CRazy Dog Articles & Training Tips

A Simple Step

Research Shows Daily Walking Can Reduce Canine Stress And Behavior Problems

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There are many factors that go into making a healthy, happy and well-behaved dog. But new research suggests that one of the best ways to curb canine stress and behavior problems may begin, literally, with the simplest of “steps” – walking!

We’re all aware of the many physical benefits that daily walks can bring to both ourselves and our pets – from weight control to improved cardio health. But now a study conducted at the University of Parma, Italy, has reached the surprising conclusion that walking can also be one of the biggest factors in reducing dogs’ long-term stress and even dysfunctional behaviors such as poor socialization and obsessive-compulsiveness.

Study On Shelter Dogs
The study focused on 97 mixed-breed shelter dogs between the ages of 2 and 7 years. Originally it was done to gauge the impact of Italy’s “no-kill” animal welfare law, which makes it illegal for shelters to euthanize dogs except in cases of incurable illness or extreme dangerous behavior. Because of this law, many Italian canines now remain in shelters for lengthy periods of time; all of the dogs in the study had been living in a shelter for 2 to 3 years.

Researchers wanted to find out how to create a better, more stress-free environment for these long-term shelter residents, and by doing so, hopefully eliminate behavior problems that were preventing them from being adopted. The scientists started out by ranking their canine subjects for dysfunctional behaviors associated with high levels of stress-- shaking, pacing, cage biting, avoiding contact with humans and other dogs etc. The dogs were also ranked for positive behaviors typically associated with low stress levels, such as tail-wagging and sociability. To verify their observations, the researchers then took blood samples from each dog to measure for substances associated with high stress (the hormone cortisol, increased white blood cell levels) and low stress (antioxidants). There turned out to be a strong correlation between these blood markers and the visual observations, indicating that the negative behaviors were, in fact, stress related.

The Low-Stress “Link”

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The next step was to determine why some of the shelter dogs had lower stress levels than others. The idea here was to find variables that this group shared in common, and see if any of these factors could then be applied to the high-stress canines to hopefully reduce their anxiety and related behavior problems. Researchers looked at a wide range of variables – from personal characteristics such as the dog’s sex, to the size of its kennel and whether it was alone or shared living space with other canines.

What the researchers found was totally unexpected. The one and only factor common to all of the low-stress dogs was that they were taken on a walk at least once a day! None of the other variables appeared to have any impact on a dog’s stress level and related behavioral problems. The scientists then set out to determine whether it was the activity of walking or perhaps associated factors (more time spent with shelter volunteers etc.) that led to the lower stress levels. Again, they couldn’t find any correlation other than the actual walking itself.

Walk The Walk
This research is good news for you and your clients. Something as simple and pleasurable as walking on a regular basis appears to have an almost “Zen-like” effect on dogs. Walking can have a huge impact on lowering stress and anxiety, reducing undesirable behaviors, and making canines more relaxed, responsive and companionable – in other words, better pets.

Owners should be encouraged to get out and walk their dogs at every opportunity, even if they have a fenced-in backyard for their pet to roam in. This new scientific research should give them motivation -- beyond the obvious physical health/fitness benefits – to make walking part of their regular routine.

New Treats Support Walking And Fitness
At Cardinal Pet Care, we’ve always believed walking offers so many different life-enhancing benefits for dogs and people–from strengthening the human-pet bond, to getting in touch with nature, to meeting new (2-legged and 4-legged!) friends, to an all-around healthier lifestyle. That’s why we’ve developed a brand new category of dog treats designed to support walking and fitness.

Called Walkies Fit Bites, the treats are distinctively shaped – like a foot! But it’s what’s inside Walkies Fit Bites that really sets them strides apart from traditional dog treats. They include ingredients uniquely targeted toward keeping dogs healthy and active: Taurine for heart health; chicken cartilage to support joint health and mobility; and L-carnitine to preserve lean muscle and help control weight.

With this specially blended health and fitness-enhancing formula, Walkies Fit Bites are the perfect treat to make part of a walking lifestyle. As part of our support for dog walking, we’re even coming out with a Walkies Fit Bites mobile app that will provide listings of dog parks, beaches and dog-friendly restaurants and establishments where both human and four-legged walkers are welcome.

The majority of dog owners are already “walking the walk.” According to another recent study, 73% of pet parents currently take their dogs for walks, and this number appears to be growing particularly fast in urban areas. By continuing to promote the mental, emotional and physical benefits of daily walking, pet professionals can keep their clients moving on the right track.

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