With the current Coronavirus situation, using the one walk a day motto, it’s important for your dog to get the most out of that exercise time. Here are five tips that will provide simple ways to enhance or adapt your dog’s walk for the most benefit.
Lead walking is one of the most common exercises our veterinary physiotherapists prescribe and is a simple but surprisingly beneficial exercise for your dog, not only in itself but it can also be adapted to incorporate a variety of exercises that may be prescribed, all in one place. These adaptations may also be beneficial for when life returns to normal and you’re struggling for time, or to be used as a rehabilitative tool. Here are a few different aspects that can be easily implemented to get the most out of your daily walk.
When prescribing walking as an exercise, it is commonly phrased as “slow lead walking” with emphasis on the speed of the walk. A dog’s natural walking gait sequence consists of left forelimb – left hindlimb – right hindlimb – right forelimb. It is common, however, for dogs to adopt a faster gait when out for a walk. For larger breeds, a faster gait is naturally easier due to having a larger stride length. Nevertheless, dogs can often be guilty of overdoing it due to adrenaline taking over, typically to chase the squirrel or distraction of scents – which may explain why they look fine on a walk but are stiff or sore when you get home.
By slowing a walk down, even for 10-15 minutes of that walk, this allows a variety of muscles to be activated that may otherwise not. The speed of the walk should resemble the gait pattern mentioned above, encouraging each individual limb to bear a substantial amount of weight before it is lifted and the following leg is placed on the ground. Not only does this encourage the activation of a variety of muscles, but it also facilitates balance and encourages even weight bearing. A shorter period of time using effective slow lead walking can be more physically tiring than that of an hour-long off lead run.
Kerbsides can be used in a variety of ways that can majorly benefit your dog’s walk. Walking up and down a variety of kerbsides, firstly, helps to encourage an active range of motion. The action of going up the kerbside activates elbow flexion and shoulder extension – similar to the exercise of “give paw” – making the use of kerbsides a quick and easy way to complete a similar exercise whilst out walking. If you have a particularly small dog, you may want to avoid too much jumping off tall kerbs to reduce the impact on their front limbs.
Sit to stands are another common exercise incorporated into a home exercise plan, however, they can be easily implemented into your daily walk. Getting your dog to sit at the kerbside before crossing the road can easily become a time to complete this exercise, repeating it 3-5 times, before continuing the walk. This is equivalent to us doing a few squats at the gym – this exercise mostly targets the glutes, whilst also promoting active hindlimb range of motion.
Different surfaces are another simple tool to use during your walk. Proprioception is a term meaning “perception or awareness of the body and its movement” and surfaces can be used to enhance and encourage this. By walking on a variety of different surfaces in short bursts (such as grass, tarmac, sand, soil) this challenges the body’s systems involved in proprioception, leading to an increase in body awareness. This, in turn, causes strengthening and increased limb range of motion, particularly through the use of surfaces such as long grass.
*One thing to note about proprioceptive exercises is that the body quickly gets used to these activities, meaning the change in the surface has to be quick (approximately 15-30 seconds on each surface) to enhance these effects**
Now’s the time to use those hills that you may have around you! Going up and down hills provides a simple strengthening programme that can be incorporated into a short segment of your walk.
Uphill walking mainly activates the hind limb muscles, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, whilst also working to promote active flexion and extension of the hip joint. Downhill hill walking activates the forelimb muscles, particularly in the shoulders and elbows as they have to work to slow the body down and act as brakes.
These gradients do not have to be large to be beneficial, using a small bank or slight slope is ideal. The dog should walk at the slow pace mentioned earlier to encourage weight-bearing and activation of the correct muscles. Diagonal walking on a hill can also be implemented to increase body awareness and activation of the inner thigh and shoulder muscles.
Making use of various obstacles that you may come across on your walk can provide a simple physiotherapy exercise for your dog. For example, walking around a tree or lamppost can work to promote core strength, active spinal range of motion and encouraging even weight-bearing to avoid compensatory movement.
You can also use things such as logs, stones or even taking a few of your dogs’ toys out with you and placing them on the ground and encouraging your dog to step over them a few times. This will encourage active range of motion of the legs whilst also increasing body awareness and proprioception, as mentioned earlier.
Hopefully, these few useful tips will help you to get the most out of your dog’s walk and improve their range of exercise. If your dog is on restricted exercise or can’t manage a long walk, these simple steps can provide mental stimulation that entertains your dog in a shorter space of time. And if you’re short on time, these five tips will allow you to fit in a few simple exercises for your dog. These exercises can also be useful as a rehabilitation tool.
**Please note – during rehabilitation, the frequency and duration of walks will be heavily case dependent and these factors should be talked through with your veterinary physiotherapist before continuing. Always tailor your walk to suit your dog**
If you have any questions about these tips or if your dog seems to be struggling with any of the tasks, you can email our fitness and rehab team for advice – [email protected]
The Author: Eve Bestwick is a fully qualified pet physiotherapist at our Pet Fitness & Rehabilitation Centre in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Eve enjoys working with a variety of animals and has a special interest in canine arthritis and rehabilitation.