Alan Boyko
Biking Your Dog
A Completely Different Sensory Experience
Did I get your attention? That was a pretty radical title, designed to get you dog exercise enthusiasts all riled up. I hope it worked, because now I'd like to show you why your dog needs more than a daily walk. Come along for a little ride with me:

Have you ever biked with your dog? Perhaps this is not a possibility for you. Neopolitan Mastiffs need not apply; Teacup Yorkies might not be able to keep up. It's okay. However, as the owner of a toy breed, Papillon, and a 70 lb. Golden Retriever, among my pack, I can tell you that biking is a very different type of stimulation for your dog. It reaches down to their DNA and reminds them of their ancestors chasing their dinner, herding the farm stock, or pulling a sled. You might find it hard to believe your toy breed could be motivated to pull a sled, yet my Pap would most certainly surprise you; he is a better sled dog than my Golden. Surprised? I was too.

All this said, the message is that walking is, at the very least, just a mild form of exercise. After a 3 mile walk, your dog's heartrate may be elevated, and he probably met a few pups along the way and enjoyed some pleasant, enticing smells. But this will never match the excitement of an invigorating run.

Runners can tell you about the 'runner's high' they get when the endorphins are released and they feel like they can run forever. I have not found this to be the case with my dogs, and yet they never sit and say "I'm done."

No, I'm not recommending that you run or bike with your dog every day. Their joints and ours need rest and down time. What I am suggesting is a variety of types of exercise, to heighten all of your dog's senses, giving him a well-rounded endurance experience.

A visit to an off-leash dog park is on a whole different level. While each dog's energy and activity is different, you can encourage exercise in a lazier pup with a ball-chucker, Frisbee or other favorite toy. Just be aware that it may not come home with you. Occasionally another dog will take ownership of your toy and not give it up. Good luck with that! You can minimize the damage to your wallet by sticking to FETCH with a tennis ball.

I've left the best part of dog park visits out. While your dog is exercising off-leash, he is getting a sense of what it is like to not be contained--no yard, house, car, small fenced yard or crate to keep him from getting to the dogs and humans he wants to meet.

My pack seems to enjoy the social atmosphere at the dog park just as much as the physical freedom. They may dream of a leash-free world, but remember that in that fantasy world there are many humans, as well as dogs, for them to befriend. This is a healthy socialization experience that you cannot get on a leash. The dynamic of a restrained dog greeting is different for most dogs. Any canine behavior expert will tell you, most dogs have some form of barrier excitement--the extreme need to run up to a passerby--dog or human--and greet them.

Am I telling you not to practice socialization skills on a leash? Absolutely not! That's where it should begin. But where? The answer is anywhere, or perhaps everywhere--everywhere that dogs and owners walk together.

As soon as you begin leash training with your new boarder, it is time to start your regular visits to places like Petsmart, Petco, walking trails, and dog-friendly areas of all types. Save the first dog park experience for when your pup is fully innoculated, well-socialized with people and dogs on a leash, and confident in his greeting behavior.  A well-mannered dog knows that giving and accepting a canine greeting sniff at the back-end is the only acceptable hand-shake in the dog world.

I'll be back another day to discuss more exercise options, not to leave out swimming, of course. For now, get out and give your dog some variety. His behavior will change markedly as a result, and you will be pleased. I guarantee it!

Related Reading:

Backpacks aren't Just for Students and Hikers
Biking with Your Dog: Fun and Fitness for Both of You
Swimming isn't Just for Lab Lovers
Teaching Your Dog to Fetch

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