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Instructions for Using Nordic Walking Poles to Supercharge Your Walks With Your Dog

Nordic Walking Poles can be used while walking your dog, if you follow these instructions

If your dog walks politely on a leash without pulling, you can use Nordic walking poles if you want to. Although you certainly don't have to use trekking poles, I've added this section for those of you who want to step up the intensity of your own fitness training. It even makes walking your dog more fun, so you may be tempted to take more, longer walks with your canine friend, and you know that will make him happy.

You may actually prefer practicing without your dog, at first. This will help you find your natural rhythm before attempting to coordinate all 8 arms and legs, plus two trekking poles. Be sure to talk to your doctor about this idea if you have brittle bones or arthritic hands, and always use your judgment about your safety. You should only attach your dog to a hands-free leash if you are absolutely sure he won't pull you off your feet.

Adjusting the length.

The first thing you should do is to adjust the length of the poles to fit your own height. The poles usually come with instructions on how to fit the poles - I prefer to adjust mine so I can hold my forearm parallel to the ground when the poles are straight up and down. If you purchased Exerstrider poles you should watch the complete video instructions that came with your poles. If your poles are adjustable, try them with different lengths to find the one that is the most comfortable.

Be sure that you fasten the connection joint firmly. If you don't, you will soon discover that one pole has become shorter than the other.

Wrist straps.

Now that the length is adjusted correctly, you can put the hand straps on. Because each manufacturer will have slightly different designs, be sure to follow the instructions that come with your poles.
To get maximum efficiency from your poles, the wrist straps must be used correctly. Adjust the straps so the wrist can comfortably apply downward pressure to the pole, while holding the pole very loosely in your hand. You should not need to hold the pole tightly in your hand in order to apply downward pressure on the pole. Some models have left and right poles.

You will be able to guide the pole with a light grip on the handles, but the majority of the weight should be taken by the strap.

Because you will be pushing down with your palm in the strap, it should feel almost as though the pole is an extension of your arm. If you grasp the pole too tightly and push down on the pole instead of the strap, your wrist will get tired much faster and you will not receive the full benefit from the poles.
Finding your natural rhythm.

With a relaxed grip on the poles, begin to swing your arms as you normally do. Don't worry about planting the poles or pushing with them yet, just begin to move your arms and find your rhythm. Gradually begin to exaggerate the swing, bringing your hands forward as though to shake someone's hand at the top of the swing.

Don't swing the poles with the same side leg - this is not the natural way for you to swing your arms, but it's easy to forget how we normally do things that we never think about. When your right foot comes forward, your left hand should come forward. If you begin walking with both the left arm and left leg coming forward at the same time, you will be slightly unbalanced.

Pole tips.

If your poles came with more than one tip, choose the tip that they recommend for the type of surface you'll be walking on.

Taking your first trek around the block.

Now that you have your wrist straps correctly fitted to your hand, and you've found your rhythm, go ahead and take a short walk. You'll probably want to try it without your pooch the first time, to get used to using the poles. Experiment with the position of your arms as you move, and feel the difference in the way your muscles react at each position. You should work towards extending your hand out forward as though reaching to shake someone's hand.

The pole should be planted in a position that puts it to your side and pointed slightly back. As your arm swings back, push down on the wrist strap. When you reach the natural limit of the swing, let up on the pressure and allow the pole to swing forward again for the next step.

The poles will feel so natural that there really isn't much to say about how to use them - just make sure you keep a natural rhythm, breath deep, and enjoy yourself.

The hands-free leash

If you have any concerns about your safety, perhaps because your bones are easily broken or because you fall down easily, you should not use a hands-free leash. You should probably also use only one pole. The pole will help you maintain your balance, but you'll be able to let go of the leash if your dog moves suddenly and threatens to pull you over.

Naturally, you will use your best judgment about your own safety, and discuss any concerns with your doctor. If your dog is tiny, you may be able to ignore this advice.

You can get a hands-free leash at a large pet store, or online.

If your dog hasn't quite caught on to the idea of walking without pulling on the leash, you could still go trekking with him. Does he slow down on the pulling when you turn around to come home? Does he walk politely on a leash after a turn off leash at the dog park? If so, just take your poles along until the magic moment when he calms down, then strap on the poles and start trekking.
Letting your dog get comfortable with the poles.

The first thing that you need to do is allow your dog to become accustomed to you while you use the poles. Some dogs will appear not to notice anything different, while other dogs will become anxious when they see you do something new. If you've allowed your dog to stay in your yard as you tried out the poles, he should already know they pose no particular threat.

Since your dog already walks quietly in front when you use the hands-free leash, it is now simply a matter of coordinating all 8 feet and arms, plus the two poles. This does take a bit of time to get used to.
You'll want to take your dog out to the sidewalk and ask him to stop, and then to sit and stay, while you put your hands in the straps of the poles.

If you have any concerns that your dog is still worried about the poles, you can carry the poles for several walks without strapping them on. Carry them lightly, without exerting downward pressure, since this is not how they are designed to be used. You will simply carry them for a while and let them hit the ground lightly, to allow your dog to become comfortable with the poles as they swing behind him.

Start trekking.

As soon as your dog ignores the poles, you can begin using them as they were designed. Put the wrist bands on as instructed by the manufacturer, and begin to swing them naturally by your side. Then begin to push down on the straps while holding the poles lightly in your hands.

As usual, your dog will walk forward until he smells something yummy on the side of the path. If he doesn't need to relieve himself, use the "no - hike!" command, and continue to move forward.

If he doesn't pick up his pace immediately, the leash will go slack directly in front of your right or left pole, and could go under your dog's front legs. You will now have the opportunity to use the pole closest to the leash to raise the leash up above the dog's back in a move that reminds me of knitting. This comes naturally quite soon, and keeps you from having to stop so often to get the leash out from under your dog.

Once your dog understands that you really are going on a trek, and not a piddle parade, he will move out to the front and continue moving forward until something absolutely irresistible catches his attention. You must be constantly focused on your dog's movements and the way he holds his head and ears so you can predict any sudden move.

It will take many months before the "average" dog can ignore a teasing squirrel or a running cat or a dead pigeon. Stay focused, and be ready to react with a command to bring your dog's attention back to his job. You should also be ready to stop to prevent forward movement if the dog pulls, in order to continue his training.

The focus that is needed in order to successfully walk your dog with the trekking poles actually mimics the mental state known as "walking meditation." Giving your dog this focused attention will automatically wash away your latest worry or concern, break the control of any negative mental "tapes" that have been playing over and over in your mind, and will bring a sense of discipline to your thought process.

Even if you were to receive no fitness benefit at all from your walks, this psychological benefit would be worth many times the cost of your trekking poles. You will be focusing on the natural environment (your dog, plus everything that he sees and smells), and you'll discover that it's remarkably therapeutic for a worried mind.

You will occasionally need to unstrap the trekking poles. Naturally, you will need to do so to pick up any doggy poop deposits. You'll also need to be ready to stop immediately if your dog picks up a sticker in his paw, or if the leash gets tangled under the dog. There will be fewer and fewer stops as you and your dog get used to trekking.