By Samantha Randall, pet writer, podcaster and Editor-in-Chief at Top Dog Tips.
Heading out for your daily walk with your pooch is a wonderful way to get some exercise and relax with your best friend. However, things can turn on a dime, and you always need to stay vigilant. Here are some tips on how to keep your furry pal safe and happy during a walk.
1. Take the lead
Even though by now we already know that dogs aren’t pack animals the way wolves are, they still work in cooperation with us. Even if you only have one, you and he constitute a partnership of sorts. Studies show that dogs generally submit to the leader. For maximum safety of both of you, it’s ideal that he sees you as that leader. Take the lead during your walks. Head outside first and walk in front of him. If he is pulling, that means that he isn’t deferring to you, and he still sees himself as the leader of the pack. This significantly diminishes your control.
2. Be present
Being mentally present sounds like a given. However, people often get lost in thought, or conversation, and pay little attention to their dog on daily walks. This is your time with your dog, so treat it that way – don’t wear your earbuds and listen to music. If there’s sign of trouble, you’re most likely to hear it first if you’re present. Watching your dog’s reactions (or those of an approaching dog) will quickly alert you to a possible problem. While talking on the phone is another big no-no during walks, remember to always have your phone on you. If your dog gets injured, you will need to react quickly.
3. Pick the right leash, collar or harness
A quality leash or harness is an important factor in your dog’s safety, and a great tool of control for you. Using a shorter leash gives you more leverage, and is a great option, particularly for larger dogs. If your pet has no aggression or obedience issues, you can settle for a standard leash and collar. No-pull dog harnesses may be an even better option for dogs that like to pull and need more control or some adjustments in their behavior. Retractable leashes, on the other hand, should be avoided. They allow the dog great freedom of movement, which can be dangerous under some circumstances. They can also get tangled easily in case of a dog fight, which will complicate matters further.
4. Give him proper training
Teaching your dog a few basic commands might just be the thing that saves his life or prevents him from getting lost. Every dog should be taught to stay, come, and drop it. In some situations, if he gets overly excited he might ignore your commands. That is why he should also be trained for emergency recall. This is a command associated with a particularly large reward, and thus more powerful than others. It should be used sparingly, only in case of great immediate danger.
5. Minimize the chance of conflict
Always be cautious when you are approaching another dog. Sure, you know your own pet’s temper, but he’s not the only participant. The wisest choice is to ask the other owner whether it’s safe to approach. Don’t forget to read the dogs’ cues: unless you think the situation is entirely safe, walk away calmly but firmly before conflict arises.
6. Prevent traffic accidents
Keeping an eye on your pet is not always easy, especially if you enjoy going for walks after dark. To protect him from traffic accidents, consider getting an LED light or reflective collar and leash that will make your dog visible at night. When you are walking by a busy road, always have your dog walk on the outside. That way there is less of a chance he will run into traffic and get hit.
7. Don’t let him eat poop
While it seems gross and incomprehensible to us, dogs often sniff or eat another animals’ poop. Seeing how their senses of scent and taste are their primary sources of information, it’s clear that they do this in order to find out more about whoever left the smelly package behind. However, this is a behavior that you should discourage. Another dog’s feces could easily be carriers of various diseases and parasites, such as hookworms or salmonella. Also, be a responsible owner, and always pick up your own pet’s feces.
8. Watch out for winter dangers
Out of all the seasons, winter is the trickiest when it comes to dog walks. If you enjoy hiking in areas with ponds or lakes, don’t let your dogs go near them even if the water seems frozen solid. The ice could crack and your pet could end up in the water. If, on the other hand, you live in an urban area, your dog’s paws are likely to be exposed to salt, antifreeze and other chemicals. Always wash their paws with warm water when you come back home.
9. Don’t lose your pooch
Other dogs are far from the only problem that can arise during a walk. You never know when your puppy might get scared or just disoriented and get lost. This happens particularly often during the winter because snow can make orientation problematic. Luckily, nowadays there are very convenient trackers and GPS collars for dogs that will help you locate your pet if he gets lost. At the very least, make sure that he always has his ID tags on whenever you leave the house, even if you don’t mean to go very far.
10. Keep him hydrated
If it’s very warm outside, or if you’re planning a long walk, make sure you always bring water – both for yourself, and for your pet. Unlike us, dogs don’t sweat, but rather cool down through panting. This means that they aren’t as good at regulating their bodily temperature. Drinking plenty of water will help them keep hydrated and burn their energy more efficiently.
11. Bring distractions
In case your puppy gets overly excited easily, you need a tool to distract him from a potentially dangerous situation. Bringing a bag of his favorite treats should do the trick. Just use a few if you need to regain his focus.
Regular daily walks are key for your pet’s well-being. Responsible behavior should always be a part of this wonderful routine, so that both you and your dog can enjoy every minute of it.