“There are real physical and mental health benefits to taking your dog outside,” says one avid dog walker
You wake up to a snow storm warning and if you look outside you can already see the snow blowing sideways and hearing the wind howl. Not a good day to get outside. But if you are a dog owner, you may not have a choice. Your pet pooch definitely needs a walk.
Home stay orders caused by the pandemic have presented both opportunities and challenges for local dog owners.
Robb MacDonald, a health promotion specialist and entrepreneur, sees the responsibility of ensuring that the family’s pets go outside regularly as a positive boost to their own wellbeing.
“Having dogs has definitely had an impact on how I enjoy the outdoors,” MacDonald said. “If we didn’t have dogs, I might not choose to come out that often.”
Both MacDonald and his partner Sue work from their home in the Horseshoe Valley. Her routine consists of walking her dogs, Kula and Ziggy, three times a day.
“It’s a good excuse to come out and move around. We don’t have a fenced yard, so we explore all possible trails with the dogs. Even if I don’t feel like going out on some days, I don’t come back often and wish I hadn’t gone out. “
Orillia’s Lynn Jamieson says she can’t imagine her life without a dog.
“I’ve had a dog for as long as I can remember. My family always had a dog as a child. Walking my dog every day, often twice a day, is only part of my life. “
Jamieson, who recently retired from full-time employment, continues to start her day early and usually goes for a walk at 6 a.m. with Elmo, her 18-year-old German long-haired pointer
As someone who loves the outdoors, Jamieson enjoys cycling, rollerblading, working on a local organic farm, and volunteering at a nearby falconry center. But the time she spends with her dog is most precious to her.
“When I leave, I think about what my day will be or what I want to do to the best of my ability.”
She also brings her cell phone or camera. “There’s so much to see, whether we’re walking in town or on a trail in the woods – there’s always something interesting,” said Jamieson.
While dog owners have benefited from a built-in incentive to enjoy the outdoors during the home-stay guidelines, the circumstances of the pandemic have also created challenges.
With many public areas (including designated dog parks) closed, local parks and trails are extremely popular and sometimes crowded.
Even in Simcoe County’s wooded areas, where MacDonald often walks, snowshoes, or runs his dogs, trails can get crowded.
“There’s no shortage of routes,” MacDonald explained, “but with the increase in activity over the past year, dog etiquette really matters.”
He stressed that dogs should always be on a leash for their safety and the safety of others.
“Not everyone is comfortable with dogs,” said MacDonald. “And it’s also important to watch out for wildlife (like porcupines) and areas that are environmentally sensitive. Dogs can even spread invasive species. There are many reasons to keep your dog on a leash on trails. “
Rachel Edwards, owner of two Golden Retrievers – Maple and Mia, “the girls” – also saw a change in trail use over the past year.
Edwards has been a dog owner all her life. In recent years she has become an avid hiker and enjoys going on one to two hour hikes with her “girls” in local parks and forests.
“You quickly get to know the trails and the normal dog walkers. It has become a real community. We got to know each other and can greet other dogs by name. We get to know the dog’s personality and how we can be safe with one another. “
But with the increased use of hiking trails, Edwards and her canine colleagues have had to be more vigilant about their dog’s behavior and help others understand trail and dog etiquette.
“It’s important for dog owners to be careful about how their dogs greet others and make sure they ask before allowing their dog to approach another dog or person,” Edwards said.
Edwards has started exploring other, less populated areas and also enjoys walking after dark. “In winter, the snow provides all the light we need.”
Jamieson is used to looking for a less busy time and place to walk her dog and ease confrontation.
“Elmo grew up in a rural setting with just one other dog, so he’s not used to meeting many other dogs. I either go with him very early in the morning or take the Oro-Medonte railroad. It’s one of my favorite places, ”said Jamieson.
And although the local trails are busy, isolation has become a problem for dogs as well.
Tanya Clark, development coordinator at The Couchiching Conservancy, says walking her dog Charlie helped her escape from her computer screen and consistently go outside. But she has noticed that the biggest challenge during the pandemic is not being able to greet people and other dogs.
“Unlike before the pandemic, the two of us are only walking, keeping our distance from other dogs and dog walkers,” said Clark.
Although she is reluctant to analyze her dog’s behavior, she says he may be a little bit pandemic scared. “He seems to be more anxious, or at least more cautious, of other dogs and people.”
And she says it’s harder to find places for her dog. “I know it’s important to his health.”
Clark said one solution she found is to schedule backyard play dates with a friend’s dog she knows is compatible with Charlie.
Chris Glover, director of student affairs at Lakehead University, has been working remotely since the university switched to online learning almost a year ago and is happy to have his dog Peanut giving him a break.
“I’m exhausted at the end of the day after spending so much time videoconferencing and staring at a screen,” said Glover. “Having peanut means at least I’ll get out there to take her for a walk. I get fresh air and sunshine. I think it helped me appreciate winter hiking more than ever. “
Glover says he also miss interacting with other dogs and people. “Unfortunately we haven’t visited dog parks for a long time. I’m looking forward to a post-COVID world where Peanut can spend more time in some of our favorite spots like Clayt French Park. “
Despite the challenges dog owners face due to our new pandemic reality, the benefits of dog ownership – when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors – cannot be ignored.
“There are real physical and mental health benefits to taking your dog outside,” MacDonald concludes. “As a responsible dog owner, you bring your dog out to exercise, and when you do, you get the benefit of it too. it will just happen; you can’t avoid it. “