Monday, May 9, 2011

10 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong Walking Your Dog

Picture this:  it's a bright sunny day, and you and your dog are going for a walk.  You have the leash, you have your keys (and probably phone), and you have your dog.  That's all the preparation you need before you head out the door, right?  Well, maybe.  It probably depends on your dog; for mine, these things are not enough, if we want the walk to be a happy success.

I've thought of a list, by no means complete, of things I myself have done wrong, or have seen people doing wrong, while walking the dog.

1. Wearing sunglasses
I used to do this.  It's a bright sunny day, you wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, right?  Well, you also remove a valuable communication tool between yourself and your dog.  If your face is taken up by Fearless Fly glasses, your dog can't read your eyes, and that kind of disconnect can make her less responsive to your cues.  Once, when Elka and I were walking, another woman passed us with a very young Vizsla puppy on a retractable leash (see number 3).  The puppy was jumping around and criss-crossing the sidewalk, but the puppy was also periodically peering up at the woman's face, but to no avail, as her eyes were completely masked by huge sunglasses.  He had no idea what she wanted from him, and was trying hard to figure it out.

2.  Talking on the phone, or texting
I can understand if you were waiting for a call and you got it while walking the dog.  I can even understand answering a text for the same reason.  However, my typical strategy to deal with these sorts of communications when Elka and I are out in the world is to stop, put her in a Sit-Stay, and complete the communication.  Then I put the phone away, and we're on our way.  Being occupied by your cell phone can put you in a dangerous bubble, even when you're just walking your dog; there's traffic to consider, other dogs, and other people on the sidewalk.

3. Using a retractable leash
We'd all like our dogs to walk properly next to use like furry angels, right?  Or at least not try to sled-dog us down the sidewalk?  Well, unfortunately, a retractable leash might encourage such behaviors.  The leash is never loose, and as such maintains a constant tension on your dog's neck.  Also, while you can lock the leash, making sure not to let out any more line, there isn't any way to retract the line unless your dog either waits for your approach, or you pull it in yourself, risking injury to your hands, and your dog's neck.  I see many people walking small dogs on what appear to be very long retractable leashes, next to busy streets.  They would have no way to prevent their dog from running into the street, if that's the decision the dog made.  I also see people walking large dogs like labs on retractable leashes, and it seems to me that if the dog decided to take off running, a hard plastic handle would be hard to hold onto against a sudden strong jerk like that.

4. Not bringing water
If it's a bright, sunny, and beautiful day, you want to be out walking your dog, right?  I know I do.  However, I also try to remember to bring a bottle of water and a collapsible dog dish for her (I got ours at the dollar store; it has Snoopy on it).  If you're too hot, your dog is definitely too hot, and dehydration is no joke for either one of you.  Sometimes on walks, I stop and have Elka lie down in the shade for a little break.  A black dog on a sunny day can get hot fast!

5. Not talking to your dog
I talk to my dog, a lot, and in complete sentences.  I feel that Elka knows more words and recognizes more phrases this way.  If I'm silent while we're walking, she's more likely to stop abruptly to sniff things on the sidewalk, and lunge at fire hydrants and branches piled out for the garbage man.  I know dogs "don't speak English", but Elka is reassured and encouraged by the sound of my voice.  If I'm talking to her, that means I'm guiding her, and her attention and behavior is better than it otherwise would be.

6. Using the wrong collar
I walk Elka using a flat buckle collar.  Since we began our clicker work, I do not use "collar corrections" (meaning, give the leash a short yank so that the dog straightens up and flies straight), and don't think I did them right in the first place, on the occasions I did try to use them.  I also, briefly, used a chain collar.  Elka had scared me on a walk by slipping out of a flat collar that I thought was fitted correctly, and while she didn't run away, she ran in a big happy circle around me that took her into the (thankfully empty) street and could have been very bad.  I had a choke chain on hand, for reasons that escape me, and she wore that for awhile.  I will briefly note that a "choke chain" is not, in fact, supposed to be used to choke the heck out of your dog, but rather give a brief and noisy correction when they are not doing what they are supposed to.  However, I didn't have it on quite correctly, Elka pulled on the leash anyway; she did not care if the collar was choking her, and it could have done serious damage to her throat.

7. Not bringing treats (or other rewards)
A dog who works for her pay is a happier and hardworking dog.  Elka and I used to take walks without treats, when she was considerably smaller, and that might contribute to why her leash walking is not what it could be today.  I did not bring treats, and I did not bring toys, and so she didn't see any reason to be motivated to walk with me and pay attention to me.  If I'd formed those habits early, I wouldn't be working to instill them now.  Once a behavior is conditioned, the treats can be faded (and I'm certainly not to that point yet), and really, having toys on a walk can just be a lot of fun!

8. Wearing the wrong shoes
I won't say I've never walked Elka in flip flops.  Is it better for my comfort and my feet to wear socks and sneakers, or sandals engineered more for walking?  Yes.  But throwing on flip flops and grabbing only a leash for those impulse walks is something I've done.  If you're only going to a nearby store, it's fine, I'm sure, but if you intend to walk your dog for an hour or more, do yourself and your feet a favor and pick better foot gear.  If your feet hurt, you'll feel tired sooner, and you'll feel pretty irritable, which is never good while working with your dog.

9. Being inconsistent
Do you have your dog sit when you stop at street corners, so that you can safely look both ways for traffic?  Or do you let your dog stand with you?  Or do you let your dog do whatever she wants sometimes, and others try to enforce a policy?  In most situations, you may want to do the same thing each time.  That way, your dog will be clear on what you want, and actually do it, as opposed to being confused and unsure of your cues.  Elka does not automatically sit at the corner each time just yet, but we're working on it.  If she doesn't "Sit" and "Wait" on her own, then that's what I tell her, before I look and before we cross.  I've waved plenty of drivers past while working on this.

10.  Not having fun
Unless you're training your dog for performance titles (and perhaps even if you are) walks should be fun!  You and your dog get out in the world, see all the houses and people in the neighborhood, and explore places that you might not otherwise.  Today, I had Elka "Wave" (really "Testify", but I said it quietly) to a little girl who was startled to see such a big dog, and the little girl laughed instead of crying.  Sometimes people stop at stop signs and roll down their windows to ask what kind of dog Elka is, or say how beautiful she is.  Sometimes there are dogs terminally yapping in their yards.  Sometimes joggers would rather run us off the sidewalk then move over two feet.  But it's the world, and it's all the experience, and dogs don't stay mad about things, so why should you?

(I'm trying to take this lesson myself, sometimes, you see)
(the leash was loose in the last picture; however, I raised both hands to use the camera)


  1. Oh my gosh. I need to print this out and tape it up around my neighborhood! These are fantastic tips that I really try to follow, too. This post made me laugh because there's a woman in my neighborhood who violates almost all of these: She walks her dog in sunglasses and flip flops, on a flexi-lead, and she's either talking on her cell or reading a novel! I think I need to slip a print-out of this into her mailbox! :)

  2. I can't imagine reading a novel while walking any dog, much less Elka! Either the book, the dog, or my leash arm would suffer!.

    Look at this as a Public Service Announcement ;)

  3. Hello I came over from pet blogs united. I just wanted to say that i like this list. Although I would like to comment that instead of a choke collar a no pull front clip harness work wonders for pulling dogs. This is safe to use and wont harm them unlike choke collars or even buckle collars. I feel that when i use my harnes my dog pulls less and when she does pull its eisier to control her and i dont get frustrated with her when she does pull. I tend to get upset when she pulls cause I know she knows how to walk on a leash but sometimes forgets how to do it. I also use a 2ft leash for keeping her close to me and its good for consistency considering i tend to readjust the 6ft leash to a shorter length
    But it is a great post and more people should do this when walking there dogs!

    1. Thanks for reading!

      In the time since I wrote this, I have started using a harness (EZYdog Chest Plate) while walking Elka as well. Not front clip, though I've seen a lot of people get good results with those. At this point, I get a bit frustrated as well when Elka still decides to pull, since we've established such a good routine of loose leash walking!

  4. Oh my gosh this sounds like me! I do use a flexi lead but only when we are in a place such as a dog show, where I am am airing my dogs so it gives them more room for looking for that perfect pee spot ;) I learned a long time ago (the hard way) they do not work well for walks!
    Great post!!