The Walkin’ Dude

Greetings Bored Surfer, and welcome to the February edition of BLOG blog!

If the lengthening days and the adorable-but-not-meteorologically-accurate rodent are not enough to lift your spirits, there are other opportunities for amusement this month.

I will not tell you to go fly a kite on Feb 8th. Feel free to observe National Kite Flying Day in whatever manner you see fit.

Feb 27th is International Polar Bear day. The mama bears and their cubs are still snoozing, so you can celebrate without fearing for your safety. Plunging into extremely cold water is optional.

The 22nd is National Walking the Dog day. Although it does not specifically exclude yo-yos, this seems to be geared toward our canine companions. As a bonus, this serves as an excuse for me to ramble on about the positive effects this activity can provide for both you and your pooch.

At this point in the year, you have probably forsaken your New Year’s resolution and once again succumbed to the siren song of Netflix. I would like to offer a gentle reminder that a daily stroll is good for the mind, body and soul.

You are undoubtedly aware that exercise benefits both man and beast. In addition to assisting weight control, physical activity can aid digestive processes, build muscle mass and improve joint mobility. It is also well documented that exertion improves quality of sleep, lessens anxiety and depression and helps cognitive function.

In pets, regular activity reduces boredom and stress-related behaviors. Helping your pet exercise also strengthens the human-animal bond, which is of great benefit to both parties.

If you exercise with your pet, you also get an eager and readily available workout buddy. Pets will remind you when it is time for their daily activity until the habit is ingrained. A 2009 study showed it took people from 18-254 days, with an average of 66 days to develop a habit. This is a better representation of

human behavior than the oft-cited 1960 study that showed it took people 21 days to adapt to their new appearance after plastic surgery. There was no mention in either study of the time period for a new nun to acclimate to her attire.

While exercise is vital to all, the form it takes will vary with species. Your hamster may enjoy traversing your residence in a clear plastic ball, but your tarantula may not. Snakes are notoriously hard to leash train. Underwater treadmills do exist, but it is difficult to get fish to use them. A falcon might return to your arm after a flight, but a bat… well, it probably has rabies and should not be kept as a pet.

Depending on your particular living situation, walking the dog may already be an important daily ritual to keep your floor free of excrement. However, if you have a fenced yard or a dog that eliminates in a designated area indoors, walks may be optional. While time outside in the yard is indeed good, it is not comparable to a trek off the premises. Ambulating around the neighborhood or hiking in the woods adds variety to the sights, sounds and smells your dog encounters. It could very well increase the amount of movement performed, especially if your dog has a large yard, but rarely ventures more than 20 steps away from the back door.

The optimal dog walking experience depends on many factors, some of which are beyond your control. Please prepare for the conditions you are likely to encounter in your specific location.

The provisions you pack should include poo bags, preferably the highest number you have ever used on a walk plus one. Cleaning up after your dog prevents subsequent pedestrians from stepping in the lawn sausages and helps prevent the spread of intestinal parasites.

Be sure your dog’s collar and/or harness fit properly to avoid both escape and chafing. They should also have an ID tag (with current contact info) and a microchip (the animal identification kind, not that super-secret one implanted in alien abductees) in case you get inadvertently separated.

Dogs quickly learn the significance of the leash. Desirable attributes of a canine tether are safety, durability and weather resistance. A four-to-six-foot nylon leash works well in most cases. Reflectivity is an important factor if you are

likely to be out during the hours between dusk and dawn. Keep in mind that leashes with LED lights will make you more visible to motorists, but will not protect you from vampires.

For the sake of all involved, please please please avoid using a retractable leash. While the idea of giving your dog more room to move around seems like it would reduce the tendency for them to strain at the end of the leash, it actually has the opposite effect. The leash is under tension, and the dog learns that pulling against it results in more line. The line itself can cause abrasions if rubs against skin when reeling out or in. The long line is also a trip and tangle hazard. If the dog reaches the end of the leash at a rapid pace, the resulting jerk on their neck and your arm could injure either of you. There are problems if you need to pull them back from a busy street, another animal, a suspicious storm drain, the edge of a pit or some other hazard. It is also easier for the two of you to be caught on opposite sides of a closing elevator door or an invisible force field surrounding your town. The design itself can be problematic – the size and shape make it relatively easy to pull out of a person’s hand. When this happens, the leash becomes a missile hurtling toward your dog. This usually results in a loose dog trying to escape from the terrifying object loudly bouncing off the pavement in pursuit of them.

You should also adjust your route to accommodate your dog’s size and shape. Short-legged, short-snouted, obese or elderly dogs usually have a shorter range than their young, slim, pointy-nosed, long-legged counterparts. If you go too far afield, you may have to carry your rotund Pug home.

Weather conditions can obviously have a negative impact. Whether they are Gene Kelly fans or not, many dogs do not enjoy frolicking in the rain. Some breeds may delight in snow, but most (even the Iditarod contestants) agree that ice is a treacherous surface for travel and necessitates protective booties. High temperatures and humidity are also detrimental to outdoor exertion. Dogs, especially short nosed breeds, are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If possible, schedule your walk for early morning or late evening, when the temperature of the air is at a tolerable level and the asphalt is in its solid form.

Allowing some time for sniffing is important during a walk. In addition to mental stimulation, novel sensory input provides important information about the local environment and its inhabitants. It also means you and your Beagle may have trouble running away from a killer tomato because they can only travel a few inches before needing to olfactorily inspect every single nanometer of available ground.

Although it is the most common, walking is not the only method of exercising your dog. Taking your canine companion for a swim may be a viable option, depending on your location, their desire and ability to swim and your tolerance for wet dog transportation. While it may relieve some canine stress, it can definitely add to the workload of your pool boy.

There are also organized dog sports, such as agility, fly ball, rally obedience, barn hunt (finding rats in a barn, not tracking an escaped outbuilding), dock diving and herding. Some breeds, as well as some individuals, are likely to appreciate these type of group activities; others do not thrive in this type of environment. Participation will require a commitment of time and training, but can benefit your dog immensely.

When selecting a particular activity, aim to engage your dog’s mind as well as their body whenever possible. This is especially true if you have a high-energy house pet, limited outlets for exertion and items in your home that you do not wish to repeatedly replace. Games like hide-and-seek, puzzle toys and even training sessions provide a needed outlet for mental stimulation. This helps fend off the boredom that can lead to destructive behavior. Keeping your dog’s brain busy is especially helpful when faced with limited physical options, such as during periods of inclement weather, medically imposed exercise restrictions or the arrival of a circling convoy of sentient semi-trucks.

The need for physical and mental exertion is not limited to pets of the canine variety. Exercise is an important component of environmental enrichment in every type of human-animal situation, such as house pets, zoo animals, lab subjects, livestock etc. etc. etc. Yes, this includes cats. They may sleep 18+ hours a day, but they need something to do during those waking hours.

With training and a whole lot of patience, cats can be taught to walk on a leash. If you attempt this venture, you should acclimate your cat to wearing a harness before leaving the house. The great outdoors is not the preferred location to test the accuracy of your cat’s Houdini impersonation. It is also possible your cat may become immobile when you enter the outside world, even with advance preparation. While sauntering around, you must be ever-vigilant for threats to your companion’s well-being. Be prepared to pick up your kitty if dogs, children, sewer clowns or other menaces are present. Choose your route judiciously, to prevent incidents at the sandbox in the park and expulsion from the neighborhood association.

Walking the cat is not ideal for everyone, so I would like to take this opportunity to suggest other calorie expending and bond expanding activities with which you can engage your feline friend.

Most types of feline play involve some variation of simulating their natural pastime of hunting. Cats are designed to capture unsuspecting morsels via ambush. This is most often achieved via silently stalking and suddenly pouncing on their prey. The part of the prey should be played by inanimate objects, not your hands, feet or any other body parts. Ideally, the object should act like prey by moving erratically (but not towards the cat). Many cats enjoy chasing the little red laser pointer dot, but catching it is a bit of a letdown. To counteract this, make the dot’s final action be landing on something the cat can tangibly attack, preferably something with a hidden edible morsel.

Try to incorporate 5-10 minutes of playtime into each cat’s daily routine. Just don’t do it one time at 3am if you want a full night’s sleep in your cat’s lifetime. To fend off boredom, change the supply of available toys on a regular basis.

In addition to the physical exertion of play, it is important to engage your cat’s attention with the mental stimulation provided by food puzzles, training, or riding in a stroller (Remember to take the baby out first.). Many indoor cats also enjoy watching the outside world from the safety a strategically placed perch or window seat. For more information about cat health in general and exercise in particular, check out the website, which is brought to you by the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Of course, before embarking on any exercise routine, please seek advice from your pertinent medical professionals. Underlying health issues should be discussed, as well as the need for parasite prevention. Unless you are Large Marge, you should avoid hitchhikers, so follow your vet’s advice about flea/tick products.

With that, I encourage you to go forth and have a fantastic February. Be excellent to each other.

Dr. Debbie Appleby