Winter weather in the Rogue Valley with its cold and rain can challenge even your best intentions for keeping that daily walk with your four-legged friend. But that regular outing is important for both of you.
"In general, what's good for the person is good for the dog," says Dr. Nancy Dollarhide of Lakeway Veterinary Hospital in Medford. Perhaps not surprisingly, she points out, American dogs are overweight with the accompanying health problems that their humans also experience. How can you both benefit from a good walk?
Is it ever too cold to walk your dog? What about too hot? Too wet?
The varied seasons of the Rogue Valley each bring their own considerations for your daily dog walk. Fortunately, your winters rarely get so cold that you can't get outdoors. "I just bundle up and let the dog go," says Pati Gillen of Eagle Point Pet/House Sitting. "…and have a towel handy inside the door."
For cold or wet weather, there are a variety of accessories to keep your pet warm or dry. Raincoats, sweaters and even boots are available that serve a purpose other than fashion. "You can teach your dog to wear those little Velcro boots," says Dr. Nancy Dollarhide of Lakeway Veterinary Hospital. But she points out that not all dogs take kindly to them. "It takes the fun out of a walk."
Summers present more of a problem when temperatures soar. "I will walk a dog in the heat but not very far," says Gillen. "I don't think it's fair to the dog." Try to plan your walk for a cooler part of the day, and take along water for both of you. And don't forget to watch out for their feet on sun-baked pavement, says Dollarhide. "It gets hot!"
"Walks are divided into different kinds of walks," says Dollarhide, and gives three components of a good walk.
When you first strike out and your dog's energy is still high, it will be eager to find the sights and smells new to the dog's territory since its last walk. Let the leash loose and indulge in a time of exploration. The benefit for you? "It reminds you to be playful," smiles Dollarhide. Tails high and noses to the ground, it's a time for your dog to explore.
Of course the size of your dog will set the pace, reminds Pati Gillen, owner of Eagle Point Pet/House Sitting in Eagle Point. Because her dog-walking service deals with a variety of breeds, she adapts the walk to the dog. "If they're small, I let them go as fast as they're comfortable," she says while a larger dog will need to stay closer.
Another important element is to keep the dog beside you, says Dollarhide. It gives purpose and structure that the dog, a pack animal by nature, can recognize. "[The walk] is the job," explains Dollarhide. "It's important mentally to dogs." It also sets the relationship between you and your dog. "It's the best way to establish that you're the leader," says Dollarhide.
This is the time to train them not to pull on the leash and to correct aggressive behaviors. "I don't want them dragging me around," says Gillen, and keeps the dogs at a heel. "You eliminate some problem behaviors," adds Dollarhide, " by establishing your leadership in the "pack."
Your daily walk also provides an opportunity to work on obedience training. Dollarhide recommends carrying some treats to build a positive reward pattern for good behavior. Expect them to maintain position beside you but reward their response to your voice and to your commands to sit, stay, etc. "It makes them more responsive to you," says Dollarhide.
Does the length of the walk matter? Gillen usually plans on a 30-minute outing to let the dogs work off excess energy and get their exercise. "I at least try to wear them out," she says with a laugh but reminds that "older dogs can tire quickly." Smaller dogs too, will tire faster than larger breeds so be aware of your dog's limits.
And just like you, it's important to keep an eye on their feet, says Dollarhide. "Pavement is very abrasive," and can wear down their footpads. Keep nails clipped and trim any fur between their toes to reduce the problem of foxtails working their way into their feet.
What should you take along? "Definitely a leash and baggies," says Gillen. Most city bylaws in the Rogue Valley require owners to keep their pets on a leash unless in a designated "off leash" area, and to clean up after them. And let the weather guide you.
Then head out together to give your dog the mental and physical stimulation it needs. Your dog won't be the only one to benefit, reminds Dollarhide. "It's so good for the people, too."