Most dog owners agree that heading out on a walk with their four-legged friend is one of the simplest ways to ensure they’re accumulating sufficient exercise day-to-day.
Combine the active element of dog-walking with catching some daylight and fresh air, being able to explore the local area and having canine company too and it becomes easy to see how dog-walking is a pleasurable activity that can benefit both you and your dog simultaneously.
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The key to fully enjoying your daily dog-walks is to understand that these too are a form of exercise with all the potential benefits and, unfortunately, pitfalls that come with physical activity.
If you approach heading out for walkies too casually or you fail to train your dog how to walk properly on the leash, you are effectively opening the window for a whole range of injuries that are both painful to endure as well as slow to heal.
Read on below for our tips on how to walk your dog safely before Fido leads you straight to your physical therapist.
Here’s our top tips for walking your dog safely:
1/ Always Step Out In Appropriate Footwear
Because our dogs need walked so frequently, often amongst a myriad of other day-to-day tasks, it can be tempting to simply slip on a pair of not-so-appropriate shoes and quickly head out before poor Fido’s bladder bursts.
However, it won’t be long before those worn-out trainers, questionable sandals, all-too-thin plimsolls, burst boots or teetering high heels either get ruined, cause you injury or both!
Walking your dog in inappropriate shoes can lead to painful blisters, an aching arch of the foot, pain within the heel, tight calf muscles and pain within the lower leg.
If in high heels, the unexpected appearance of a squirrel or cat can wrench you right off your feet, leaving you with excruciating muscle strains, an ankle sprain and even broken bones.
As with any exercise that involves clocking up reasonable mileage and repetitive contact between the foot and the ground, investing in a good pair of padded and supportive shoes will reward you over and over again, far exceeding the cost of the shoes upon purchase.
2/ Know Your Physical Limitations
Ambitious and lengthy walks with your four-legged friend are absolutely to be encouraged for they will do both of you a lot of good.
There are many benefits to gain from a long stroll – taking in some fresh air, topping up your Vitamin D with a little daylight, the opportunity to meet new people and other dogs, a chance to de-stress away from day-to-day pressures as well as the opportunity to fit in some light cardiovascular exercise.
Fido will also love getting out for long and challenging walks for it will keep him mentally and physically fit while also keeping his boredom at bay.
If you use a fitness tracking app while out and about on walkies, your stats will simply love you and your regular dedication to putting in the miles!
However, it is always a good idea to combine ambition in exercise with moderation.
Sudden increases in your day-to-day mileage or changes in the difficulty of the terrain you’ve chosen can quickly lead to painful muscles the next morning or the start of overuse injuries such as stress fractures and plantar fasciitis within your hind foot, tendinopathies along the top and bottom of the feet as well as pain coming from the Achilles tendon, all of which could hinder your progress for months to come as well as destroying those precious fitness stats.
Build slowly, listen to your body as you go and play the long-game. You will thank yourself further down the line.
3/Follow The Light
If regularly dog-walking, you may already have noticed that, every now and then, there appears to be peak-times when suddenly everyone in your neighborhood is out with their respective Fido.
Who knew there were rush hours for dog-walking as well as traffic?
There are various reasons for this – people squeezing a dog-walk in before the morning commute, busy moms pairing the school run with a much-needed dog walk and Fido being desperate to get out as soon as everyone has returned from work. All of this can turn what is usually a quiet corner of suburbia into a surprisingly crowded setting.
In addition to our human routines, there are also seasonal shifts in the daylight hours to contend with. This means, in the winter months, many of your dog-walks will inevitably end up taking place in the dark.
This is particularly true when working full-time and Fido’s trips around town are having to fit around employment.
It likely goes without saying that when you’re dog-walking in the dark, the risk of injury – for both you and Fido – far exceeds that to which you’d be exposed to during the day.
Dog-walking through dimly-lit streets and urban parks makes spotting raised curbs, undulating paving slabs and jutting manhole covers much harder.
The same is true for walks out in the countryside thanks to clumps of grass, exposed tree roots and loose gravel or sand-based surfaces.
Combined, all of these factors increase your chance of an unexpected slip or trip, potentially leading to a painful forefoot injury or nasty ankle sprain.
Additionally, when dog-walking after-hours, you may not spot other potential threats. An unseen broken bottle may have scattered shards of glass all across the sidewalk, not only threatening to damage the sole of your shoes but, more worryingly, Fido’s paws.
To help counteract these issues, plan ahead. If dog-walking in the dark is unavoidable, use either a hand or head torch with a good brightness and length of beam ahead. If Fido likes to maintain eye contact with you out on walks, consider swapping a head torch for a lamp that can be clipped to his collar or harness instead.
LED bulbs are favored by many but, if you have difficulty distinguishing similar colors from one another, you may prefer to opt for a softer, warmer light within your torch.
Alternatively, where there exists some flexibility in your routine, you may consider moving your early-evening dog-walk to mid-afternoon. In doing so, you’ll be harnessing more of the natural daylight that exists while also providing yourself and Fido with what could prove, amongst the chaos of all else, a surprisingly refreshing break.
4/ Remain Vigilant
Dog-walking may appear like ‘a walk in the park’ – to some extent it literally is – but be aware that without diligent care and attention while outdoors, you could injure yourself, Fido or even both!
It’s easy to assume that dog-walking is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of another while your four-legged friend progresses alongside you and, for sure, that is the main physical element of the task.
However, dog-walking is also a mental test, where you would be wise to constantly read the physical environment around you and anticipate potential problems before they happen. After all, forewarned is forearmed.
While out with your dog, watch out for moving traffic, other pedestrians, cyclists and doors that could open suddenly with either people or items spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of you.
A collision with a moving object could equal cuts and bruises or a fall that results in an awkward sprain or broken bone.
Pay particular attention to other dog-walkers and how their dog is behaving, noting whether it might be aggressive to your own dog or frightened by you or your dog’s presence.
Keep a sharp lookout for cats and small animals too – it is common, even with a trained dog, to get caught out by a sudden yank to the side as your dog pursues a squirrel or rabbit with all his might. This can easily sprain or break a wrist, with further harm if you also stumble or hit the ground.
Similar injuries are there for the taking if your dog happens to startled by loud and unexpected sounds so, in addition to what you can see, be cautious when approaching roadworks, delivery vehicles, garbage trucks, public transport and when passing within touching distance of an alarmed car.
Be wary of vehicles pulling trailers for these often make a loud, clacking sound as they go over undulations in the road.
Ensure to take increased care in tricky weather conditions. Fog can hinder your ability to perceive danger ahead while wooden bridges after rain and icy conditions can lead to unexpected slips and falls, bringing muscle strains and torn ligaments in their wake.
Of course, most walks with your dog are likely to be mostly relaxed rather than leaving you feeling like you’re in a never-ending re-run of Resident Evil. However, aim to keep a balance between enjoying the walk and remaining vigilant as you go.
This will help to ensure all the hazards around you and your dog don’t automatically lead to what could’ve been an avoidable injury.
5/ Lead The Way, Correctly
You may think of your dog leash as a necessity when heading out for walkies but perhaps not something that can also determine the chances of being injured or not while out.
Dogs vary widely in their size, weig
ht and temperament and so too does their tendency to pull on the lead. Some dogs are fairly relaxed on walks while others pull as if endlessly late for an urgent appointment. Many small dogs can be surprisingly strong for their size.
Owners also vary in their physical stature as well as by age and gender. Dog leash injuries are more common in older owners as well as in women due to reduced strength and bone density. All of these factors are at play when you’re at the end of your dog’s lead.
Among the most common dog leash injuries are broken wrists, finger fractures, broken elbows, broken or fractured hips, rotator cuff tears, dislocations of the shoulder, proximal humerus fractures as well as chronic knee or ankle pain.
Tears to ligaments, cartilage and tendons are also possible as are cuts, bruises and scrapes that result from nasty falls.
All of these injuries can be incredibly painful and slow to heal, giving you another problem in a dog that still needs walked several times a day despite your incapacity.
One of the simplest ways to reduce the chances of injury is to never wrap the leash around your hand, wrist or among the fingers. Instead, simply hold the leash in your palm as this will allow you to let go if necessary.
Another simple trick is to tire your dog out a little before walking begins. Most dogs pull hard on their leash thanks to a combination of boredom and pent-up energy.
A few minutes of fetch out in the yard can make a huge difference to the pulling power you’ll encounter on the subsequent walk.
Consider getting some professional leash-training for your dog.
Tempting as it may be to skip training due to costs, it often takes far more than the offer of treats or a harsh word to establish the differences between acceptable and unacceptable behavior on the leash with your dog.
Leash training significantly reduces the chances of injury occurring so aim to look at this process as a long-term investment rather than an inconvenience.
Ensure to avoid lengthy or retractable leashes as these severely limit how much control you have over your dog as well as encouraging them to pull in the first place.
You may wish to opt for a leash made from quality leather or mountain rope as both are tough-wearing while also possessing some flexibility, reducing the strain conveyed to you.
Leashes made from biothane are also a good option as they are tough but light-weight, making them ideal for all sizes of dog.
Finally, for stubborn pullers, consider using a halti dog harness rather than a traditional leash and collar.
Not only is this more comfortable for your dog, dispersing pressure across the back and avoiding pressure around the neck, it also serves as another training tool.
With a halti dog harness, you can add an attachment to the front to turn your dog back towards you, thus encouraging your dog to pay more attention and walk alongside you.
6/ Wear Reflective Gear
For all of your attention to what’s in front and around you, it’s also a great idea to wear some reflective gear to ensure others can see you as well.
We know it may seem inelegant or tacky to have reflective strips on your clothing while out with your dog but it’s a safety strategy well worth considering, particularly if there are tricky weather conditions outside or you’re heading out in poor light levels.
You may not hear an electric-powered vehicle as it approaches from behind but the driver will likely see you before you’re even aware that they are there. On back roads and country lanes, where a sidewalk is not usually present, this could just save your life.
Reflective strips also indicate your presence when a cyclist’s bike light reaches out along the same path and fellow dog-walkers are much more likely to notice you’re around and reel their dogs back in too.
Even if going out during the daytime, taking some reflective gear with you is also good planning. If the weather changes unexpectedly or you’re out longer than intended, you can stay safe by still being seen.
The same logic applies if you have a medical condition (such as asthma or diabetes) that could hinder your progress or if you experience a fall that results in a broken ankle.
Those reflective strips will help others locate you and/or help keep you safe until you’re able to get underway again.
For enhanced safety (and perhaps a little moral support on this one), you may wish to consider offering your dog to join in with your new fashion trend.
Reflective strips are added to many dog products, including leads, harnesses and jackets. Why not treat Fido to some LED bracelets or LED collar for a combined ‘Ibiza look’ between you?
7/ Ensure To Allow For Recovery
As with any form of exercise, it is important to allow yourself the chance to recover.
For example, if you’ve clocked up an impressively long walk with Fido at the weekend, it can be wise to go out for less strenuous walks over the next day or two.
This can reduce the chances of developing an overuse injury as well as allowing muscles the chance to repair and heal themselves in preparation for next big hike.
As Fido heads off for a well-earned nap after his walk, consider taking a few minutes to perform some gentle stretches that tease out the hamstrings and calf muscles, quadriceps, hip flexor muscles and lower back.
It is best to do these immediately after exercise while the muscles are still warm and before the daily grind gets ahead of your good intentions.
Finally, you may wish to consider using a low to medium-density foam roller to administer self-massage to the areas mentioned above.
Foam rolling pushes out tightness and knots that may have developed within the muscle, serving to reduce inflammation and increase your overall range of motion, leaving you ready to go give it your all again.
Dog-walking is an excellent form of physical activity that can benefit both you & Fido in many different ways, each and every day.
However, remembering that walking outdoors with your dog is a form of exercise, that Fido must also play his part by behaving on the leash and that allowing for external factors such as seasonal changes in light levels and unexpected hazards are all key to ensuring you stay safe and avoid unnecessary injury.
What’s that? Time for walkies? Ok Fido, let’s go … !