Benefits of walking your dog slowly
A lot of people, vets and trainers focus on “how much” or “how long” a dog should exercise each day. However, this does not take the individual’s breed, weight, health condition, age, gender and current physical abilities into consideration. Too much walking, running, playing fetch etc. can actually be quite harmful if additional weight is carried through already stressed joints, nails may be too long or the heart (cardio) may not be coping with this type of exercise. Sore muscles, an over-pumping heart or pain in the joints will not motivate any dog to be physically active.
Let’s make it fun, safe and healthy for our pooches by walking them slowly. Over time, this will automatically lead to weight loss, increased mobility, improved metabolism and cardio function as it is practised in a controlled way. This is far safer and healthier for your dog’s overall joint function, cardiovascular system and will therefore make your dog “fitter” in a much more appropriate way than high energy activities. Wolves and wild dogs don’t spend their time running (this would be detrimental as it would wear them out
). Instead they scavenge and this is done slowly so they can pick up the scents plus standing around for sniffing.
Slow walking engages more muscles that are responsible for balance and joint stability plus increases their proprioception enormously, this is the nerve-muscle memory function that provides the awareness of the position and movement of body parts. In rehab, dogs get placed on a treadmill for this exact reason: to slow them down and teach them coordination, balance and stability. (I do not like treadmills as they are restrictive, boring and it can scare dogs being on one as they feel the ground is moving which is not a natural occurrence to them. Plus, they can’t sniff and have fun – we can do treadmill walking naturally just by using our daily walk as a slow exercise.)
The best thing to do is to be off leash but ensure your dog goes slow, sprinkle some food around, provide water.
I’m passionate about good walking equipment – this is the most important “clothing” for your dog as it can either create healthy movement and bodies or destroy them and produce long-term suffering, pain and injuries by having them walk in non-appropriate gear. A well-fitting harness, preferably a H-harness that sits well past the shoulder and upper arm when moving. I don’t recommend a Y-harness or the ones with a straight strap along the chest like the gentle leader. They are all very restrictive and the whole point is to improve the dog’s movement not to make them walk awkwardly.
For a slow walk, we just really want to potter around – I call them sniffy walks or sniffaris – so find an interesting area like a park, jetty, beach foreshore, playground, forest etc. where your dog can find lots of interesting smells. Using their nose helps your dog to relax and lower stress levels. Let them sniff and stand around, walk as slowly as you can and make sure that you control their pace. A little bit of a trot in-between is ok as we want to keep it fun but essentially you want a “walking” pace; you may have to slow yourself down a lot too especially if your dog is small. I prefer to do this on a long leash or line so they can do their own thing and also to not put any pressure into their harness.
Do not confuse this with an obedient “heel”. Heeling is a very unhealthy task as it requires the dog to go at your pace with a tense posture and can’t move naturally.
15 minutes of walking 2 times a day is far more beneficial than one 30-minute walk daily as the heart, muscles, joints etc. get to “work” three times a day rather than just once and then probably get overburdened.
If your dog is not used to go slowly and sniff, you can sprinkle a bit of food in the grass or along the way. They will get the idea quickly enough to keep their nose down and go slow, slow, slow.
If your dog is troubled by the environment (cars, too many people, children running around, other dogs present, too much noise etc), go to a boring, lonely place. You want your dog to be able to focus on the walk and sniff, not be distracted and worried by others.
Find gentle slopes up/downhill walks done slowly is quite the exercise! Walk in circles, figure 8’s, (tight) curves and non-predictable figures, imaginary labyrinth or just let the dog lead the way.
And remember the 5 S’s for HAPPY WALKS: