Canine Massage Guild

Returning to fitness after lockdown

After 8 long weeks of restricted exercise, most of us have been excited to get back out to some of our favourite walks, to walk for as long as we want and to walk more than once a day.

Before you head out to the hills for a long walk, think about your dogs fitness. Have they been as active over the last 8 weeks as normal? Unless you’re very lucky to have your own field and a variety of walks around you, the answer is no.

My dogs have been on hour long walks through local fields every day, and have a large garden to play and train hoopers in. They look fit, and are still running as fast at the end of the walk as at the start. That doesn’t make them generally fit though, it just makes them fit for that type of exercise. 

Different surfaces, inclines and speeds of travel use different muscles. My dogs have been free running on flat grass. They take plenty of sniffing and poo rolling breaks too, so they aren’t needing stamina, they have been doing a very unstructured version of interval training with lots of sprints and rest!

If I were to take my dogs for a three hour walk in the hills today , I can almost guarantee they would be sore, if not injured. Because we haven’t maintained the endurance, or the hill work, or even the lead work they had before lockdown. Just like most of us probably shouldn’t go out and run 10k this weekend without some build up, our dogs need fitness work to get back up to pre lockdown exercise levels.

🐾Warm your dog up and cool them down

Always important, but even more so when they are going to be working harder and using different muscle groups. Start with lead walking, gradually picking up the pace so you can increase circulation and get the muscles warm. Finish a walk like this too to give the body a chance to remove any toxins building up in the muscles.

🐾When introducing new terrain or hills, reduce the amount of time you walk them for 

I’ve been doing 30 minute hill walks with my dogs and it’s been plenty to tire them out, it’ll be a couple of weeks before they’re comfortable at an hour plus.

🐾 Slow doesn’t mean easy

Continuous walking or trotting on lead builds muscle really well, muscles that don’t get developed in the same way if your dog is always off lead. I’m planning on a lead walk every other day, Fly has been exhausted afterwards and is clearly working hard, in a way she doesn’t when she’s off lead.

🐾If you’re increasing the number of walks, make each one shorter at first

Don’t just add a second hour long walk in, drop the time of the first one, and then add a short second, and build these up over a few weeks. I’ve dropped my first walk to 45 minutes and added a half an hour walk in, it should only take a couple of weeks before my younger dogs can manage a couple of hour long walks a day.

🐾Mentally over stimulated dogs are more prone to injury

Unless your dog is pretty bomb proof and unfussed by the change in scenery, the fact people, dogs and various other things like horses and bikes have started to appear, they will be using their brains a lot. Whether it’s just excitement, or in the case of an anxious or reactive dog they’re actually struggling to cope, more of your dogs energy will go on processing their surroundings. Meaning less goes on actually moving well. Fatigued muscles injure more easily, and poor concentration can lead to slipping injuries. 

Finn is over excited, he’s really missed people. Fly is upset that people and dogs have reappeared, and could react to the increase of horses and bikes on our normal walks. So whenever I’ve added in a different walk it has been short and on lead until they seem calm and relaxed.

🐾Give your dog a chance to sleep

More exercise means more recovery time. If you’re still at home all day with your dogs,make sure they have quiet uninterrupted sleep time. If they tend to follow you from room to room, either shut them away, or take the time to sit and be quiet yourself. Don’t spend all day entertaining them and being active as well as increasing exercise, besides creating future behaviour problems, your poor dog won’t get a chance for the restorative sleep they need.

🐾Don’t be a weekend warrior!

If you’re back at work, or never had any time at home, don’t start doing long walks on your days off. And that applies always, not just now. While it’s natural to want to do more on a day off, you need to build your dog up to that, and have them do enough during the week that it isn’t such a big stretch for them. If you are doing half hour park walks at most all week, you can’t expect your dog to safely cope with a day hike on Dartmoor. If that’s what you want to do, leave your dog at home and go yourself.

🐾Remember walking fit isn’t sport fit

While I’m not going to go in to fitness for sport as that could be a whole article in itself, walking uses very different muscles to dog sports. If you are about to return to agility, or anything else you may do, and you haven’t fully trained in months, you need a plan for a gradual return. Your dog should not be running courses, or potentially jumping their full height, or doing high repetitions of anything on their return. If you have any doubt how to return, your trainer should have a plan, although remember they usually aren’t qualified in this area, so don’t be afraid to discuss it with them and if necessary seek other advice. It would also be worth having a consultation with a physio to go through appropriate conditioning exercises.

It might seem like overkill at a time when most of us are just thrilled to be out, but it’s easier to go slow and ease your dog back in, than to go at full pelt, cause an injury which may be obvious or may not show up until it reaches a chronic stage, and then have to go to the trouble of resting your dog during treatment and building their fitness all over again. Prevention is always a better and easier option than cure.