Nordic Walking with Dogs

(walking with ski poles, dogs leashed to belt)

by Pam Green, © 2011

Taking dogs for a walk with dogs leashed to your belt, with "nordic walking" poles to give you some arm and shoulder exercise. With a movie clip.

Nordic Walking with Dogs

the idea for the experiment

It's probably not news that there is an epidemic of obesity in humans and an equal epidemic in dogs. Often the obesity exists at both ends of the leash. Well the cure is also at both ends of the leash.

I came accross a recent book entitled "Fitness Unleashed!: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together"., by Marty Becker, DVM and Robert F. Kushner, MD. Written by an MD and a DVM, it discusses how you can lose weight and attain better physical fitness by the enjoyable method of taking your dog for walks on a daily basis, combined of course with developing healthy eating habits . The authors ran a clinical trial with a program that starts out easily and builds up gradually.

Editorial Review - Reed Business Information (c) 2006
As obesity becomes more prevalent in humans, veterinarians like Becker are finding increasing obesity in canines. To address both problems, he and Kushner, a specialist in obesity issues, have joined forces in this guide to human and dog weight management. Through entertaining multiple-choice quizzes, readers can gauge their fitness as well as the fitness of their dogs; by tallying points, they can pick a plan of action to get themselves and their canine companions exercising. Interspersed among personal anecdotes are pieces of expert advice on everything from gear (good leashes and sneakers) to snacks (baby carrots for humans and canines) as well as success stories from people who embraced this healthier lifestyle for themselves and their pets. This work is suitable for any public library, regardless of the strength of its consumer health collection. The subject matter is primarily geared toward human health, but it would not be out of place in a pet/animal care collection.-Rachel M. Minkin, Graduate Theological Union Lib., Berkeley, CA 

One of the ideas that really appealed to me was what is termed "nordic walking", walking with ski poles as if one were doing cross country skiing. In effect one becomes a quadriped again.

my experiment

The idea of trying nordic walking appealed to me because I'd been having a re-occurance of a problem in one shoulder , so "nordic walking" would have the benefit of being a range of motion exercise and a shoulder muscle strengthening exercise. I didn't happen to have any ski poles handy, so I went out to a stand of bamboo and cut myself some aproximately half-inch diameter 5 foot long bamboo poles, trimmed them up to suit me, and added rubber tips from the hardware store. Total investment : a little bit of time and about $3 for the rubber tips. (A couple of weeks later, some adjustable length ski poles turned up at the local thrift shop, but I really like bamboo better. The sharp metal tips of ski poles could injure a dog if accidentally hitting the dog or pressing down on a paw. )

Of course with my hands on the poles, holding leashes in those hands wouldn't be very easy. Since my dogs are well behaved on leash, I simply added leash holders to my waist-pouch-belt, and headed off down the road. I'm in a rural agricultural area, so this was fairly safe. I'd advise my readers that it would be safest to start out inside a fenced area and to have some kind of quick-release in the attachment of leashed to your belt, and you might want to try it with one dog at a time, rather than with half a dozen. You might want to try a walk with poles but no dogs, then try a walk with waist leashed dogs but no poles (and maybe a second leash in your hand ?), then try poles and one waist-leashed dog (your best behaved one, if you have more than one dog).

WARNING : If your dogs are not very well behaved on leash and highly unlikely to bolt off chasing something or do anything else that might jerk you off your feet, attaching leashes to your waist could be disasterous ! Be very very sure about your dogs before you do this ! Instead keep leashes in your hands and be prepared to drop your poles if you need to do so in order to control your dog or dogs.

To see a movie clip of me nordic walking with 5 dogs (3 Bouvier, one of whom is pretty much hidden behind others), 1 Bouv mix, and 1 Queensland), click on Nordic Walk, Country Roads . This clip is a bit under 500 kb, so it will take about 3 minutes to download if you are on dial-up, but I've set it to open in a new window, so you can go on reading in this window while you wait. (You need QuickTime installed on your computer in order to see this clip.)
Notice that right before the end of the clip, I am giving a little pole tap to Fox, the Queensland, as a reminder not to pull ; she has a tendency to pull just mildly, mostly because she is a very pushy-natured dog. None of the others are inclined to pull. The biggest one is Monty, a foster dog about to be adopted by our camera-person and his spouse.
Because this clip may not play on computers which do not have QuickTime, I will add the two component clips that lack sound and titles but that should (maybe) play in Windows Media Player (and will also play in QuickTime). I'm still learning what works and what won't work. And I have no control over what you do or don't have installed on your computer or the public library computer. To see this shorter version (second half of the long version), click Nordic Walk (short). This version is under 250 kb, so should download in under 2 minutes even on slow dial-up. In some ways it is in better definition as it will show in original size ; you can see the poles more clearly than in the longer doubled-sized version .

Somewhat to my surprise I found that with dogs leashed to my waist, I actually had more control. Instead of using the strength of my arms , shoulders, and upper back, areas which for me (as for many women) are not extremely strong, I was using strength of legs and low back, which for me are strong from years of walking and horseback riding. Your own mileage may vary, as they say : your body may be different from mine and your dogs might be more difficult. So experiement carefully. I also used the poles to give mild corrections, just light taps of at most fly-kill strength for most of the dogs ( a bit more for Fox at times ; remember she is bred to not be discouraged by a cow's kick ).

Now the preceding paragraph is for walking, not jogging or running. In walking one always has one foot on the ground, but in jogging or running there are moments when one has no feet on the ground. I'm not sure poles would work well for jogging or running, and waist-leashing might give less control in jogging or running. Again, I invite you to experiment, but be sure to do so in a safe place, fenced and with limited temptations for dog to bolt off on a chase. You could add controlled temptations, such as a friend jogging or bicycling past you, later on.

Note : leashing dogs to your waist requires that you have a body form that will support a belt and can handle a downward tug on that belt. That means that your hips are larger than your waist. If in doubt, as might be the case for many males, you could add suspenders to your belt. Any pull from your dogs would be somewhat downward unless you are very short and your dogs are very tall (in which case you are probably a woman and so probably do have hips bigger than your waist ; or else you are/were a jockey and are laughing at the idea that a dog might be hard to control compared to a racehorse or steeplechaser).

I also recommend that your dogs be on head-halters to facilitate control. Halters work very well in a hands-free system. Of course if your dog will walk loose leash on a flat collar, then that's what you can use. If your dog requires a pinch collar, then you probably won't find hands-free waist-leashing works well for you. But experiment and see what works for you.

my results :

I did find that walking with poles did indeed help re-mobilize my problem shoulder and cured the pain and stiffness. The shoulder now feels every bit as good as the other one. Moveover I found that I tended to walk more briskly. Best of all, I found that the posture (alignment) of my upper back and my neck improved significantly. Instead of tending to look down at the ground right ahead of my feet, I was now looking off into the distance. On more questionable footing, such as rain-soaked ground (slippery) or going up or down hill, the poles give a nice secure feel.

There are a few other advantages to walking with poles , and the same would be true for walking with one walking staff. If someone's off leash dog is rushing up to you in an apparently aggressive manner, you can wave one stick in threatening fashion to scare off the assailant. Most dogs will dodge away from a long pole that is wielded in such a manner. In the event that you or your dogs are actually attacked or about to be attacked by a dog, one or both poles can be used to deliver a stinging blow to the back or head of the attacking dog, thus protecting yourself and your own dogs. Yes, I'd really hate to do that to any dog (it's not that dog's fault ; the fault is with the owner/handler), but not nearly as much as I'd hate to have my own dog get injured. (Now of course if you were to encounter an off leash dog who was experienced in Schutzhund, French Ring, KNPV, or actual Police K-9 work, the result of a stick threat would be quite different; but such dogs are far too valued by their people to be roaming unattended, and they are usually under outstanding off-leash control of their handlers.) Better to avoid walking in neighborhoods where off-leash aggressive dogs are common.

Finally, if you happen to know the ancient art of quarterstaff fighting, you have an effective weapon against a human assailant, provided of course that your assailant is not armed with any long range weapon such as bow and arrow, throwing spear, or firearm. Better to avoid walking in high crime neighborhoods.

Update 10/10/2011 :

There's another book on dog and human weight loss and fitness through walking : Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound : How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together (New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond Series). Authors are Dr. Phil Zeltzman DVM, surgeon, and Rebecca Johnson, a human nurse and expert in the field of human weight loss. From the description on Amazon, this book sounds like it covers much the same ground as Fitness Unleashed.

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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 7/19/2011 revised 10/10/2011
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