Walking your dog each day is Canine Care 101. A walk provides your pooch with exercise and, of course, a potty break. But there's another reason why that daily stroll is so important—and it has to do with instinct.
Just as fish need to swim and birds need to fly, dogs need to walk. In the wild, packs of dogs get up in the morning and walk to find food. The pack's Alpha Dog leads the way, and the lower pack mates dutifully follow. For a dog, walking fulfils a migration instinct.
While letting your dog run around the backyard or taking him to the dog park can be good exercise, it isn't a substitute for walking. These activities don't offer the same mental stimulation your dog gets by investigating every smell, sight, and sound when you take him for a stroll. As you and your dog walk, he's gathering information about how his territory has changed since the last time he was on that same route.
A walk is also a great opportunity to practice obedience skills with your dog and reinforce your bond with him. When you encounter another dog or person on your route, you can help him practice social skills. Behaviourists believe dogs that are taken for daily walks are better behaved and are less likely to be destructive, obsessive, or have separation/dominance issues.
Believe it or not, there is a right way to walk your dog. Your pooch should either walk beside you or behind you, never in front of you. In other words, you should walk your dog, not the other way around. This may seem trivial, but it means a lot in your dog's world. When you let a dog walk in front of you, you're communicating that he's the one who is in charge of the walk.
How long a walk does your dog need? Twenty minutes is a good amount of time to aim for most dogs—even seniors, if they’re in good health. If your dog is very active, he may need longer, more vigorous walks, perhaps even two or more times a day. Or try slow, short jogs to get your active senior moving. It’ll do both of you good.