January is Walk Your Dog Month, and how convenient that it coincides with the time of year when many people have resolved to get in better shape, lose weight and burn off some of the excess calories they consumed around the holidays.
It could be that just being a dog parent will help you stick to your own New Year’s fitness resolutions. On the other hand, it’s dark and cold this time of year so getting out the door with your pooch may take a little extra motivation – and precautions should be taken to protect you and your pet against the dark and cold.
Why to walk your dog year-round
- Daily exercise for your dog is essential for their health, no matter their age. Especially if you don’t live in a place with a large yard, walking is the best way to exercise them. Even aging dogs need a walk – you just may have to go slower and a shorter distance.
- Dogs who don’t exercise often become obese (56 percent of all dogs in 2018), which leads to all kinds of health issues including heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes. It also worsens conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. Not only are these conditions expensive to treat, they shorten your dog’s life span and quality of life.
- Walking is an excellent form of exercise for humans too. It’s a low-impact cardiovascular workout, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. More fit people can pick up their pace or find some hills to go up to increase the intensity. Studies show that just 30 minutes of walking a day significantly improves health and mortality risk. It’s also free, except for the cost of a sturdy pair of shoes.
- Walking is a great way to meet neighbors and learn about your community. Walking with a dog is always a natural conversation starter. People may ask your dog’s name before yours!
- Besides social interaction and possibly meal time, an outdoor exercise session is the most exciting thing your dog gets to do. Human pursuits like TV watching, cooking and reading are not available to them, so the chance to explore, sniff around to discover new scents and mark their territory is the best part of their day.
- Getting out in daylight during short days helps with “winter blues” or Seasonal Affect Disorder, both for you and your dog.
Essential gear for winter dog walking
- It’s likely you’ll be walking your dog in the dark if you work during the day. For yourself, consider some light-colored, weatherproof and reflective clothing and some kind of light, whether it be a headlamp or flashlight. Don’t forget to light up your dog too – there are a wide array of clip on LED lights, lighted safety collars and leashes available.
- With more cities and states banning single-use plastic grocery bags, dog poop bags can be harder to come by. Better get yourself a waste bag dispenser so you never run out. Just attach it to your dog’s leash or harness, and you’ll never forget to bring it with you.
- A foldable water bowl is handy if you know you will find a clean water source, but I have found a doggie water bottle to be the easiest way to keep my dog hydrated whether on a walk or hike. I just pull it out and squeeze.
- For long walks, I like to strap on a hip pack or small backpack so I can carry extra clothing, water, my phone, dog treats and a small amount of cash.
Depending on what the weather is like where you live and whether your dog has a short or long coat, you might want to consider a couple of clothing items for your furry friend if you live in a cold place:
- A comfortable, well-insulated and waterproof jacket will allow your short-furred pal to stay out longer in comfort. Keep in mind that older and thinner dogs get cold more easily.
- If you live in a snowy place, try to get your dog accustomed to wearing dog boots. They protect paws from cold, ice, grit, de-icer and give them better traction on slippery surfaces. The booties might take your pup some getting used to!