Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy!

 by Susan E. Davis, PT 

Hmmmmm, are you wondering just what type of therapy I mean?  Physical?  Emotional?  Mental?
And the answer is:  all of these! If you consider your dog to be a big part of  daily life, then the time spent with them takes on great importance.

One of the most valuable ways to enjoy your time together and accomplish great things for both of you is go on a leash walk!

Let’s examine the benefits to you, the human person, first:

Dogs keep us focused on a daily routine and can be a powerful secret to productivity. On those days you dread getting started, you will always honor the commitment to get going and take care of your dog. After the morning “outdoor business” and feeding are completed, the walk begins. It stimulates both your and the dog’s metabolic rate to ramp up. Simply participating in this normal rhythm of life will give you energy, meaning and purpose to start your busy day.

If you can return home during the day for a quick time-out to play and visit your dog, it provides a break from the grind.  At the day’s end, regardless of what has happened, your dog’s greeting is always exuberant and helps you feel that life is still safe, just as you left it in the morning. It provides emotional well-being for both of you.

Dogs also play a role in improving our physical and mental health. 

Research shows that exercising with your dog can lower blood pressure. Studies involving patients with coronary artery disease show a pattern that those with pets were more likely to survive one year after incident. This finding is supported by the fact that dog owners have the added benefit of more exercise through regular walks. Dog owners are considerably more likely to engage in moderate intensity walking three or more times per week, which results in a reduction of minor health problems.

Now, how about the benefits to your dog?  

Your dog LOVES time spent with you!  The dog is a member of your family and has a natural instinct to be with their pack.  Although the usual daily walks are one on one with you and your dog, I like to recommend that families take a group walk together with their dogs at least once per week.

Start out with proper equipment such as a lead and harness or collar, pick-up bag, water, and pet ID. Your dog should be tagged and micro chipped.  I also recommend carrying a photo of the dog in your pack, wallet, etc.

Starting slow and gradually picking up the pace allows the muscles to warm up, the cardiopulmonary system to accommodate and less stress on the paw pads.  

Go at a pace both of you can enjoy. 

There are instances where you will need to do slower, “controlled” leash walks.  

These are important for more than “canine good citizen “manners! If your dog is starting leash walks after an injury or surgery, or has a chronic condition such as arthritis, it is important to do a slower, “controlled” speed of walking to allow maximum usage of the affected limb.

A shorter lead should be used. If the dog is allowed to move too fast they will spend less time on the limb during the “stance” phase of gait and hold the limb up longer during the “swing” phase.

The dog will simply do what is easiest and “hold the affected limb up”, therefore not using it “deliberately” and compensating by overusing the sound limbs.

Going slower will force the dog to touch down and push off from the affected limb, bearing more weight on it. 

Take breaks to allow your dog to “reset” their rhythm and avoid too much repetitive forces on their limbs and paws, especially if they are older or have chronic inflammatory conditions.

The result will be that your dog will gain more strength and build tissue bulk from previously atrophied musculature.  

This type of walk will be challenging and fun for both of you, serving as a positive reward during the recovery process.

If your dog is able to maintain good symmetry and equal use of the limbs during walking, you can add mini “intervals’ of intensity, to increase their endurance and stimulate fat burning.  

These can be brief bursts of faster pace, jogging or trotting, moving up and down small hills or inclines, or going up and down a few steps. I suggest these intervals to be between 5-30 seconds in duration, and be inserted 3-4 times during the course of your walk.

How long should your walk be?  

This is a difficult question to answer but in general, start with 5-10 minutes if your dog has been injured or had surgery. Only gradually increase the time if they are not limping and are able to stay symmetrical, using both sides evenly at a controlled speed.

You should be able to cover ¼ mile in about 5 minutes or ½ mile in 10 minutes for an average, moderate speed. When in doubt, you can always slow it down to a pace that covers ¼ mile in 7 to 8 minutes, for example.

Work up gradually over a few weeks to a good maintenance level of 30-40minutes of dog walking once per day, with a second shorter walk of 10-15 minutes.

For safety, pay attention to sounds and sights during the walk. Stay off cellphones, tablets, and avoid headphones. Keep a sharp eye out for dangers lurking in leaf piles or next to curbs that your dog might try to eat such as discarded food, candy and bones.

Avoid extremes in weather and watch for any signs of heatstroke:  rapid breathing, drooling, stumbling, lethargy, bright redness of the gums and tongue, thick saliva, vomiting.  If this occurs, go to a shady area, apply cool water to the neck, face and paws, assist or carry your dog to shelter and contact the Vet.


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Your Active Pet
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More benefits of walking:
How to protect your dog's mind from the effects of aging: A surprisingly simple solution

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery


  1. I look forward to walking with our dogs. The other day I rushed home to walk our dogs at dusk; we went to a nearby field and I was so bummed to see 15 other dogs there too.

    I don't mind the "company" but on this day I just wanted time alone with our dogs and to decompress from a long day.

    I returned the next day and got my wish. Walking our dogs is definitely therapy. Whatever is bothering me goes out the window and I can see who petty many of my problems are.

    Plus getting our dogs much needed exercise makes me feel good and brings peace in the home for the evening (or the day).


    1. We walk our guys religiously; Jasmine taught me how important that was to her very early on. It is the highlight of everybody's day.

  2. I just happen to open the door where Sage's leashes are kept and she is there with all smiles. Let's go!

    She is such a high-energy dog that several walks a day are in order.

    1. Yeah, some dogs need a LOT. Jasmine keeps needing more and more! LOL We just have to THINK walk, don't even have to move a muscle, and she gets all inside out :-)

  3. Hi Jana,

    You're so important about how important us Dogs are, I know my Mum wouldn't run as often if I wasn't nagging her to go out!

    And this week, I've been making her take a break for 'the book' to play with me or go out, I know when she needs to step away from the computer!! :)

    Have a fun weekend,

    Your pal Snoopy :)