VARIETY! | The Key To Safe and Effective Walks for Senior Dogs
As your companion gets older, you may notice that they are no longer as eager for the long, high-energy outdoor adventures they may have enjoyed when they were younger. However, this doesn’t mean they are destined for days on the couch – far from it, in fact! Making some slight modifications to your outdoor excursions can help your dog stay fit and maintain mobility and healthy muscle long into their senior years.
Walk Duration – Shifting to a Cumulative View
If you find your dog getting tired before the end of your normal walk, you might be inclined to simply shorten your daily walking routine. While in principle this is a good idea – it’s important not to overwork your dog – it is often possible for your dog to continue to walk the same length of time they always have, but broken up into two or three shorter walks during the course of the day. This way they aren’t sacrificing their calorie burn (weight gain is a common concern for aging dogs as they become less active) or the joy and stimulation of their outdoor adventures, but each walk remains manageable.
You might also try to include one or two longer walks during the week, but making sure that the intensity of these walks is lighter – a slower pace, flat terrain, and a softer surface.
Walk Intensity – The Key to Mobility Maintenance
Paying attention to the intensity of your companion’s exercise can be the key to supporting them as they transition to their senior years. This principle can be applied to the walks that you choose over the course of a week, and also within the course of a single walk. You’re probably familiar within your own exercise experience with the idea of ‘interval training’ – something similar can be applied for your dog! There are three main ways you can approach varying your walk intensity: the pace, the terrain, and the walking surface.
The simplest way to spice up the intensity of your walk is to periodically encourage your dog to pick up their pace – instead of always pausing to sniff those grass patches and telephone poles, encourage them to step up to a brisk trot for a short time (even 10 paces or so) before returning to their preferred pace. Incorporating these ‘speed bursts’ during the walk can help raise their heart rate, engage their muscles, and add an element of unpredictability to their routine.
Another way to vary the intensity of your walk, of course, is the relative elevation of your walking route. Especially on shorter walks, when there is less likelihood of fatigue, try selecting an area that incorporates some uphill and downhill sections – either gentle slopes, steeper hills, or obstacles to climb or hop over, depending on your companion’s ability and tolerance. Other days, opt for a flatter route to give everyone’s muscles a chance to rest and recover.
Finally, changes to the surface that you walk on can make quite a difference in the intensity of the walk. If you’re headed along the shoreline, for example, having your dog walk for a short period of time on dry sand (which is less stable and requires more energy and muscle engagement to navigate) before returning to the more solid wet sand can be a good option. Keep in mind that concrete sidewalks and roadways have very little give and are therefore relatively high impact for bones and joints – allowing your dog to walk on grassy sidewalk boulevards or choosing chip trails or forest walks when possible is a better choice.
Bottom Line – The Variety Challenge
In order for your dog to maintain muscle and mobility, it is important for them to continue to challenge their body – this is how the body adapts and retains function. Stay alert to any subtle mobility issues your dog might be experiencing, and balance higher intensities with shorter durations. Adding a variety of walking speeds, inclines, and surfaces to your daily walks is an effective way to help your companion stay fit and mobile.