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by Catherine Davis, FoodFamilyFinds.com

Growing up, I never had any pets. They were strictly forbidden in our house because my parents couldn’t stand the thought of animal hair in the house. Well, I take that back, for awhile we had an aquarium full of fish but they’re about as fun to play with as a pet rock. Despite my lack of pet exposure for 18 years, I’ve always been an animal lover. I have a unique bond with cats especially that just comes naturally. Dogs on the other hand, they’re a lot of work for me to warm up to.

Over the years, our family has tried to introduce a few different dogs into our home but none of them worked out until we brought Tink into our lives. She came to live with us at just 8 weeks old and last month she celebrated her first birthday. I won’t say she hasn’t been an incredible amount of work or she hasn’t been difficult but she has become an affectionate and loving member of our family. In one year we’ve managed to work through housebreaking, basic commands (which she still ignores unless there’s food in my hand) and months of chewing incidents. While she may still technically be a puppy, or at least she acts like one, I think we’ve made it through the roughest part of being doggy parents and we can now look forward to a decade or more of happy and healthy years with her.

Since our Labrador is a highly active and energetic dog, we do everything we can to keep her entertained and exercised. The same needs must be met for any breed of dog, large or small. So while we celebrate National Walk Your Dog Week, I wanted to pass along 5 very important pieces of information about walking your dog that will help you and your pet have a healthier relationship.

The information provided below comes from Dr. Katy Nelson, Veterinary Contributor to Pet360 and host of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy.” She was very kind and generous enough to tackle some of my personal top dog walking questions.

Dog Walking Tip 1
All dogs need walked but their age, size and coat type will help you determine just how much exercise!

I asked Dr. Katy Nelson, “Do different dog breeds need different amounts of exercise? For example, how long or what distance should a small vs large dog breed need walked daily?”

Brachycephalic breeds (squishy faced dogs – think pugs, bulldogs, even boxers) tend to overheat quickly as their respiratory tract is much shorter than other dogs, and panting is how dogs rid their bodies of excess heat. Double coated dogs like Newfoundlands and American Eskimos, as well as overweight or obese dogs, also have a tendency to overheat more quickly. So the recommendations that follow are basic and should always be discussed with your veterinarian. For a young dog in good shape, there is no reason why they can’t go for a vigorous hour walk/jog each day if the weather is not too frigid or too hot and humid. For puppies and senior dogs, it is important to pay attention to their cues and take shorter, but more frequent walks with the goal of totaling approximately half an hour a day. This rule should also apply to overweight and obese dogs as they begin a new workout regimen, working up to more and more time as your pup slims down and becomes more conditioned. For pups with arthritis, back problems, or other muscle, ligament or tendon issues, be sure to discuss a low-impact exercise program with your veterinarian and even look into other options besides walking as possible ways to get your pet the exercise he/she needs with minimal stress on the joints.

Dog Walking Tip 2
Dog walking doesn’t have to happen outdoors at all times of the year.

I asked Dr. Katy Nelson, “What are some ways to get dogs the exercise they need in colder winter months when outdoor walking isn’t an option?”

Look into taking agility classes with your dog or doggie daycare if you have a little social butterfly. Indoor pet training and rehabilitation facilities often have pools or underwater treadmills where your pup can swim even during the coldest of months! Ask if any local gyms or tracks would allow you to walk your pup in their indoor training areas, too. You just never know what you’ll find until you ask!

Dog Walking Tip 3
Invest in doggie booties during the winter months for your pet’s health and safety.

I asked Dr. Katy Nelson, “Are there any health concerns for the dog being walked on pavement vs grass?”

During the winter, there are often numerous chemicals thrown onto pavement and sidewalks to prevent them from freezing, and while they are not necessarily toxic to our pets, they can cause some damage to your pup’s paws. If your pup has soft or thin paw pads, ensure they are protected by investing in a pair of doggie booties. If your pup has thicker paws and can handle the grit, just make sure you wipe their feet clean before they come back into the house with warm towels or baby wipes. You don’t want them licking their feet clean and ingesting those chemicals, and you also don’t want those products being tracked through your house.

Dog Walking Tip 4
Books and blogs are an alternative to dog walking obedience classes when it’s not an expense you can afford right away.

I asked Dr. Katy Nelson, “What are some good practices for walking a dog that tends to be a difficult walker, when professional training isn’t a financial option?”

Even though you may not be able to afford the price tag of a professional trainer, you can still learn from one just by signing up for a great blog or reading a book. Learning to read your dog’s cues, adjust your own behavior and responses, and be consistent are the best ways to train a dog (or a human, for that matter) to do what you want. Also, many local shelters teach training classes for free or at a significant discount because the number one reason dogs are turned into shelters are for behavior issues. Call your local shelter today to see what they offer.

Dog Walking Tip 5
As silly as they sometimes look, there are some types of dogs that need protective clothing in the colder months.

I asked Dr. Katy Nelson, “Since dogs aren’t always the best at communication, how do you know if your dog needs protective, warm clothing in the winter months during an outdoor walk? Do their paws need protection as well?”

Thin coated or small breed pups are more likely to require protective clothing during the cold months. Pups that shake and shiver when they go outside should definitely have a warm-up option. Dogs with thick coats or double coats do not need them and can actually overheat with highly insulated products. Paw protection can be required and is described above.

I hope you find these tips for you and your four-legged friend as helpful as I have. If you haven’t already, National Walk Your Dog Week is a great time to start a walking routine with your pet. It not only helps provide your dog with the exercise he/she needs but it can also be a great bonding experience for the both of you. As odd as it may sound, I’ve had some great one-sided conversations with my dog while on her daily walks. Tink is a surprisingly good listener and motivator for getting myself some much needed exercise as well.