A lot of the time, we as owners, do not want to walk our dogs on the lead. We like to give them the freedom to run around and interact with other dogs. However, off lead exercise might not be the most beneficial thing all the time. Lead walking is a necessary skill that all dogs need to be capable of as there will always be instances where your dog has to remain on the lead. Firstly, it is important that you teach your dog not to pull on the lead as this can place additional strain on the neck if they are being walked in a collar. If the dog is wearing a harness they may be able to pull into the harness and place additional weight on the forelimbs causing overdeveloped forelimb muscles and a lack of core and hindlimb muscle engagement. This may predispose dogs to repetitive strain/overloading injuries in the forelimbs. The hindlimbs may also be susceptible to injury due to a lack of muscular support and potential joint instability. This could be resolved through positive reinforcement training with the help of a behaviourist or through the use of a Halti or headcollar typed restraint Always seek professional advice before using equipment you are unfamiliar with.
Dogs have 6 different gaits; walk, amble, trot, pace, canter and gallop. Emphasising to your dog that you want them to walk when on the lead is very important. Walking is the slowest gait but it is often the most difficult for your dog to perform. Walk is a four beat gait; meaning only one limb is off the ground at any one time. Hence, the dog has to load each limb independently. This can be particularly difficult for dogs trying to compensate for underlying musculoskeletal conditions or pain. However, ensuring that the dog walks slowly will help to eliminate patterns of compensation which could result in more problems if allowed to continue. For young healthy dogs, slow lead walking will ensure that they build muscle in the correct places to reduce the likelihood of injury in the future.
Lead walking also acts as an important part of warming up and cooling down. If you were going for a run, you would not get straight up off the sofa and immediately start running, would you? You might walk the first few minutes, at least to get you warmed up. The same should apply to our dogs. A good 10 minutes on the lead before and after off lead exercise is ideal for warming up and cooling down.
My final point is, do not feel bad for having your dog on the lead! Your dog can still lead a perfectly happy and healthy life whilst spending some time on the lead. In fact, this may allow them to visit more places than they would not if they could not be walked on the lead! For some dogs that are older or have various musculoskeletal issues any time off the lead might enable them to do too much exercise and cause themselves pain. So instead of allowing them to run around in the park, take them on short slow walks and allow them to sniff lots of different things. Play low impact games with them at home instead of walking for miles. This will allow your dog to still have a good quality of life and keep them pain free
To help you understand what to look for when trying to walk your dog slowly, here is a good visual. It can be difficult to distinguish between walking and ambling sometimes. A lot of people don’t realise that in order for your dog to walk, you must also walk very slowly next to them. VERY SLOWLY. Sometimes this might be painfully slow (particularly if you have a small dog!) but this is the only way to ensure that your dog actually walks.