One of my favorite things about being a dog owner was undiscovered by me until about eight years ago when I moved to California. It may sound like the simplest, most obvious thing in the world, but going for walks with my little pooches has become one of my favorite things about having dogs.
As show dog owners, I think most of us have constructed our dogs’ daily lives differently than the average pet owner. The dogs get exercised outdoors in whatever sort of setup we’ve arranged at home and, probably because we have multiple dogs, most of us just don’t think about putting a leash on them every day or two and taking them for a walk. But taking your dog or dogs out walking has more benefits than you can begin to imagine – for you, for your dog, and even for purebred dogs in general.
It’s likely that nobody needs a lecture on why walking is good for humans. It really is like a magic elixir, a cure-all for almost anything that might ail you. A walk boosts both your energy level and your mood by increasing the release of feel-good brain chemicals. Exposure to sunshine increases melatonin and serotonin in the brain, which also leads to a sense of well-being. People are more alert after a walk. A weight-bearing exercise, walking strengthens bones as well as the heart and lungs, and builds stamina and endurance. Studies show that walking can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and even reduce the risk of all kinds of disease, including diabetes and breast cancer.
Just getting out there for a 30-minute stroll has been proven not only to burn calories, but to rev up your metabolism for a period of time after your walk is over, so you continue to burn more calories. If you insist, you can take your phone along and talk while you’re out, but it can also give you a peaceful, welcome break from the go-go-go world we live in, and can be a great opportunity to let your thoughts catch up with you. Going for a walk also helps promote more restful sleep. And believe it or not, this magic prescription is free!
But then you add in taking your best buddies along and taking a walk increases its value exponentially. Nothing makes my dogs happier than seeing the leashes and collars come out. Who would’ve ever thought that old retired show dogs, Toy Poodles ages 12 and 9, would find such delight in something so simple? At first the Norwich puppy who has joined our household wasn’t so sure this was all it was cracked up to be. Now all I have to do is ask if they’re ready for “walkies,” and she rushes to the door with the other two.
There are just the three of us now, but there was a time when there were five Toy Poodles in the household, and we had just as much fun walking then as we do now. And when one of my older bitches, who had to be spayed because of pyometra, began to gain a little too much weight, walking several times a week helped get that off so she’d be healthier. In exactly the same way that walking helps keep humans’ hearts, lungs, bones and brains healthier, it helps keep your dogs fit as well. Some scientists believe that walking confers many of the same health benefits on dogs as it does on humans.
In Southern California, everyone walks their dogs – you’d be crazy not to take advantage of the idyllic weather. But it’s just as glorious here in North Carolina, and, except for the hottest parts of the summer, my dogs love walking no matter the season. And I believe that no matter where you live – whether in the city, in a small town, in the country or in the suburbs – because dogs are physically so much “closer to nature” than humans, even walking the same path, sidewalk or trail five days a week is a new adventure every time. Dogs have such an amazing sense of smell that I’m guessing it’s a whole new world out there on Tuesday than it was on Monday.
Think about it. A grey squirrel may have carried dinner to her family across the very sidewalk you’re traversing, and although you are oblivious, your dog will know something’s changed. That grasshopper whose life expectancy ended late yesterday afternoon and the frog who met his fate under the wheels of a car last night are brand new smells from the last time you were outside. That opossum that raided the neighbor’s garbage can last night? Your dog can probably tell which direction he went on his way home.
Every creature that has crossed the path you’re on in the past 24 hours – insect, amphibian, bird, reptile or mammal – has left a scent that, to your dog, is a whole new adventure from the last time he walked there. Even in the city, we forget how many other beings surround us, but a dog’s nose knows and loves discovering everything that’s been going on while he was away.
For most of our dogs, their world does revolve around us, but it is such a gift you give them when you take them out in the world and let them share it with you. And I think you’ll discover that you enjoy the gift as much as they do.
Naturally there are things that can make your walks safer and more enjoyable for you and your dogs. Obviously you should never let your dog off leash within range of moving traffic. Too many unexpected things can happen, and it’s just not worth the risk. If walking in the city is what’s available to you and your dogs, they’ll take it – dogs aren’t picky! But if there’s a park or an area with walking or nature trails nearby, keep a crate in the car and take a five- or 10-minute drive now and then to a place where they can have a little more freedom to roam on a longer leash, or, if it’s a place where there are no moving vehicles and you’re certain that they’re trustworthy, even off lead for a few minutes.
Take along a bottle of water – if all else fails, she can have a few slurps out of your cupped hand – and don’t forget to take bags along for picking up any “leavings,” unless, of course, you’re in the woods. (And then pick up after your dog if he happens to leave his calling card where other people will be walking.)
When I walk my dogs, I let it be a little more their time than my time. We walk more or less the direction they want to walk, and they get to sniff and explore, within reason, to their hearts’ content. They’re not going to anymore dog shows, so now I mostly let them make the decisions about how fast or slow we’re going to walk and how often we stop to smell the roses – or the dead frogs. There is the one thing we don’t compromise on, however. The instant I see someone preparing to roll in something dead or otherwise smelly, all bets are off and it’s time to move on!
I talk to them as we walk, and it’s amazing how responsive they’ve become to everything I say to them now. They’ve learned that when we approach a fellow human walking a dog, they are to be neighborly and polite, which brings me to another benefit to taking your retired show dogs out for a walk.
Anytime we walk in an area where there are people around, I’ve found that even with a breed as common as a Poodle, people will stop and ask what kind of dogs these are, how old they are and all sorts of other questions. This part of walking our dogs gives us each an opportunity to share the great things about purebred dogs with other people.
My girls are cute and smart and friendly, and they love meeting new people. I believe they’ve made many positive impressions for purebred dogs with the dozens and dozens of people we’ve met the past few years. So often over the years people have said to me, “I wish my dog was that well-behaved!” This gives me the perfect chance to tell them – without being boastful, of course! – that my dogs have certain characteristics, and are fit and healthy besides, because they are purebred dogs from show stock.
The time I spend in the great outdoors with my dogs is the best. There really is almost no place I’d rather be. If you have more dogs than you can walk all at once, take one or two at a time. They’ll appreciate the time they spend with you, and you might find that it becomes one of your favorite things too.