How to get the most out of your walk
For the first blog topic, I thought where better to start than how to get the most out of your walk! With our current situation, using the one walk a day motto, I thought these tips might be beneficial by providing simple ways to enhance or adapt your walk.
Lead walking is one of the most common exercises us 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 we may prescribe, in one place - which may be beneficial to note for when life returns to normal and you’re struggling for time or to be used as a prehabilitative tool. Here are a few different aspects of a walk that can be easily implemented to make 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 dogs natural walking gait sequence consists of left forelimb - left hind limb - right hind limb - right forelimb (click here for a full video of gait patterns and sequences) It is common, however, for dogs to adapt 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 sometimes 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 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, 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 activation of a variety of muscles, 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.
Curb sides can be used in a variety of ways that can majorly benefit your walk. Walking up and down a variety of curb sides, firstly, helps to encourage active range of motion. The action of going up the curb side activates elbow flexion and shoulder extension - similar to the exercise of “give paw” - making the use of curb sides a quick and easy way to complete a similar exercise whilst out walking.
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 curb side before crossing the road can easily become a time to complete this exercise, repeating it 3-5 times, before continuing the walk. The equivalent to us doing a few squats at the gym - this exercise mostly targets the glutes, whilst also promoting active hind limb 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 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! Up and down hills provide 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 limb range of motion whilst also increasing body awareness and proprioception, as mentioned earlier.
"It's not where you walk, it's who you walk with"
Hopefully these few useful tips will help you to get the most out of your walk. Whether it be that 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. If you’re short of time they will allow you to fit in a few simple exercises for your dog or can be just as useful as a prehabilitation tool and a bit of fun too!
**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**