Healthy Living in the North

20 minutes a day: for my dog, or me?

Dog laying in grass

Abby laying in the shaded, cool grass after a good exercise and training session.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “consistency is key”? I’ve heard it lots in the context of physical activity for myself and my own healthy eating. However, since I’ve become the proud owner of my pup, I’ve also heard it in the context of dog training.

I want to be consistent with my pup’s training and, because there are only 24 hours in a day, I have to find ways to make it healthy for me, too. I want to work smarter and not harder, so I find ways that I can incorporate the two activities – my health and my pup’s training. More motivation for me to get off the couch and more motivation for me to be consistent with my dog training. Win-win, right?

I’d be lying if I said it is easy or convenient. It is certainly something that I have to work on. Every. Single. Day.

It’s so much easier to take her for a leisurely walk than to work on the training, but if I want to keep training as a focus, it has to happen.

Three dogs laying in grass outside of home.

Abby laying in the backyard with her friends from the neighbourhood, “Ronin” the St. Bernard and “Oscar” the Boxer. Their play time counts towards her active time (some down time for me!).

My dog trainer recommends 15-20 minutes per day to focus on training and to make it fun. There are lots of benefits to me for this investment:

  • Get outside
  • More obedient dog
  • More quality time spent with my dog can lead to a better overall relationship
  • Sunshine (Vitamin D) (depending on where you live!)
  • Fresh air

As a bonus, I’m rarely back in the house after those 15-20 minutes. The training usually just pulls me away from zoning out on the couch after work. And, as much as I want to do this some days, my commitment to working with her forces me to go outside and look at the trees, hear the birds, and explore the nooks and crannies of my yard and my neighbourhood. We poke around in the yard together, I can pull a few weeds (better gardens!), explore the neighbourhood trails for signs of new wildlife (I live in a rural area and will commonly see signs of moose, deer, coyotes and more), meet and chat with my neighbours (social interactions and building community), and – last but not least – I get a lot more physical activity than I would otherwise (more steps on my tracker!).

Sneaker next to moose track in dirt.

Fresh moose track on the trails behind our house.

I’m not saying that a dog will give you all these benefits. My dog is a lot of hard work and she is a serious commitment (one that doesn’t go away in the dead of winter in -20 C!). Daily, I have to find ways to keep her and I motivated to keep active and socialized. But, getting her is truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Do you have a dog? How does s/he help you and your health?

If you don’t have a dog, what kinds of things do you do to prompt you to get health benefits or do healthy things?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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Making a difference, one paw print at a time

Sandra Wyatt with dogs

Sandra Wyatt with Jazz (left) and Bella (right).

In the paediatrics unit at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC), we like to do what we can to bring smiles to the faces of our patients and their families – and what better to bring smiles than the wagging tail of a cute happy dog?

Meet Bella. A friend of mine adopted Bella from a Chihuahua rescue centre after a not so great start to her life. With much love, affection, good food, daily walks and training, in a positive manner, by a loving family, my friend and I began teaching her the many new skills necessary in the hope she would qualify for therapy work with sick children.

Bella and Jazz

Bella, 5 years old, and Jazz, 6 months old, honourary UHNBC staff members.

Finally, after much work, she graduated to twice weekly visits to the paediatric floor at UHNBC where she became, with staff approval, an honorary staff member! We have a photograph of her, proudly wearing her paediatric sweatshirt, on the wall for all to view.

Her main role is to calm and distract worried patients when they are having blood work done, examinations, or shots. Bella’s calm presence lifts the spirits of both staff and patients, and while she snuggles up to a patient who cuddles her back, it often brings contentment and a touch of normality to a scary situation. There are a lot more smiles when Miss Bella is around.

Bella’s family recently moved to Vancouver Island, but she still continues to do the “work” she loves and keep up her skills when her family flies or drives her up for monthly visits. Bella now has a new job too – training a replacement! Jazz is another therapy dog that now visits regularly to “fill in” for Bella and keep the smiles coming in the paeds unit.

Your turn to share – have you heard of pets helping in the recovery of people with an illness?

Sandra Wyatt

About Sandra Wyatt

Sandra Wyatt is the child life specialist in the paediatrics department of UHNBC in Prince George. She spends much of her "not so spare" time, developing and running her small dog daycare/boarding business. With rescue dogs of her own, walking 10km in a day is a usual day for her. Besides walking and working, Sandra loves gardening and this past spring, she re-arranged her whole garden to also “rescue” new plants a friend left behind after moving.

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