Forget the Aspirin. Take Two Dogs on a Walk!

What do you get when you take a couple of empty nesters and add four cats and two dogs? One big, happy family. At least that’s how pediatrician Bruce Hewett describes his Vacaville household after Moose, Lily, Barney, Floyd, Gomer and Ernie T. joined him and his wife, Kristin, a Padan Elementary School kindergarten teacher.

His children were actually teenagers when Moose joined the family in 2006. Moose was about 2 when he was found wandering the streets of Vallejo and was brought to the Solano County Animal Shelter.

“If families would turn off their televisions and smart phones, and replace that activity with 60 to 90 minutes of walking their dog each day, I would be writing fewer referrals to dietitians for obesity.”

—Dr. Bruce Hewett

The big, brown dog of indistinguishable breed was quickly identified by the staff as a very adoptable fellow because of his friendliness and ability to follow commands. But after three weeks, there were no takers.

The reason was because whenever a person stopped at his cage, he would roll around on his back and moan like a wounded cow.

“Fortunately, I interpreted those crazy behaviors as a mixture of happiness and submission to my presence,” chuckles Dr. Hewett. “Sure enough, when we put him on a leash he was the perfect dog who followed my commands and walked on the leash without tugging. Within an hour I was the owner of a happy, healthy dog. It turned out to be the best $85 I ever spent.”

Tips for a Happy Walk

  • The first 20 minutes of the walk should be relaxed. Let your dog sniff and smell at their own leisurely pace as you walk.
  • The last 40 minutes is the time for you to take control by tightening up on the leash and keeping the dog’s head up so they can’t sniff the ground. During this phase of the walk, go as fast as you can. It takes practice, but if you are good at taking the lead and keeping the dog’s head up, you will both get better exercise.
  • The most common misconception is that having a large backyard allows the dog to get plenty of exercise.
  • Most dogs need a good 60 to 90 minutes of leash walking each day so they can smell and explore the world around them and get physically tired.
  • If you are taking your dog for long walks in rural areas, you need to be cautious about fleas and ticks, which can carry disease.

Lily is also a rescue, a mixed small breed dog who was adopted while on display at a local pet supply store in 2011.

“The pecking order is complicated, but as long as everyone recognizes that Lily is in charge then there is peace and harmony in the house,” jokes Dr. Hewett.

Most of his pediatric patients and their families know Dr. Hewett is an advocate of a family pet because of the many health benefits to dog ownership. “But before anyone adopts a dog, they should understand that most dog breeds enjoy work and therefore they need physical exercise to be happy and content,” says Dr. Hewett. Many dogs with behavior problems can be remedied with exercise alone, he says, noting that there’s also a huge benefit for the family that walks the dog, citing exercise and improved sleep.

“It’s been proven that children who get physical exercise during the day and exposure to daylight boost their production of melatonin and have better quality sleep. Good quality sleep is the foundation for good performance in school.” (Dr. Hewett is an expert on sleep issues in children, and has several videos with advice for parents on www.NorthBay.org/mysleepdoc.)

“If families would turn off their televisions and smart phones, and replace that activity with 60 to 90 minutes of walking their dog each day, I would be writing fewer referrals to dietitians for obesity,” says Dr. Hewett. “It would improve many aspects of family dynamics and communication and children would have less need for behavior counseling.”

But perhaps the most important benefit is the emotional growth that develops when a child cares for and bonds with a pet.

“A parent modeling caring behavior is the most powerful influence they can have on their children’s behavior,” he says. “So when a family shares the experience of taking good care of their pet, the children learn compassion and caring behaviors that result in happier relationships.”

While a pet isn’t for every family, it is a wholesome, positive choice for many, he says. “I have offered my services to hundreds of kids to help them pick out a dog at the animal shelter but so far no one has taken me up on that offer,” he says with a smile. “Of course, it is a long-term commitment and therefore should be given serious consideration.”

Still, if a family is seriously considering it, Dr. Hewett recommends they consider adopting from the Solano County Animal Shelter.

“The cost is reasonable and the staff has screened the dogs for health and safe behaviors,” he says. “They are also excellent at helping you understand all the components of responsible dog ownership.”

Dogs Need Fitness Too!

Dogs Need Fitness Too!If you start a fitness campaign that includes walking or running with your dog, make sure your dog is up to the task. A couch potato dog, or an overweight dog, needs to work up to long walks and runs, just like its owner.

“Most dogs benefit from regular exercise, and some dogs, such as border collies and labs, can walk all day,” says Kelly Palm, DVM. “Other dogs, such as English bulldogs, are not built to exercise. That’s why it’s so important when adopting a pet to choose a breed that is compatible with your lifestyle.”

If you start walking a dog and it becomes lame or refuses to finish the walk, you are probably doing too much. You may want your vet to look at the dog in case it has a hidden cardiac or pulmonary disease or orthopedic problems.

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