The magic of the outdoors: 6 benefits of walking your dog in nature
Nothing compares to walking with your dog. For dogs and their owners alike, we believe that walks are essential for health and happiness. In rain, sun, or snow, walks become a cherished time for exploration and play. It's more than a simple stroll; it's an opportunity for dogs and their guardians to connect.
From the moment you pick up their lead, a joyful whirlwind of anticipation sweeps through your four-legged friend. Their eyes widen, tail wags and excitement mounts. They respond by bouncing up and down, seizing the lead in their mouth, or spinning in gleeful circles.
Without doubt, taking your dog for a walk outdoors is the favourite part of their day. A good walk will not only boost their immune system, it can provide some other valuable benefits.
Why walk your dog in the great outdoors?
For thousands of years, dogs have lived alongside us, often helping our outdoor exploits, be that sheep farming, hunting or protection. But over the years our dogs have moved indoors, which in turn has protected them better from parasites, the elements and diseases, helping them to live longer, healthier and happier lives.
While we recognize from the wagging when our dogs are happy, it’s good to consider the science behind the health benefits of walking dogs in natural settings. One academic study noted how a dog's stress was alleviated after a walk with cortisol levels measured in dogs’ saliva.
According to another study, dog walks outside can help to combat boredom (and destructive behavior that arises from that) by stimulating and engaging their senses. Exploring the outside world also encourages dogs to make choices, set the pace, and have fun.
Benefits to dogs
Walking in nature provides an overall boost to your dog’s physical and mental health. Here are some specific examples of how time spent frolicking through the grass, trees, sand and mud can benefit your four-legged friend.
1. Exercise: Room to roam and play
Of course, one reason for taking your dog for a walk in the first place is to give them exercise, so heading into the great outdoors is a great way to do just that. While walking in nature gives dogs more space and freedom to roam, run, play and explore, it is likely to extend your dog’s lifespan and slow ageing by lowering the risk of obesity. The same study reported that regular exercise helps to improve comfort and function in dogs with arthritis.
If you are the proud owner of a high-energy breed or a species that is prone to being overweight or suffering from joint problems, long walks in green spaces or expansive beach strolls are perfect for providing them with adequate physical stimulation.
2. Exploring new sights and scents
Dogs love the great outdoors because it gives them the chance to explore and experience new sights and smells. This provides them with mental stimulation to keep them engaged and active. Whether that be following a scent trail, watching the birds flutter by or navigating trails, their minds are constantly working in these situations.
Mental exercise is just as important as physical for a dog to remain happy and healthy. According to naturalawakenings, interacting with the outdoor environment can ward off cognitive decline. In ageing dogs, signs of cognitive decline can appear in 50% of dogs over 11 and in 68% of 15 year-old dogs.
3. Socializing: Learning how to be part of the pack
Remaining physically and mentally fit are important for your dog’s overall health and there is one final way we can give them a boost by nature walks – socialization. When walking in public outdoor spaces you will invariably encounter another dog walker, giving your pet the chance to say hello.
This is even more beneficial if you can introduce your dog to roaming in nature as early in their lives as possible.
The sooner your dog gets to socialize with other dogs, encountering wildlife, seeing children play and even hear traffic can improve their temperament, reducing their tendency to react, whether that’s chasing a small mammal or barking at children, ultimately making them a happier member of their community.
Humans can benefit too
It’s not just our dogs that get to enjoy the benefits of walking in nature, and taking them for a stroll can also greatly improve our overall well being. In one study by BMC Public Health, dog walking was cited as the most popular reason for visits to outdoor environments in England.
In addition, the data suggested that up to 64% of UK dog owners achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity through walking their dog and all the many health benefits that come from regular dog walking.
4. A stronger immune system
Did you know that going for a walk among nature can help boost your immune system? Walking for just 30 minutes in a forest can result in an increase in white blood cells, which are essential for fighting infections in the body.
Besides boosting the immune system, exposure to phytoncides, the natural oils found in trees, can also have an anti-inflammatory impact, lower blood glucose levels and enhance sleep. Not bad for a simple walk in the forest with your dog!
5. Less stress, more joy
Nature has a wonderful healing power not just on our bodies but also our minds. Studies have found that spending time in nature decreases feelings of stress and anxiety in humans.
Not only that but a walk amongst the trees, over the dunes or in an open field can enhance your working memory, restore focus and attention and reduce blood pressure. Furthermore, walking outdoors with your dog releases endorphins to boost your mood.
Both dogs and humans!
Walking your dog requires two things; you and your dog! Walking in nature is also a mutually beneficial activity for you both.
6. A bonding experience
Walking with your dog, either in an open space or through a winding forest trail provides quality bonding time. Sharing an enjoyable activity together forms lasting memories and gives dogs valuable one-on-one time with their owners.
Each walk becomes a mini adventure that you and your dog must navigate together and from your dog’s perspective, you are working together on this journey. Well, until they find a freshwater stream, then you’re on your own!
Walking in nature for your dog’s health and happiness
The ideal walk length for a dog depends primarily on their age, size, breed, and natural energy level. Most dogs can handle walks of at least 3 miles without any training but others are capable of trekking up to 20 miles with the right diet and conditioning. Natural, plant-based food is an excellent source of nutrition and energy for your dog, providing them with plenty of stamina to accompany you on long, outdoor and wild walks.
The healthiest time to start walking your puppy
Puppies should not be walked outside until they are fully vaccinated, which is usually around 16 weeks of age. Once they have been vaccinated, puppies can start going for proper walks outside but it’s better to begin with short 5-10 bursts walks and increase time and distance slowly as they grow - a good rule of thumb is 5 minutes of walk per month of age up to twice a day. Remember to check that your puppy isn’t getting too tired and don't overdo the walk.
If you're looking for ways to make your dog's walks even more enjoyable, you may want to consider using FitBark which can help you track your dog's walks, play sessions, and sleep habits. With a little planning, you can easily incorporate regular walks in nature into your and your dog's daily routine. It's a great way to improve your physical and mental health, while also deepening your bond with your best friend.