We hear about them over and over again. The health benefits of exercise, staying fit, and being active. The constant “always take the stairs” that fills you with guilt after a long day at work when you go for the elevator. It’s no longer an apple a day…it’s 10,000 steps a day! Sure, before I began my dog walking business I was a relatively active person. But I cannot say that I actually noticed any health benefits from my activity. However, now that my dog walking lifestyle keeps me more active than ever, the difference in how I feel is nothing short of astonishing!
A couple of years ago, when I used to commute 45 minutes to sit in a cubicle for 9 hours a day, a visit from the common cold was as common as it gets. As soon as someone sneezed in the office, I was sick. And as the slowing economy began to affect my job, I experienced an increase in anxiety and had a difficult time sleeping at night. I was too tired after work to even consider hitting the gym. And add to that (no pun intended) I was about 10 pounds heavier than I am now!
Flash back even further and I was in college; complete with late nights of (eh hem) studying, lots of hours in the classroom, and other than walking to class, limited exercise. Once again, colds were common, I always felt tired, and the anxiety from the pressures of school was nearly unbearable. I saw the school nurse for my anxiety and her first bit of advice? Exercise.
Back to present. I’ve owned a growing dog walking business for almost two years, with three part time employees and myself walking full time. I walk up to ten dogs a day, each walk being a half-hour long. It’s go go go for me…and I feel great!
Let’s start with the most obvious. I have not gotten sick since I began walking dogs. Not a sniff, not a sneeze. Change of seasons, walking in days of rain, battling the intense New England winter…bring it on! My immune system can handle it!
I have an unbelievable amount of energy. I’ll walk ten dogs during the day, come home and run four miles, and then be ready to take my two dogs for a 45 minute walk. And it doesn’t stop on weekends when I’m not walking dogs! I get extremely antsy without any exercise and very often my husband must take me (not our dogs) for a walk to keep me happy.
My anxiety is gone and I sleep at night. Think about it, what’s one of the best things you can you do when you’re stressed out? Go for a walk? Play with your dog? How about both. Times ten. Anxiety…gone!
And not only has the health benefits of walking everyday helped me personally, but it has helped my business as well. Any busy dog walker or pet sitter knows that you need the energy and health to get you through each day. Sick in bed with the flu? I don’t think so; my clients’ dogs need their walks! And how about keeping up with 10 half-hour walks a day in the middle of a New England winter, trudging through knee deep snow with heavy snow boots and snow pants on? If I wasn’t in shape and didn’t have the energy, I could not do it!
And once I began walking every day and felt the health benefits, I wanted the dogs that I walk to feel the same way! As I became more in shape, I was able to improve my walks. I made our walks longer and more brisk and found hills to increase the difficulty. I even began taking some of dogs for a weekly run. Not only was I increasing my exercise, but I am now able to offer the additional service of “running” a dog as opposed to just walking!
Here are some tips to help you better your health as a dog walker or pet sitter:
- Find ways to increase the intensity of your walks. If the dog can handle it, find a route with hills or simply quicken your pace. Certainly a high energy dog would benefit from the brisk walk and you’ll burn off those extra calories from that caramel latte you drank!
- Keep track of your progress. Purchase a pedometer and wear it every day to keep track of how many steps you take and how many miles you walk each day. Set goals and take the extra time to reach them. I’m sure the last dog of your day won’t complain if you spend a little extra time with him to go that extra mile!
- Pick a running partner! Surely you walk a couple of dogs that could benefit from a run. Talk to their owners first and if it’s a go, then go! Start easy and work yourself and the dog up to longer and longer runs. Begin with a brisk walk plus a half mile of running. If the dog can handle it, next time make it a mile. Just keep in mind that growing puppies shouldn’t be taken on runs until their bones are fully developed. And check back often with the dogs’ owner to make sure the dogs are not experiencing any stiffness or soreness after your runs!
- Increase your resistance. There’s two ways to do this. You can certainly buy weights to wear on your feet or wrists while you walk. Or improvise. Find a field with tall grass to walk a dog across. I can assure you you’ll feel the burn with that extra high step! Or after a snow storm (if you have the “luxury” of winters like ours in New England) avoid the plowed street and make your own path through the snow in those heavy snow boots! Most dogs love bounding through the deep snow… just don’t take that 4 pound Chihuahua through the foot-deep powder!
- Keep your health in mind. Sore from a run? Pull a muscle? Take it easy the next day. Don’t go hurting yourself when your job is to walk dogs! Play fetch in the yard or stimulate a dog with some basic training. They’ll enjoy the variety in activity, and you’ll enjoy the rest!
- Lastly, and most importantly, put the dog first! Sure, you want to burn some calories and better your health. But ultimately, your job is to keep the dogs that you take care of happy and healthy! Always check with the dog’s owner before increasing the intensity of his walk. Be able to recognize any signs that you’re pushing the dog beyond his limit and make sure he has plenty of water upon your return. And make it FUN for him! If you find the right dogs to help you exercise, you’re going to make some very happy pups!
I’m in the best shape of my life. I run road races, I eat healthy, and I feel great. Not only has opening a dog walking business given me a career that I love, but it’s improved my health in astonishing ways. I don’t get sick, I don’t have anxiety, I have a healthy dose of energy but can always sleep through the night. I’ve improved my business as I’ve improved my health. And most importantly, I am happy! I wake up everyone morning excited to begin my day and feeling great about myself. So those health benefits they’re talking about, yup, they’re true!