Walking the dog is good exercise, good for the dog, good for the family. Done properly, you take in some sunshine and fresh air. You have time to admire the blossoming trees and critique your neighbor’s landscape. Wait a minute, there’s a “proper” way to walk your dog? Hmmmm…
Young puppies need exercise to build strong bones and muscle. Psychologically their mind will be more focused if their body is relaxed after a good run. Good manners and obedience training is then maximized. The average dog needs 30 to 60 minutes of hard exercise every day – not just a leashed walk around the block. Some breeds, like hunting breeds bred to run for hours, may need more exercise than a breed bred to be a lap dog. Different personalities require more exercise to tire. Know your pet.
Because of the high prevalence of canine Parvovirus infection locally, all puppies should have received three or four vaccinations for this and Distemper by four months of age before hitting the streets of Merced.
Dogs that do not receive adequate exercise are often bored and that pent-up energy can turn into destructive habits: tearing up furniture and household items, digging up the back yard, constant barking. Yech! No wonder you see those ads for free dog, needs big back yard.
As your dog grows older his or her exercise needs change, especially if your pet has any health issues. Arthritis is as common in older dogs as in older people, and regular exercise is even more important to keep them moving. You can fall into a vicious cycle : it hurts to walk, so you let your dog stay home and sleep. His muscle tone deteriorates further and can’t carry the weight of his own limbs. Muscle atrophy occurs, and now your dog walks bone-on-bone. This is where regularly scheduled daily exercise helps to keep that muscle tone built up and will improve your dog’s mobility. This is also a good time to consider working with your veterinarian to consider arthritis medication options, customized to your dog’s kidney and liver function. Your vet will review with you dietary options, over the counter supplements and anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain) medications. Working together we can optimize your dog’s athleticism and enjoyment of life well past what used to be achieved.
Explore the lovely foot paths along Bear Creek and Black Rascal Creek. Merced neighborhoods enjoy our climate by showcasing flowers throughout most of the year. Clean up after your pet’s waste, don’t let your dog soil someone’s yard. There are many handy gadgets available today to make the minor chore quick and easy.
Please review the weather before setting out. The Valley rarely suffers severely cold days but there’s no denying that our summer weather includes many scorching days over 100 degrees. Feel the asphalt with your palm. Even after the sun has gone to bed, you may find the road too hot for doggie feet. They aren’t walking on rubber-soled athletic shoes that insulate their feet from the baking asphalt! Early mornings are most cool for pet and people if you can motivate yourself to get out there and enjoy our sunrise.
I feel I must add a word of caution to all would-be dog walkers and perhaps especially to parents of young children who wish to take the dog for a walk. Dogs attract other dogs. Your pet may be walking obediently on a leash, minding its own business and another dog or dogs may come from nowhere. These loose dogs may attack your dog. If you try to intervene they may leave your dog to attack you. Some of my clients walk their dog and carry a stout walking stick for possible defense. Some carry pepper spray but I have heard that it is often ineffective on dogs, not to mention you must be close enough to aim for the eyes. An inventive scheme is to carry an umbrella, and if a stray approaches rapidly open and close the umbrella to fend off an attack. Loud noises, such as produced by an air horn, could also frighten away a dog. Always stand your ground and face an approaching dog, saying “NO” in a loud, commanding voice. Hold your hand out firmly in the universal gesture for “Stop!” Do NOT scream and jump around as you have now become prey. Should your dog actually be attacked do NOT use your hands and arms to try to pry them apart – every year I have a client or two sent to the hospital when the attacking dog turns upon them (or their own dog bites them, frenzied as it tries to protect itself). Only a stick, a broom, a chair, some kind of physical object can be used to wedge the dogs apart. Know your neighborhood. Do not walk your dog near homes with chronically loose pets or dogs that bark viciously along the fence line and might jump over.
Taking a walk has benefits that far outweigh the risks. Get out and enjoy our spring!
Christine B. McFadden, DVM