Hello and happy 2023 from your friendly neighbourhood Wellbeing College. 

January is a strange month for many, striking an uneasy balance between the slow down after Christmas and New Year, and revving up to a Brand New You. 

Even if you’re not going for a full rebrand in 2023, it’s natural to feel more open to change in January, and to make at least a passing attempt at healthier choices for your body and mind. 

But where to start? 

One of the things that every healthy Insta account and online listicle will tell you to do is go outside and get some fresh air. I agree that this seems unreasonable. 

Fresh air? 

In January? 

I don’t know about you but when dawn feels like dusk and outside feels like a cold shower, running around pink cheeked in a field does NOT inspire joy.  

But I’ve got good news for you. 

I know the secret to walking – that turns it from something you need to do to something you can’t wait to do – a dog! 

January is Walk Your Dog Month. The organisers behind Walk Your Dog Month want people to use it as an opportunity to not only improve their own physical health and wellbeing, but also offer their pets more time to explore the great outdoors. 

Heading out for regular walks with your dog has a number of important physical and mental health benefits.  

According to scientists at the University of Animal Health Technology in Tokyo, dog walking has been found to decrease anxiety, stress and depression, as well as ease feelings of loneliness. Also SO CUTE OMG (*note: the scientists didn’t explicitly conclude this). 

The team tested the effects of walking alone versus with a pet by taking saliva samples from 14 dog owners for a week. When owners took their dogs for walks, stress levels (including the stress-inducing MHPG chemical) were much lower. 

Furthermore, a 40% increase was also observed in the levels of the GABA chemical, which assists in controlling the nerve cell hyperactivity related to anxiety, stress, and fear. 

Functional versus recreational dog walking 

In recent years, scientists and researchers have realised just how valuable dog-owner relationships are. 

Dog walking has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of both owners and dogs, according to Dr Carri Westgarth, a senior lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool. 

Dog walking can be divided into two types. 

Functional walks are those that simply meet the basic needs of the dog, giving them their necessary daily exercise. Owners take functional walks to ensure their dogs get enough exercise, but often don’t enjoy this time themselves. 

In contrast, recreational walks cater to both dog and owner needs. Such walks tend to be longer, more leisurely, and owners are more likely to venture out of their immediate area to go to local beauty spots, beaches and so on. 

My own experience 

As an anxious, introverted type, nothing gets my goat more than being told to ‘get out more’ without any indication how on earth I’m supposed to want to do that.  

But over the past couple of years I’ve found that dog walking consistently inspires me to get out, explore, throw balls and get my face and eyes licked quite a lot.  

Because I work from home, over the last year I’ve managed to fit dog walking and pet sitting services neatly into my roster of extremely valuable services.  

People I work for say they love the energy and attention I give to their pets, believing that this is a sign of my skill and professionalism. But actually, hanging out with all their very good boys and girls benefits me more than anything else. 

See, every dog has a completely different personality, and brings something different to my life.  

Fuji the Husky is a sedate old girl with a big mouth, who makes me feel safe and calm walking along desolate harbour walls.  

Smudge the Labrador is only a puppy and taught me that I had far more energy than I ever thought possible. He’s also taught me that squeaky balls are the most interesting and exciting thing on the planet, and that any dog can be trained even if they do eat your handbag in the process. 

Finally Sonja, a tiny ball of fluff and anxiety, taught me that a creature as big as a bread roll has the ability to leap 5ft into a person’s arms when a bigger dog makes eye contact with them. 

Spending recreational time with a dog means connecting on an almost human level, and it’s so rewarding to watch as they learn your commands and look out for you, above everyone else. 

Also dog park gossip is the best and I will not be taking any further questions. 

How to walk dogs if you don’t have a dog 

They say a dog is not just for Christmas and in my case not even because my loved ones continue to ignore all of my hints.  

But luckily we live in a highly connected world where your dog is our dog if you fancy sharing the burden of running in a field thrice a day. 

If you want to sign up for dog walking, here are some of the resources I have used: 

Sign up to https://www.borrowmydoggy.com/ 

Sign up for https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/ 

Sign up for https://www.rover.com/uk/become-a-sitter/  

(I have used all of these) 

Borrow a neighbour’s dog 

Advertise yourself for dog walking to your social media connections 

Have a great month, everyone. Send dog pics x 

The post Walk on the mild side – how leisurely dog walks could be the key to January joy  appeared first on Second Step.

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