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Your Dog’s Primal Need to Be Walked

dog crossing the street on leash with human

Walking your dog each day is Canine Care 101. A walk provides your pooch with exercise and, of course, a potty break. But there's another reason why that daily stroll is so important—and it has to do with instinct.

Just as fish need to swim and birds need to fly, dogs need to walk. In the wild, packs of dogs get up in the morning and walk to find food. The pack's Alpha Dog leads the way, and the lower pack mates dutifully follow. For a dog, walking fulfills a migration instinct.

While letting your dog run around the backyard or taking him to the dog park can be good exercise, it isn't a substitute for walking. These activities don't offer the same mental stimulation your dog gets by investigating every smell, sight, and sound when you take him for a stroll. As you and your dog walk, he's gathering information about how his territory has changed since the last time he was on that same route.

Walk for good behavior

A walk is also a great opportunity to practice obedience skills with your dog and reinforce your bond with him. When you encounter another dog or person on your route, you can help him practice social skills. Behaviorists believe dogs that are taken for daily walks are better behaved and are less likely to be destructive, obsessive, or have separation/dominance issues.

A proper dog walk

Believe it or not, there is a right way to walk your dog. Your pooch should either walk beside you or behind you, never in front of you. In other words, you should walk your dog, not the other way around. This may seem trivial, but it means a lot in your dog's world. When you let a dog walk in front of you, you're communicating that he's the one who is in charge of the walk.

How long a walk does your dog need? Twenty minutes is a good amount of time to aim for most dogs—even seniors, if they’re in good health. If your dog is very active, he may need longer, more vigorous walks, perhaps even two or more times a day. Or try slow, short jogs to get your active senior moving. It’ll do both of you good.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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