You’ve just brought Sadie home from the shelter, and you’ve read up on how to walk her on the leash and where to take her. (And, of course, where to take her to drink beer.) You know your new best buddy needs to go out, but you don’t when or how often. While, unfortunately, like most things in life, there’s no definitive set of rules that applies to all dogs, there are a number of easy-to-determine factors that will help you figure out the right walking schedule for your canine companion.
Decide how often your dog needs to go out
Breed determines need. Some breeds (retrievers, shepherds, terriers) are well-known for loving long walks and will want to stay out as long as you allow them to. Other breeds (bulldogs, pugs, basset hounds) like to get outside, take care of their very important business and get back to hanging out on their special spot on the sofa. But since Sadie isn’t a purebred and you decided to forgo her DNA test for now, she doesn’t fall into a standard “breed.” (She’s one of the very special “3M”s: mongrel, mix, mutt.)
Yet by simply looking at this awesome addition to your entourage, you’ll see the general category of dog she fits into, so let that help determine how much leash time you think Sadie is going to require. If she’s the sporting type, you and her will probably do a lot of bonding while you’re connected via her leash outside. If she’s a dog of leisure, she’ll probably only want to go out when nature calls, as long as it doesn’t interfere with her Animal Planet viewing. But remember: All dogs require exercise, not just potty breaks. (More on that in a bit.)
Age is a big factor. Like you, Sadie’s need and desire for physical activity will change as she ages. As a general rule, puppies require far less exercise than full-grown dogs. So while three-month-old Sadie seems like she might want to be on the go constantly, too much leash time isn’t really good for her.
An easy rule of thumb, er, paw for puppies is five minutes of exercise per month of age (twice daily) until your girl is fully grown (18-24 months, depending on the size of your dog). Once you and her get into your walking routine when she’s an adult dog, you’ll know how long Sadie likes to stroll. As she ages, you’ll also notice if she seems to want to walk less, and you should adapt accordingly.
Know when to take your dog out
Your dog’s personality is cluing you in. As you’ll quickly learn, your canine compatriot is not subtle. If and when Sadie wants something, she’ll tell you. And since dogs typically want to be doing one of four things—eating, walking, pooping/peeing or sleeping (and three of them involve you)—it’s not going to take too long for Sadie to get you on the same page as her as far as what she desires and when she desires it.
Dogs typically want to go outside because they need to go to the bathroom, but once they’re out, they usually realize a walk would really be nice right about then. So if Sadie is doing any of these things, there’s a good chance you’ll be walking her in the very immediate future:
- Scratching/pawing at the door
- Whining/barking at nothing in particular
- Paying more attention to her private parts
- Standing near where you keep the leash and/or your shoes
- Circling/doing the PPP (precious potty prance)
- Having a look on her face that says, “If I could talk, I would’ve told you 15 minutes ago I need be outside right #&%@-ing now.“
Your schedule is a huge part of the equation. Some of the best advice we ever got is this: Don’t adapt to your dog’s schedule; let her adapt to yours. Sadie’s brain is wired to take cues from your conduct and actions. She can learn to change her instinctual behaviors far easier than you can.
So, you can teach an old (or young or middle-aged) dog new tricks. If you have to get up early to take her out before you go to work, she’ll come to expect that’s the time for her morning walk. If you take her out right when you get home from the office and/or right before you go to bed, those will become her anticipated times for outside fun with you as well. Not only will Sadie know it’s time for her walk, chances are she’ll be really looking forward to it.
Remember what time of year it is. Though there are always exceptions, this is the dominant doggie dictum: If the weather outside makes you want to want to stay inside, the same is probably true for your best buddy. But unlike you, Sadie doesn’t have a temperature-controlled room in the house designated for her to “make.” So neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will be able to stay your pooch from the completion of her appointed potty rounds. But aside from her bathroom breaks, Sadie is going to need walks no matter what the time of year is. In the summer, it’s better to go on longer walks early and late in the day to avoid the sun and extreme temperatures. (Remember, shade is your best buddy’s other best buddy.) In the winter, the opposite is true, so try to walk her while the sun is out. (While some dogs prefer not to wear coats, sweaters or Fletcher Cox jerseys, a lot do appreciate this extra layer of protection from the cold.)
The benefits of walking your dog
Your dog’s physical well-being is very important. There’s a common way of thinking that you’re taking your dog out for a walk to let her go to the bathroom. While walking Sadie is the best way to make sure she doesn’t poop and pee in your house, her going potty is a nice bonus to the main reason you’re taking her out: exercise. And while we’re sure doggie gyms will one day be as ubiquitous as Starbucks and avocado toast, they certainly aren’t now. So Sadie is relying on you to be her personal trainer. There’s no magic number when it comes to how much exercise your dog needs on a daily basis, but it’s commonly accepted that most full-grown canines should get 30 minutes (or more) of physical activity per day. The easiest—and best—way to achieve this is to put the leash on Sadie and take her for a walk.
There are mental advantages, too. Being outside, seeing the sights, meeting new friends (both human and canine), getting fresh air—all this and more is great for your dog’s mental health. Chances are, the COVID-related stay-at-home order wasn’t the greatest thing for your sanity. Well, being cooped up is almost as bad for your pooch. Like humans, dogs don’t liked to be bored. The last time your little buddy chewed your couch or got into your recycling bin, she didn’t do it because she was mentally stimulated. She did it because she was bored, had energy to burn and doesn’t own an iPhone. Going for a walk not only invigorates your dog’s body but also her brain, and by taking care of both of these things, Sadie is going to sleep a lot better at night.
Being around other dogs is great for learning socialization skills. Like people, dogs can be xenophobic. But even if they aren’t doesn’t mean the unknown doesn’t cause them some fear. Like we said earlier, dogs are very adaptable. So introducing Sadie to the wonders of the outside world—including other pooches—at an early age is a very wise decision. While dog parks and play dates serve as good ways for your furry friend to become accustomed to the fact that she isn’t the only dog in the neighborhood, meeting other canine compadres while you’re walking her is also a great way to teach her socialization skills. Not only will she make new pooch pals, she’ll also make new human ones as well, which is a very good thing. One big caveat: There are some dogs who act very differently on the leash than they do off. Since the first rule of walking your dog is always keep her on the leash, you’ll first need to see how your pal reacts to meeting new friends who are also on the leash. If she doesn’t seem to want to be social in that situation, don’t force it. Her attitude might change over time, but only if she sees other dogs on a regular basis.
Walking your dog is good for you, too
It’s a great way at building companionship between you two. Truth: Dogs are good for our mental health. They reduce our stress and anxiety, they give us a sense of security, they calm us down, they comfort us. They generally want to be our best friends and want to please us. Add to this that the only thing that’s usually standing between your pooch and her having lots of fun outside is you, and you have a match made in heaven (i.e., the Kingdom Of Dog). Spending time walking your sweetie will endear you to her. She’ll look forward to seeing you, secure in the knowledge there’s a very good chance that the two of you are going to head out for some quality time together. She’ll learn to trust you more, and this confidence will carry over to how you interact with each other inside as well. And the hand that holds the leash is the hand that gets the most doggie kisses.
As a bonus, you get exercise as well. We just mentioned the mental-health benefits of walking your dog, but the physical ones are just as impressive. Aside from providing you more quality time with your best buddy, regular walking will help you:
- Burn calories and lose weight
- Improve your circulation
- Strengthen your heart
- Boost your immune system
- Get a better night’s sleep
- Strengthen your muscles and bones
- Improve your balance and coordination
- Boost your energy