Six Minute Read (1900 Words)
Since you plan to help your small dog live a long and healthy life, and you’d like the same for yourself, I have a challenge for you: let’s walk our small dogs at least 150 minutes every week. That’s very roughly the minimum recommended walking for both people and small dogs alike. 22 minutes a day.
That’s what I thought. I mean, I love the outdoors. I can brave the snow, the rain, the cold.
But lately. Yes, lately….the wind … the cold Northeast wind is killing me.
I’ve been making excuses, and Phoebe’s been making due staring at the world outside from a favorite perch.
You get the picture.
Walk Your Small Dog Every Day: The Universe Likes It
But then the universe stuck her nose into my rationalizing. Like a know-it-all friend who actually DOES know it all, she started throwing wrenches in my excuses.
While researching my next book about raising happy, well-socialized small dogs, I kept running across articles with dire warnings about people who don’t walk enough. Or, I’d find studies showing how much healthier dogs are when they’re walked regularly.
The universe not so subtly showed me the actual science behind the health of regular dog walking so frequently, she might as well have taken out an ad on that bus stop billboard I see on my way to work everyday.
And then, she brought my neighbors into it.
Don’t get me wrong. Certainly, I love my neighbors. But if you’re someone (like me, as I get older) who sometimes experiences spurts of excuse-making, it’s hard to live among these hardy New-England-Weather-Be-Damned people. Every day, no matter the weather, they’re out walking their dogs. And it’s not just one or two braving the wind, wet or cold.
Often, entire families, several generations deep, venture out in pretty steady rain, with two or three kids puddle-jumping, and the dog in a raincoat following suit.
What Does Science Say About Walking Small Dogs?
So, between my neighbors showing me the way and the universe tossing science in my path at every turn, my better self made a resolution: It’s no longer enough for me to rely on our active outdoor lifestyle and then throwing in walks when the conditions are to my liking.
People need regular walks. People over 50 REALLY need regular walks, and I’m a decade plus beyond that.
Just as important, our small dogs need regular walks. The movement and outdoor adventures keep their minds sharp, their attitudes upbeat, and their bodies fit.
How Much Walking Do Small Dogs Need?
You know what I’m going to say here: it depends.
How long or how far you should walk your small dog varies based on their age, breed, and health. But, assuming your small dog is a healthy adult and that walking isn’t her only form of exercise, it’s well-established that at a minimum, small dogs should walk between 15-30 minutes a day. Furthermore, some experts recommend two 15 minute walks.
And What Are the Human Health Benefits of Regular Walking?
It seems unnecessary to cite the science, as we all know this…but physical activity is crucial for human health. According to Mayo Clinic, moderately brisk walking can strengthen your heart, keep your weight down, sharpen your brain, and a lot of other really good things.
The problem is the disconnect between what we know and what we do. So, researchers spend considerable time studying how to get humans off their rears and on their feet. One technique they’ve looked at revolves around dogs and their owners.
In “A cross-sectional study of factors associated with regular dog walking and intention to walk the dog,” scientists Carri Westgarth, Robert M. Christley, and Hayley E. Christian uncovered that people who set an intention to walk their dogs, and then actually do it, easily hit the minimum requirement of 150 minutes per week physical activity.
And for those of us with serious health challenges?
Well, our regular walking can significantly reduce our discomfort and pain. In fact, in their study entitled “Might Dog Walking Reduce the Impact of COPD on Patients’ Life?” researchers Ilaria Baiardini, Salvatore Fasola and others found that people with COPD experienced significantly reduced fatigue.
Use the Walk Warm-Up and Warm-Down for the Sniffari
When we dog parents are doing our walk right, we should be warming up and cooling down. Here, Mayo Clinic suggests five or ten minutes on both ends of the walk.
Since we’re talking about 22 minute walks, I’m keeping my bookended sessions to five minutes each.
That’s perfect, because it gives the pups the first and last five minutes of our outings to enjoy a mini “sniffaris,” which a quick Google search shows are great for our pups’ brains and well-being.
But My Small Dog Doesn’t Like to Walk
The graphic above, from the Westgarth, Christley, and Christan study, shows that 40% of dog owners say their dog doesn’t like to go out in the rain or cold. This statistic surprised me, especially because the pet parents interviewed were primarily from the UK. I mean, according to the movies, everyone over there is accustomed to bad weather and simply ignores it. Apparently, their dogs do not.
Put simply, if your small dog doesn’t like the bad weather, it’s tough to deal with. Honestly, it’s hard enough to wrestle with our own rationalizations. But when your canine walking partner joins you in your excuses? That’s a big hurdle.
Nevertheless, we’ve got some suggested solutions, below.
How to Make Walks Fun for Your Small Dog (and for You)
Fortunately, this is (ironically) the fun part. Helping your small dog truly enjoy their walks with you is all about mindset and enthusiasm.
A Non-Dog Comparison
For example, as a teacher of high school students, I occasionally feel less than enthused about entering a roomful of seventeen-year-olds who aren’t naturally drawn to the life-changing powers of the written word. As a result, I could easily radiate my sometimes-frustrated feelings about our learning. And if I did so, my students would disengage. However, no matter my internal emotions, I nearly always manage to enter the class with an upbeat tone and happy greeting. I guide us through the entire class period expressing encouragement and enthusiasm for our time. Afterward, I end the hour with sincere warmth and good wishes for the rest of their days. All my behaviors here revolve around mindset.
And this mindset is contagious. Even students who hate English know they’ll be greeted with genuine care and engaged in meaningful work. Each class, it’s my intention that they feel good about being there, regardless of where they started. And most of the time, they do.
Oh, and guess what. Not even ten-minutes into the class, my mindset, aimed at helping adolescents be happy where they are, gathers me within its orbit. I, too, realize I’m glad to be there.
How Mindset Affects Our Small Dogs’ Experiences
In the same way, our mindset about walks travels down the leash to our small dogs. If we behave as though getting ready for a walk is as exciting as a holiday, if we talk with them and do mini-trainings along the way, and if we close the walks with special rituals, they will begin to experience excitement and we will go from faking it to feeling it as well.
Dog Walking Problems and Solutions