I was reading an article written by Harvey B. Simon, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Health Sciences Technology Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology about how pets affect your health. (see link below) and amongst other benefits it suggests that walking the dog is from an exercise perspective a positive impact. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. While I don’t disagree that exercise has potentially a positive impact on both a dog and dog owner’s health I find that at least from the dog’s perspective there tends to be a very loose definition of what qualifies as exercise. There’s a difference between burning calories (still a great thing) and exercising a dog and dog owner’s heart and lungs. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that for most people, a target heart rate while exercising should be 50% to 85% of the person’s maximum heart rate. I don’t know very many people that come close to breaking a sweat when they walk the dog and I don’t think they get in that range very often if at all. As a result, I can’t imagine that very many dog’s get the physical benefits that true cardiovascular exercise offers.
From a behavior perspective, I suspect they and their owners are missing out as well. Research associated with medications used for canine behaviour modification has started to attribute as much benefit to true daily cardiovascular as to pharmaceutical mood altering products. I think even dogs without anxiety issues learn and retain more and just get along better overall with their owners if they receive actual cardiovascular exercise as well.
You can determine what your own target heart rate is by using the heart rate calculator found at this link. (Your maximum heart rate in beats per minutes is based on how old you are — it’s 220 minus your age.) For the next month’s worth of dog walks, shoot for 30 – 45 minutes a day and see if you can get comfortably within your maximum heart rate and see if that has an impact on your dog’s day to day behavior and training. If you and your dog are really out of shape check in with your associated medical professionals first.