Healthy walks with your dog

One thing almost all dog owners have in common is that they have to walk their pets. Just like any other form of exercise, walking needs preparation and a sensible approach if injuries are to be avoided.

Arun Alex, physiotherapy manager at Shepton Mallet NHS Treatment Centre, offers his advice to help you get the best out of walks with your dog.

Look at your feet

You need to look after your feet. Walking boots or shoes should be light and supportive, and always wear proper walking socks. If your boots are new, break them in gradually before you start serious walking. Good footwear is the best foundation for a good walk.

Warm up

Before your walk, make sure your muscles and joints are ready for action. Build up your strength gradually before walking any distance and always start a walk with a thorough warm up session. That way you’re less likely to injure yourself. Don’t just focus on your legs and feet. Do a warm-up for your whole body, especially if your walk is likely to involve throwing things for your dog to retrieve.

Take it short and slow to start

If you’re new to serious walking, give yourself plenty of preparation time and take things slowly to start off with. Start with short distances and build up to longer distances. The same goes for your dog. Always choose a distance which is comfortable for both of you.

Be prepared

It sounds obvious advice, but if you’re new to a walk take a map and make sure you know where you’re going. That includes doing some research into the sort of terrain and gradients you’re likely to encounter. And make sure you’re dressed for the walk. If you’re climbing hills or crossing rivers, a pair of flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt might not be the best option.

If you need extra support, take a purpose-designed walking stick with you. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Always let people know where you’re going and how long you expect to be away. And take a mobile phone with you.

Remember to eat and drink

Always drink plenty of fluids when you’re walking. A mixture of water and energy/electrolyte type drinks are recommended and plain water for your dog. You may be walking for several hours so unless you’ve scheduled a break (at a favourite dog-friendly café or pub perhaps!) make sure you have something to eat as you go for you and your pet. That way you’ll both maintain energy levels.

If you’re injured

Stop and don’t try to push yourself. Apply standard first aid treatment for small injuries. For the more serious injury call the emergency services. To assist with your recovery seek treatment from a registered physiotherapist and follow their advice – it’s easy to undo their good work by returning to exercise too soon.