We all love spending time with our dogs and there is no better way to enjoy the great outdoors and nature than to explore with our best canine friend. However, we all lead busy lives and sometimes taking our dogs for a walk is something which needs to be squeezed in between other life commitments. We have all had those moments when we have taken our dogs for ‘a quick’ walk round the block, but can we maximise these quick trips and our other longer walks to enhance our dog's mental and physical condition?
Let’s take a moment to consider the impact a simple walk has on a dog’s myofascial system and to consider whether something as simple as our walking speed can influence this. And if it does, are there better ways we can exercise our dogs if we are short of time?
First, let’s look at the impact that the equipment we use can have. When we take our dogs for a walk, at some point, the majority of us have to use leashes, this could be for the dog’s own safety, such as if they are near a road, or if they are recovering from an injury or illness or if they have a limited recall. However, next time you take your dog out on a leash, try watching how they move. It is really interesting as dogs walking on a leash will often adopt a ‘pace’ gait, which is a two time gait where the dog moves both limbs on one side of their body forward and backward simultaneously. This is not a type of gait or movement pattern that is good for the dog to use habitually, as it can create or indicate imbalance within their body.
Above - a dog demonstrating the ‘pace’ two-time walking gait, when both right and left legs move together, not engaging through their diagonal, or crossing over their body. Movements going through the diagonal maintains flexibility through the back.
“It has been suggested that dogs are inadvertently trained to pace by leash-walking at speeds, too quick for a comfortable walk and too slow for a comfortable trot (Zink and Van Dyke, 2013).
These findings are collaborated further “.....finding that a greater number of dogs paced under lead-controlled conditions than during off-lead conditions.” (Wendland and colleagues.)
This is fascinating, especially as the researchers specifically note that “.......trained to pace by leash-walking at speeds too quick for a comfortable walk…..”
When we have our dogs on a leash, our walking speeds will affect the speed at which our dogs walk, which means if we walk quickly, they are forced into an unnatural gait in order to keep up with us. This can be really detrimental to both their physical and mental well being.
Galen Myotherapy has always advocated slow walking for dogs, which is walking at the dog’s natural pace and not the pace of the person on the other end of the leash (as first cited in Galen Myotherapy’s blog ‘The Wonder Walk’ - May 26th 2011). Whether it is for the dog’s fitness, rehabilitation or general myofascial health, a slow walk encourages the dog’s body to be in the correct postural position, meaning that the head and neck is in a natural position, which is generally lower than when a dog is ambling or walking, as opposed to trotting.
We have to remember that our legs are so much longer than our dog’s, so our natural walking pace has got to be adjusted.
Julia Robertson explains in her recent book ‘How to Build a Puppy….into a healthy adult dog’ why walking is so important:
“...the walk is a four-time gait – what this means is that each leg moves separately and individually. This means that each time the leg hits the ground it must have the muscular capability of absorbing the force and propelling it into its next stride.
This is important because:
It embeds good proprioception and spatial awareness through developing the connection between brain/nerves, bone, muscle, and fascia.
It is a good natural rehabilitation exercise for gently but globally exercising and conditioning the whole body.
An active walk is a good conditioning and fitness gait (for mature dogs).
It can also help to identify an uncomfortable or dysfunctional region, e.g., finding lameness.
Cross-lateral movement is important for the brain to body connection.
For mature dogs, it is highly effective for warming-up and warming-down, pre- and post-event.”
So we can see how beneficial to our dogs it would be to slow our walking pace down, but if we are short of time, often people believe it would be better to cover a greater distance so we can ‘wear our dogs out’?
This is not the case at all, to keep your walking pace in line with your dog’s natural walking pace allows them to sniff. Sniffing is one of the most fulfilling activities that your dog can do (so much so that Julia Robertson has defined it as a dog’s “superpower”) and according to Professor Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln, a dog requires at least ten seconds to really absorb and process each smell; if you remove them before that time, they need to start again. So if you are going on a shorter walk, allowing your dog time to walk at their pace and sniff will be healthier and more fulfilling for them than a fast dash around the block!
Allowing a dog freedom to sniff allows freedom of movement that enhances their natural physical function.
Another vital health enhancement your dog will receive from being given the freedom to walk at their own pace and investigate their environment is the opportunity to naturally move and flex their body’s, like when they are following a sniff around a lamppost or tree, which is vital to maintain their functional movement, or natural movement patterns. These healthy movement patterns can be lost when they just move in one plane of movement, or just straight lines, and therefore so can their intrinsic balance.
If you have any concerns about your dogs musculoskeletal or myofascial health, or if your dog is recovering from an injury and you would like some advice on rehabilitation please find your nearest Galen Myotherapist or consider our Distance Support Programme.