Does Walking the Dog Count as “Working Out?”

Sharon Arkoff 

It’s a common refrain in my house: I come home to find dog and teenagers (human and canine) lazing on the couch on a beautiful day, and I yell, “Get outside and get some exercise!” At which point, teenagers whine, “But Mommmmmm…. We walked the dog!” 

So, I ask myself: Does walking the dog count as exercise?

In our family, probably not, as elderly Gracie generally does not go fast or far (except when she wants to). The average human actually gains weight, vs. losing it, by walking with Gracie – don’t ask me how, That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But in truth, many fitness experts and medical practitioners agree that you’d have to walk pretty far and pretty fast, essentially every day, for dog-walking to burn significant calories. A general guideline is that for a 130-pound person, walking at a steady moderate pace burns 120 to 140 calories per hour. For a 200-pound person, steady uninterrupted (as in, not stopping at every third rock or bush for a major sniff-fest – again, Gracie is not helping me here) moderate walking burns 180 to 200 calories per hour. To lose a pound of weight through dog-walking, you would have to burn off an additional 3500 calories per week. That might work out to 24+ hours of walking, to lose one pound.

And, then there’s the issue of whether Gracie is burning any fat on her average walk. Many veterinarians report that they know relatively little about exercise and calorie expenditure in pets. A common belief is the 70/30 Percent Rule. It is thought that pets enrolled in weight loss programs that include exercise lose 70% of their calories due to calorie restriction and 30% due to calorie loss during exercise. One study suggests that a dog walking at a pace of 3.7 -4 miles an hour (~15-minute miles) will burn .8 calories per pound per mile. This means a 40-pound dog will only burn about 90 calories during a brisk one-hour walk. This calorie loss is easily cancelled by the treats the dog likely receives when it gets home. Furthermore, it is unlikely that most owners will maintain a 15-minute mile pace — so the average one-hour walk for a dog would burn fewer calories.

Sniff-fest type walks are of course wonderful ways to bond with your kerry and if your goal is to fill your kerry’s nose with wonderful scents, social encounters, and training opportunities, that’s a pretty awesome way to spend some time in itself. However, you and your dog won’t burn significantly more calories doing that than Gracie and my teenagers burn sitting on the couch.

Okay, you say to yourself, eyeing your running shoes as they lie in the corner where the dog last chewed on them, what if we up the ante, and go running?

Some kerries make great running partners. They’re enthusiastic and motivated, and they act as a good reminder that your workout is waiting (being as your kerry will probably be holding the leash and your shoes in his or her mouth and gazing at you in adoring eagerness when you get home from work). However, veterinarians recommend waiting until a dog is at least 18 months old before beginning any significant jogging program. For dogs that are 18 months or older, start slow. Aim for not more than 10 minutes of easy running to start, not more often than every other day, doggy fitness gurus say. After two weeks, increase by not more than 10 minutes per run per week, to allow muscles and connective tissue to adapt.

Any prolonged lethargy after a run, noticeable soreness, limping or difficulty in getting up or lying down are good indications you’ve pushed your pup too far. Other signs could be reluctance to continue in the run or refusal to even start a run. Your pup may slow down or even stop altogether mid-run. These are all signs that should be heeded.

Also, your dog may not know what’s expected of him or her during a run. Initially, your kerry may want to run much faster or much slower [Gracie] than you. Your kerry may be easily distracted by scents along the way, seeing other dogs, or responding to traffic noises. Experts recommend that you carry yummy treats such as hot dog pieces or cheese to keep your dog’s attention on you. Yes, well, there goes any calorie-burn benefit from the run!

It may be that just because walking the dog isn’t as time- or energy-efficient as running, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look to walking as exercise. Whether you’re running or walking your kerry, consistent moderate activity can reduce your risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and improve your cardiovascular health, according to data from the National Walkers’ Health Study.

The difference in calorie burn between briskly walking a mile and slowly running a mile is minimal. Walking builds and maintains lower extremity and core strength, helps clear your mind, and it’s a great way to spend time with your kerry. So enjoy, but don’t count the calories!

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