by Gwendolyn Purdom, RedEyeChicago.com
When it comes to dogs’ mental, physical health, the backyard won’t cut it
In the 15 years since Marc Matlin founded Chicago Dog Walkers, he’s learned a few things about the importance of taking Fido for a spin around the block.
“Dogs like to go out and sniff around. It’s kind of like us reading a newspaper; they like to get whatever information that there is,” Matlin said. “It keeps them fresh and in the loop.”
But according to a recent survey conducted by pet site Pet360, when it comes to walking, many dogs are getting the short end of the leash. The poll of 4,000 dog owners—taken in honor of National Walk Your Dog Week, which kicked off Wednesday and runs through Tuesday—found only 56 percent of those surveyed walk their dogs at least once a day, preferring instead to let them out in the yard. Here in Chicago, where yard space often is scarce, experts say daily walks are especially key.
A typical adult dog should be walked at least three times a day, for a minimum of 15 minutes or more if possible, said Dan Sanchez, a veterinarian at South Loop Animal Hospital. In addition to the mental stimulation regular walking provides, Sanchez says the dog’s health often depends on it as well.
“One of the biggest problems and diseases that we diagnose in our dogs is actually obesity,” Sanchez said. “And so this is one of the major reasons why it is so important to go for a good long walk with most of our dogs so that they are getting exercise. Even if we’re throwing a ball in the yard, it’s going to be hard to really burn calories too much by doing that.”
Dustin Estes typically walks 12 dogs a day working for Windy City Dog Walkers. The 36-year-old, who lives in Avondale, says walks also present an opportunity to strengthen training and behavior through a daily ritual. With that routine, however, also comes additional risks, particularly in an urban setting.
“A lot of people, when they duck down the alley to throw away the poop bag into the trash can or the dumpster, they need to be watchful and mindful of what their dog can get into in those situations, whether it be broken glass or infected rat poop,” Estes said. “In my experience, it’s one of the most dangerous places for a dog to get into something and where an animal can get sick.”
The additional challenges of city walks may pay off in a dog’s long-term development, though. Exposure to more traffic, more people and other dogs on the sidewalk might require more training, but it can also give animals additional socialization and confidence, experts say.
For Jillian Potter of Lincoln Park, walking her two boxer mixes in a city environment means when she runs errands, Bailey, 7, and Lilly, 10, get to tag along. And in a dog-friendly city like Chicago, they’re often rewarded for it.
“I love taking them on our evening errands because there are so many dog-friendly businesses,” said Potter, 30. “We pick up my dry cleaning and they get a beef stick from the dry cleaner.”