People often tell me their main reason for walking their dog is to provide physical exercise. You may be thinking "What a weird question, Lucy!... of course the purpose of a walk is exercise!" But what I want to know is this; is a walk effective exercise? Let's explore the topic together...
How does your dog move their body on a walk? Do they use their natural four gaits (walk, trot, canter, gallop)? Are you moving at a speed that promotes healthy movement in your dog or are you causing them to move unnaturally, developing unhealthy amble and pace gaits? If you're not sure use this vimeo animation as a guide. See your vet if you have concerns.
Does your dog leap or pounce, catch or carry, dig or climb, pull or tug on walks? Are they really using their whole body and working out multiple muscles groups?
What surface is your dog moving on? Is it flat or uneven, soft or firm, sloped in a particular direction? Is the quality of the surface good for increasing bone density or muscle strength, developing coordination or body awareness, is it a source of excessive wear-and-tear?
Is your dog on or off lead? What type of equipment is your dog wearing and how does that impact their movement? Many pieces of equipment on the market restrict movement or cause discomfort, is equipment affecting your dog's natural use of their body? Is your dog body-slamming other dogs, over-stimulated and out-of control, or are they peaceful, or anxious..., what is the emotional setting in which they are using their body and how does that affect their movement? Are they coming home satisfied, or ready to go again, or exhausted from excessively repetitive and strenuous movements?
How do you exercise a dog?
For me trips out on streets and town parks are for social and emotional well-being. My dogs and I travel to local places in Glossop to watch the world as we pass-by, play with some of the environmental features such as paws-up on a stump or walk along a bench, we might stop to relax for a cuddle and a chew-stick. Weird outfits, strange human behaviour, other dogs and odd noises are celebrated and followed by treats or games. This sort of walk is done almost exclusively on lead, although I may let my collie off in a safe setting as his recall is reliable in ordinary circumstances.
We visit my private training field to train and play physically-active games. These activities use their bodies in diverse ways that build strength, stamina and body awareness. Racing, chasing, pulling, digging, catching, careful footwork and jumping are regular field frivolities.
Trips to the woods and the moors stretch their minds as they explore a less-known environment with uneven surfaces, unexpected textures and smells and learn to move at speed through more challenging terrain. Trips to private enclosed fields aside from my little field enable them to run and race with acres of room, getting their bodies open and free and achieving their greatest speeds. From time to time we see somewhere very different such as the beach or a major train station, and the exercise benefit of these trips varies according to setting.
But I don't need to leave home to exercise my dogs. I can play games, train and provide activities that utilise their energy, concentration, problem-solving and senses to nurture them physically, emotionally and psychologically at home. I don't recommend trying to exercise your dog exclusively at home, as dogs need to journey out regularly for their well-being (look up the 5 freedoms of the Animal Welfare Act and read this DEFRA leaflet, Code of Practice for The Welfare of Dogs). However, as an addition to the exercise you provide for your dog outside, extra activities are worth exploring.
Some activities I take part in with my dogs at home.
- Pouncing and chasing games
- Self-control games
- Position holds and changes
- Tricks training
- Stretches, "yoga" and body conditioning movements
- Scentwork, hunting for items
- Tug games
There are plenty of ideas out there and books on the subject too. Perhaps learn some heelwork-to-music movements or splash out and buy a canine treadmill. Search YouTube for suggestions (use your common sense and/or get a vet's advice before trying-at-home). Consider your dog's breed history, temperament, strengths and weaknesses, age and physical condition. Maybe the first thing to do is get your dog an MOT. Are your dog's joints and muscles in good condition? See the vet, perhaps a referral for physio, massage or hydotherapy to detect or resolve stiffness or pain.
Moby has hydrotherapy with Woof and Ready each week, and physio treatment with Canine Physio. Viv runs with me, pulling into her harness, and I look forward to introducing her to swimming in the future. You could try a new class such as agility or scentwork, cani-x or heelwork-to-music. There are so many great physical activities for your dog to take part in, or for you to share as a team. Enjoy this bonding opportunity and improve your fitness at the same time!
So I hope I've given you some fresh ideas for keeping your fur friend in peak condition, and that you'll pay more attention to HOW your dog is moving on your walks. Balance in all things is important to consider, between comfy-routine and experiential-variety, and between adrenaline-fueled and mindful activities. If you review your dog's lifestyle and find there's very little diversity in your activities together, perhaps it's time for a change.
Please let me know if you've enjoyed this topic by commenting below.
Happy Training, Lucy :)