SLOW LEAD WALKING
How slow can you go?
This really is the case with slow lead walking but why has your physio prescribed this for your dog?
Slow lead walking is an important part of most rehabilitation plans because of the many benefits it has. These include:
- Increasing weight bearing to the hindlimbs
- Build muscle size and strength
- Improves mobility
- Improves stamina
- Increases proprioception
Slow lead walking is normally started when the dog is recovering from an operation or injury which has lead them to be unable or reluctant to use a limb. It is also a great exercise for dogs who compensate by increasing their weight bearing to the front limbs. This is because the handler is able to control the load onto the hindlimbs.
This exercise is a particular favourite of vet physio’s because it can help so many cases but here are a few conditions slow lead walking is beneficial for:
- Reduced or restricted range of motion
- Muscle atrophy and hypertrophy
- Proprioceptive deficit
Being able to slow lead walk is not just about taking your dog out for walk and letting them potter about. No, there is much more to this seemingly simple exercise than meets the eye and to be able to get as much benefit from this exercise as possible it is important that it is performed correctly.
Step 1 – No pulling!
Firstly you need to ensure that your dog won’t pull. If your dog does pull when walking they are putting all their body weight through their front limbs which can cause pain from compensation and this is not what we are trying to achieve. So you need to make sure you have the correct equipment. A harness may be helpful if your dog is not used to walking to heal. I would recommend a two point harness which when used with a double ended lead gives you greatest control over your dog without causing harm.
A great example is this TTouch harness:
Alternatively you can use other equipment such as head collars and your own walking equipment should be fine so long as you can control your dog.
If your dog is recovering from surgery or an injury you may also be advised to use a sling or special type of harness to support you dog whilst they are walking.
Step 2 – Slow and steady
Once you are happy that you can control your dog you can start performing the exercise. The idea of this exercise to keep your dog at a walking pace. Remember this is your dogs walking pace not yours!
If you have a large breed dog this will seam fairly easy however if you have a little dog you will be walking with dolly steps. Encourage your dog to walk to heel aiming to keep their head up or level to ensure that their bodyweight is distributed towards their rear end.
Watch your dog walking they should be placing one foot down at a time, if they are not then slow down your walking pace. You may feel stupid but this is the best thing for your dog. If your not sure what a walk looks like check out this great YouTube video showing different dog gaits.
Step 4 – Where?
Where you can take your dog for a walk depends on their fitness level at the time. If your dog has just had surgery your Vet or Vet Physio will advise that you do this exercise in the garden whilst they are going to the toilet. Once your dog is stronger you can progress to further outside but you need to select a flat, even, non-slip surface with no obstacles. This is so you can encourage your dog to walk in a straight line.
Step 4 – How long?
Listen to your Veterinarian or Vet Physio who will tell you how long to slow walk for. Normally you will be told to slow walk for a short period to start around 2-5 minuets and then gradually increase as your dog gets stronger. For the majority of dogs we try to increase by 5 minuets every 1-2 weeks.
Remember to spend the full time concentrating on them walking slowly. Once you have completed the exercise give them a chance to have a sniff around too, this is important for their mental stimulation.
Be patient and give your dog lot’s of praise. Slow walking may be difficult at first especially if your dog has not slow walked before. It is surprising how many dogs I have seen which struggle with this seemingly simple exercise.
Once you and your dog have got the hang of slow lead walking you can use this in other exercises which your Vet Physio will set you such as weaving and cavaletti. However, only progress when you Vet Physio is happy that you and your pet are ready.