Making the most of your dog’s daily walk

Making the most of your dog’s daily walk
Regular dog walks can strenghthen the bond between dogs and owners. (Photo/Gabe via Pexels)

By Kim Jones Gilliam

We all know that we’re supposed to take our dogs out on a daily walk, yet studies show that about 30% of us don’t bother. Maybe it’s not exciting enough; doing the same thing every day can get dull. 

But those walks are about so much more than just getting them to go potty: They provide mental stimulation, physical exercise, socialization opportunities and a chance to reinforce training all while building your bond. 

Let’s dive into the many important reasons why you shouldn’t skip your dog’s walks. 

Your dog’s physical health 

Without them, your dog is likely not meeting their daily exercise requirements. It’s a real concern when the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported in 2022 that nearly 60% of American dogs are overweight. 

While the amount of exercise they need varies based on age, breed and health — from 30 minutes a day to as much as a few hours — what is certain is that dogs won’t exercise themselves. Letting them out in the yard does not offer enough stimulation or ensure movement; they’re apt to just sit there in a familiar environment unless you actively engage them. 

Your physical health 

A 2011 study by Michigan State University showed that people who owned and walked their dogs were 34% more likely to meet federal benchmarks on physical activity. The same study also showed that this same group walked about an hour longer per week. 

Your dog’s mental health 

The “dog shaming” phenomenon that shows photos of dogs next to signs describing their misdeeds – including destroying couches, chewing up shoes and the like – showcases behavior that is sometimes rooted in anxiety, but many times is the result of dogs being bored. Dogs need mental stimulation to stay out of trouble. 

Your bond 

Spending time together on walks will deepen your bond and help deter annoying, attention-seeking behaviors such as excessive barking or whining. 

Social time 

You’ll most likely encounter other dogs and owners on your walk or neighbors out for a stroll. This offers an opportunity for your dog to learn acceptable social interactions and build their confidence. And your conversations with fellow dog lovers help you stay socially connected. 

There are huge benefits from fitting in your dog’s walk each day, but if it somehow feels like a drag, here are some ideas that can help you make the most of it. 

  • Let your dog decide where to go by playing “follow the dog.” Rather than take your standard route, relax and let your dog lead the way. Sure, you might end up by the neighborhood squirrel hangout or find yourself stopping at every fire hydrant on your block, but it gives your dog a chance to show you what they find interesting.
  • Add a few “sniff breaks” throughout your walk. Scent is the way that dogs experience the world; they have 50 times more olfactory receptors than us. It’s how they acquire information about each other and their environment.
  • Mix it up and take a trip to your local park or trail to check out some new scenery. Your dog will be thrilled by the ride itself, let alone all the new sights and smells.
  • Simply vary your walking route. Take a right instead of a left because some added variety will make it more enjoyable for you and your dog.
  • Invite a friend along! Looking for an excuse to catch up with someone face-to-face? This is a great one. Plus, your dog will enjoy the extra company.
  • Reinforce obedience training on a “working walk.” Your pup can use their brain to figure out what you are asking, building their confidence and impulse control.
  • Make your walk as stress-free as possible. If your dog isn’t into meeting others, don’t feel pressured by those who insist their dog is friendly or all dogs love them. Just say a firm, “no thank you,” and move along.
  • Walk to support your favorite animal rescue! ResQwalk and WoofTrax let you raise money for your animal welfare organizations just by walking on their apps. 

If you need to stay closer to home, you can of course tire your pup out in the yard with a good game of frisbee catch, ball fetch or tug-of-war game. 

Or, if you just don’t have the time, consider a daycare, dog walker or ask a friend to take your dog for a walk. Your pet will enjoy the company, and you’ll come home to a happy, healthy dog.

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, a canine sports club in Alexandria.