Walkies!

We’ve been treated to some lovely spring weather recently and, along with the glut of Bank Holidays that occur at this time of year, it’s been a perfect excuse to get out with our faithful friends and explore some of the wonderful Derbyshire countryside that’s on our doorstep. Poppy and Betty love nothing more than a day out walking, tearing around somewhere new. I’m not sure they spend as much time as I do admiring the views, but they certainly love all the different smells!

But, when it comes to walking our furry friends, how much exercise do dogs need? How much is too much … and how much is too little?

Well, a lot of this is dependent on the breed. Some smaller breeds, such as Chihuahuas or Yorkshire Terriers, have lower energy levels and need moderate amounts of exercise (still at least 1-2 walks per day) while others need 2 or more hours of exercise each day and some, specifically working breeds like Border Collies, will want significantly more than that, with plenty of mental stimulation too.

When you first start to walk your pup it’s hard to know what to do and there’s a lot of advice out there about walking puppies – how much, or how little exercise they should have (often it’s conflicting advice, too!). I personally think much of the advice on the internet is a little over-cautious. For example, there’s not really any evidence to support the ‘5-minute rule’ that you may have heard of (5 minutes of walking for every month of your pup’s age). You do need to be careful while your pup is still growing and their bones are still forming because too much exercise (or too much high impact exercise) can cause problems in later life and it’s definitely worth being more cautious with larger or giant breeds of dogs than with smaller breeds.

Overall though, I would say that the two most important things to consider are:

a) Getting your pup from a reputable breeder who has partaken in all the appropriate screening tests for example Hip and Elbow Scoring

b) Feeding a good quality food

You shouldn’t start walking your pup until they’re fully immunised but, once they are, a walk is as much about exploring, getting used to the lead, socialising and investigating sights, sounds and smells as it is about exercising. Your excitable pup is a lot like a toddler and won’t always have the sense to stop when they’re tired, so you’ll have to take charge of the situation by putting them on the lead or taking them home when you think they’ve had enough!

Once your dog is fully grown (usually by the time they’re 1, although it could be up to 18 months for larger breeds like Great Danes or Dobermans) then it’s up to you to keep your dog fit and active. They will need exercise every day. That can include a variety of things like walking, swimming, running and agility … but remember that playing in the garden isn’t a suitable replacement activity for a walk. Just like humans, every dog will have its preferred forms of exercise (and some that they loathe!) – some dogs can’t keep out of water and are desperate for a splash at the mere sight of a stream, while others can’t stand getting their fur wet! Tis is definitely the case with my Poppy! Bear in mind that if you suddenly increase your dog’s exercise levels or introduce them to something new, they’re going to feel it (just like you would!). They’ll be perfectly fine with a couple of days of longer walks over the weekend or on holiday (provided they haven’t got any health conditions) but, if you’re going away on a dedicated

walking holiday (like a coast to coast walk) or taking up running with your dog, for example, you’re going to have to build up their stamina. In the same way that you couldn’t suddenly get up and run a marathon, your dog can’t either! If your dog has been unfit, overweight or had little exercise in the past (for example, if you’ve adopted a dog that hasn’t been exercised regularly) again you’ll need to ease them into exercising, gradually – but, once they’ve built up their fitness levels, you’ll be amazed what they’re capable of!

If you’re thinking of increasing what you and your dog do together, for peace of mind it’s worth having them checked over by the vet, to make sure they’re up to the challenge. They’ll also be able to advise you on your dog’s diet, to ensure they’re getting the right nutrition for their age, breed and activity levels.

Of course, another thing to be aware of when you’re embarking on a hike with your faithful hound is the weather. On really hot days avoid walking your dog in the warmest part of the day, and steer clear of roads and pavements as the asphalt can get very warm in the sun and burn your dog’s feet. And it goes without saying that they’ll need regular access to water to keep them hydrated, too.

Just like us humans, as dogs get older they do tend to slow down a bit or they can sometimes develop health issues that may affect how much they’re able to walk – but it’s still really important to take them out regularly and keep them as active as possible. You’ve heard the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ … well, that applies to dogs, too! If they’re not walked often then their joints may suffer more from stiffness and they can lose their mobility. It’s generally better to exercise older dogs for shorter periods of time, but more regularly – so they might prefer four short walks a day instead of two long ones. The PDSA offer some excellent advice on walking older dogs. In their more senior years walking is just as important for dogs’ mental stimulation, too – keep up their routine and keep them active as much as possible.

Right, talking of walking … it’s a beautiful evening and it’s time I took my two out to stretch their legs. ‘Poppy! Betty! Walkies…!’

Until next time, happy walking!