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Home exercises or a walk - which is better?

Home exercises or a walk - which is better?

22 Apr, 2017

Many would say I am obsessive and compulsive, but I like to think of it as dedicated. Like many of my friends and acquaintances, training dogs is my hobby and joy. From the time my dogs come home, we train daily. It is often incidental, like waiting at the door or hopping on their beds. At other times, it is a more “planned” session. Even after I stopped competing with my dogs, I continued “training” with them. As they aged, their training took on more body awareness, co-ordination, stretching, and muscle strengthening exercises.

After my girl’s fall a couple of weeks ago, she is less interested in doing her exercises. She will do a repetition or two and find something else to do, but what she really likes is going for an extra walk each day.

This brings me to a question that my clients with older dogs often ask – Is a walk better than doing home exercises?

Canine rehabilitation home exercises focus on building (or maintaining) the dog’s muscle strength and tone, balance and coordination, and flexibility.

This week I have found myself pondering the same question with my dogs.

You know what I did?

Rather than choosing one or the other, I incorporate the “exercises” into the walk. Try including these things in your walk always considering your dog’s level of capability.

  • Walking through long grass – Adds resistance to joint movement to strengthen muscles.
  • Walking over uneven ground – Aids co-ordination and balance. The dog needs good body awareness to avoid slipping or tripping. It also encourages eccentric muscle contractions to eliminate jerky movements and stabilise the dog.
  • Stepping over obstacles like tree roots, fallen branches, large rocks – Aids co-ordination and balance. The dog needs good body awareness especially back leg awareness to place limbs accurately.
  • Walking over sloping ground – Hill walking strengthens muscles (See blog ) Walking uphill activates the dog’s hindquarters while walking downhill requires the shoulder and chest stabilisers to apply braking forces. Walking across the slope, aids balance and co-ordination while also providing muscle strengthening benefits.
  • Walking over unusual surfaces – Please avoid slippery surfaces like wet concrete or stones as dogs are not able to get satisfactory friction with the ground which increases the risk of a slip or trip. Find surfaces like pebbles, gravel, grass, bark, concrete, timber (boardwalks), or stones – Aids co-ordination as the dog needs to adjust their gait and placement of their limbs to accommodate the different surfaces.

Other benefits of a dog walk

Not only do walks tick all the boxes for muscle strengthening, balance and co-ordination but they are enriching in other ways.

  • Dog gets to experience different scents and environments outside their home and yard. This provides mental stimulation and can be quite relaxing for you and the dog. Providing mental stimulation is especially important for senior dogs who may not participate in training or play as much anymore. Dogs who are convalescing also benefit from just being allowed to be a dog – wandering, sniffing and experiencing the environment in their own time.
  • Incidental movement- Out on a walk dogs benefit from incidental movement like walking to and from the car or home, to get to wherever you have taken them to explore. While the time spent walking the dog may equate to the same time spent on home exercises, the dog is likely to move a little more on their walk. Movement helps with general fitness, muscle strengthening and circulation.
  • Relieves carer’s fatigue – Caring for a convalescing or senior dog can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Getting outside, breathing some fresh air and quietly spending time with your dog is good for your mental health too.

So if you or your dog have lost the motivation to do your home exercises today, then go for an enriching walk instead. Your exercises will be there for you tomorrow.

Full Stride provides home exercise programmes and myofunctional treatments to rehabilitate dogs with muscular conditions and mobility problems. For more information please feel free to contact me or follow Full Stride on Facebook for regular updates and dog health related information.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.