As a professional dog walker, I’m often asked by friends and clients for tips on how to best take their dogs on walks. There is a right way and a wrong way to walk your dog. Poor dog walking skills by the owner often lead to poor dog behavior at home. Properly walking your dog, each and every time, is key to a happy dog and a happy family.
Over the years I’ve come up with 10 steps towards a happier dog and a better, more enjoyable dog walk. Below I’m sharing with you my secrets for mastering the Art of Walking a Dog…
10 Steps Towards a Better Dog Walk
Step 1 – A Front Clip Harness
Did you know that harnesses and collars with leash clips on the back of the dog can actually encourage a dog to pull on the leash? If your four legged friend pulls on your leash while you walk, I recommend you switch to a “Front Clip Harness.” A Front Clip Harness or collar is one in which the leash clip is located between the dogs chin and chest.
There are many good “front-clipping” harnesses on the market. I recommend trying the Petsafe Deluxe Easy Walk Harness, currently available on Amazon for under $30. A good harness is just the first step in regaining control of your dog walk.
Step 2 – Just Say “No” to Retractable Leashes!
Retractable leashes are problematic for a variety of reasons. They are dangerous for you and your pet (just google “retractable leash injury”). They cannot easily be reeled in, especially if your dog is pulling in the opposite direction. Also, the “locks” on retractable leashes are notoriously unreliable and will disengage at the worst possible opportunity, often leading to injury.
In addition, retractable leashes are designed to maintain a constant tension on the leash, which will lead to misbehavior such as pulling and jerking. I recommend purchasing a strong leash that is either rather short (about 2-3 feet), extendable from 2 – 6 feet, or better yet – has dual handle leads so that you can hold the dog close during normal urban walking, then switch to the 6 foot handle when you wish to allow for greater roaming.
One dual handle leash manufacturer to consider is Primal Pet Gear. Their leash can be found on Amazon for under $15 and appears well made and built to last.
Step 3 – Set Aside enough time for your walk
Walking your dog daily is essential to your dog’s well-being. Your dog needs these walks not just for the physical exercise, but also for the mental and emotional stimulation. A dog that is not sufficiently walked is likely suffering emotionally and will often express this suffering by acting out at home.
Plan at least 30 minutes (1 hour is better) for your walk. I recommend walking your dog in the morning. More active dogs will need longer walks and more than one walk a day to ensure good health. Obesity in pets is a growing problem in the U.S. and is often associated with medical problems such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, liver, kidney and heart disease.
Walk your dog for 30 – 60 minutes at least once every day. If you need help, hire a professional local dog walker.
Step 4 – Reward your dog during the walk
It’s important to keep your dog walks fun but disciplined. Maintain a focused and “in-charge” frame of mind. Your dog will pick up on your emotional state, so it is important to feel and act like the pack leader from the moment you leash your dog.
After your dog has demonstrated good behavior on exiting your home and beginning your walk, reward your dog by deciding it is time to allow her to relieve herself and sniff the area.
This ‘relaxed time’ should be brief in relation to the more disciplined portion of the walk – especially in the beginning when your puppy is just learning the ropes and proper dog etiquette. With time, you can increase the relaxed portions of the walk. But while you and your dog are still learning your pack roles – be relatively strict/disciplined on your walks.
I also like to bring along some healthy treats on my dog walks. A few healthy treat recommendations are:
- Stella & Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch – freeze-dried beef, chicken, duck or turkey treats.
- Ziwi Peak makes an absolutely exceptional air-dried dog food that can also be used as a super healthy treat.
- Vital Essentials – Wild Alaskan Salmon Freeze-Dried Dog Treats are a dogs best friend!
Step 5 – Always Lead
It’s important to always lead your dog. When you leave your home, you should walk out the door first – leading the way. Your dog should only follow, not lead.
Otherwise, if your dog leads the way, he/she will become the pack leader and your walk will be problematic – with your dog deciding how to behave and where to go.
Always maintain a firm hold of the leash, ensure there is slack (no tension) and lead your dog on your walk with confidence.
Step 6 – Allow for as much sniffing as possible
A dog’s most relied upon sense is their sense of smell. While we maintain a paltry 6 million odor receptors, our canine companions sport as many as 300 million olfactory receptors.
Even more to the point, the amount of your dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing odors is proportionally more than 40 times greater in dogs than a humans. Your dog can smell odors 10,000 – 100,000 times better than you can. For more information, check out this cool PBS article on your dog’s amazing ability to smell.
Every sniff your dog takes – stimulates their brain with activity. Plan walks on the grass, near trees and fragrant flowers. Give your dog plenty of time to just sniff around and day dream a little.
Step 7 – Always pick up your poop
Just a quick note – always pick up your dog’s poop!
Dog poop actually contains harmful bacteria and organisms such as E. Coli, giardia, salmonella, hookworms and more. When left on the ground, these parasites and diseases can spread to other dogs, to humans and even get into the water supply.
Step 8 – Keep your dog hydrated
Always bring plenty of water for yourself and for your dog on your walks. Most people don’t realize that it is easy for your dog to overheat. Dogs regulate their temperature thru panting and do not sweat. Panting is far less effective than sweating, and dogs can have a tough time cooling down in severely hot weather.
Keep your dog hydrated at all times, but especially when outdoors in the heat. Avoid allowing your dog to drink outdoor water sources (such as puddles, lakes, and streams) as they are excellent sources of giardia and other parasitic diseases.
Step 9 – Don’t Burn those paws on hot pavement!
When temperatures get up into the 80s, 90s and above, it’s important to check the pavement before allowing your dog to walk on it. A simple, non-scientific way to check if it’s too hot – hold your palm or bare foot on the pavement for 5 seconds. If it’s uncomfortable to you than it’s too hot for your dog and could result in serious injury. On these hot days, keep to the dirt and grassy areas.
For dogs with a reasonably high tolerance to accessories – you can buy dog booties to fit over your dog’s paws. Training your dog to wear boots also helps out in the winter – when it protects your dog from snow and ice coated with salt and deicer chemicals that can be very harmful.
Step 10 – Keep Leading
Even after the walk is over, keep leading the way for your dog. You should always enter the home first. Once home, your dog can wait patiently for you to remove your belongings (shoes, jacket, etc.) before being “released” and allowed to roam free in the home.
After returning from a long walk, it’s a perfect time to feed your dog. By feeding your dog after your walk, you are rewarding your dog for good behavior and allowing him/her to perceive the walk as work and the food as their reward for that work.
About the Author
Erik Muenker is a retired police officer and now owns and operates a dog walking service in Hillsboro, Oregon – ErikWalksDogs.com. In addition to working with dogs while on the force, Erik has over 20 years experience personally training and walking dogs of all breeds and temperaments. Why? Simply put, “I love being around dogs and helping out their owners with quality professional care.”
In need of a professional dog walker? If you live in the Tanasbourne area of Hillsboro, you’re in luck! Just give Erik a shout – firstname.lastname@example.org.