Know your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
Frankly, if you ask me, my answer will be a big NO. The reason is simple. A dog walker is a paid employee he will take the dog around the block, get busy with his cell phone or sit and gossip with his friends and after spending his schedule time, he will bring the dog back home.
Whether a toy breed or a huge brute like a Great Dane, your dog needs exercise as per his age and breed or size. Larger the breed, more exercise he will need. The smaller breeds are generally quite frisky and exercise themselves well, yet they too need to be walked a bit.
The first question that may be boggling you all must be, why so much emphasis on dog’s walks? Ever seen a Shepherd herding his sheep in the mountains? As they graze and walk, his sheep dog runs around them to keep the flock together. A Shepherd walks on an average about 20 km a day and his dog walks and runs almost twice the distance. These dogs have very slim, muscular bodies and they survive on whatever frugal meals their master can provide. Mind you in the desolate wilderness of the mountains there is no Vet. Thus, you have only two situations, either you live or you die! I have lived with Shepherds for months together. Never saw a dog die of any ailment. Of course, the sheep often die, in case of an accidental fall off from the mountain cliffs. The shepherds carry the newly born calves on the shoulders, till they learn to wobble around their mother.
The crux of this narrative is to emphasise the significance of walking. A dog needs two types of workouts. One is to trot besides the master for as many kilometres as physically possible both for the owner and the dog. Often people ask me how many kilometres a dog should be walked? In my experience a Labrador retriever needs to be walked five km in the morning and five in the evening. This gives a good muscle tone to the dog. However, only walking is not enough. They should be made to retrieve a ball or swim at least for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening.
The distance a dog should be walked depends largely on the size of a dog. For example, simple walking may not help a Great Dane. Rather he needs to be trotted along a bicycle. But in this kind of exercise, one has to be cautious. First the dog has to be trained to heel besides his master. While switching over to make him heel besides a bicycle, initially do it for short distances. After a few days gradually increase the distance. Mind you, you should never try this unless your dog is perfectly trained to heel with you. Else a slight jerk from the dog can get you severally injured. Walking exercise should always be given on hard road. That wears out dog’s nails and you hardly need a nail cutter. Plus, it also tightens his knuckles. Retrieving a ball or a dumb bell is best done in a park.
You may be wondering where the dog walker in all this narrative is. Yes, you are right. However, please note that exercise is of utmost importance to the dog. He is a bundle of energy and if not well exercised, he may even harm self or others and also fall sick frequently. Each time your dog falls sick you visit a Vet and he treats the dog and apparently the dog recovers. But after few days the same problem recurs. You don’t have time to note all the symptoms of your pet and your Vet has hundreds of patients waiting outside, hence he treats your dog as per what he can clinically see and what you have told him. The root cause of ailment often in young adult dogs is lack of proper exercise. You are a very busy person and hardly have time to exercise your dog, except on an occasional holiday. My first question is then why have you kept a dog? You want a dog as a status symbol or just to satisfy the whims of your children?
Unlike the fish in the aquarium, dogs need lots of attention. I have experienced that a dog needs full time attention like a child. Now tell me, would you like to leave your child alone with an ayah throughout the day? Most probably not. Likewise, if you have an attendant, he will come most probably every day and take your dog out for a walk. Someday just follow him discreetly. You will find that just at the turn of your block, he will get busy with his cell phone and your dog will keep on pulling him in different directions. He will just ensure that the dog completes his job. Rest of the time he will not even look towards the dog, instead, take a comfortable perch in a shade and get busy with chats or ‘WhatsApp’ or whatever. He will complete his assigned time, bring the dog back home and go away.
Exercising your dog is not only good for him, but for you too. Brisk walking is ideal for the dog and the owner both. The benefits include a stronger heart, lower B.P., more energy, increased bone density and a lower risk of depression. Among dogs, regular walks control common behavioural problems. Before starting a brisk walking programme, it is better to get a check-up done for you and your pooch. In case you both are in the pink of health, just train your dog to Heel and start walking.
In case you are too old for doing a brisk walk or you have less time, but you are keen on exercising the dog yourself, then you should try a Frisbee. Nothing attracts a dog more than a Frisbee swishing through the air. It is better to train him to retrieve beforehand. He will rush after the Frisbee, jump and catch it in the air and bring it back to you. Likewise retrieving a ball too is a good exercise. Another newly emerging trend of doggy exercises is ‘Doga’ or Doggy Yoga. You have to train your dog to mimic you and perform Yogic exercises which are useful for his muscle tone. For example, muscle tone can be improved by teaching some stretching exercises to your pooch. As you stretch, he will mimic and stretch. Jogging or cycling is good. But dogs can’t sweat, as they don’t have sweat glands. Hence for many breeds like Greyhound running long distances can be problematic. However, a Labrador enjoys his jog with you or loves to trot besides you as you ride a bicycle.
After reading this you should be able to judge and decide, whether you wish to pay a dog walker almost for nothing or improve the health of both-you and your pooch!
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