Walking is a great way to get some exercise, disconnect from the digital world and meet other walkers – plus it’s essential for your pet’s wellbeing.
It’s vital both you and your pet are safe on walks though. While walking might not seem like a dangerous activity – and it usually isn’t – here are seven tips for making sure each walk is safe and enjoyable.
1. Buy a Strong Harness and Leash
If you have a strong dog, or your pet is often reactive, it’s vital to buy high-quality equipment. A harness and leash with durable attachments are the only thing stopping your dog breaking free and running into danger.
I also recommend a harness instead of a collar – especially if your dog is a puller. Attaching a leash to a collar can place immense force on the dog’s neck and trachea, which can cause serious damage.
All harnesses reduce pressure on the neck, but there are several types to choose from depending on your requirements. If your dog occasionally pulls, a front-attachment harness is probably the best choice. For strong pullers, a head halter can provide greater control without causing pain.
2. Make Sure Your Pup Stays Hydrated
Thick fur coats and athletic exertion mean dogs need plenty of hydration on a walk. Many people underestimate how much water a dog needs when exercising, which is why dehydration is a common (and potentially deadly) problem.
For this reason, always bring a water bottle and portable bowl – even if you’re only planning on a short walk. You should also watch for symptoms of dehydration, such as sunken eyes, weakness, dry gums and excessive panting.
How often should you give water though?
This depends on the length of walk, temperature and your dog’s level of activity – but it’s always best to offer too much rather than too little. On a hot day, you may need to offer water every 15-20 minutes. Dogs won’t always drink when water is offered, but it’s important they have the chance.
3. Avoid Retractable Leashes with Reactive Dogs
There are plenty of advantages to retractable leashes, so it’s easy to see why many people use them. They provide more freedom for your pet, while maintaining control on a walk even if your pet doesn’t have perfect recall.
Retractable leashes aren’t the right choice for every dog though. If your dog is reactive, the extendable cord could allow him to build up momentum before coming to the end of the line. I’ve seen dog owners violently pulled over by their pet in this situation – and have even heard of dislocated shoulders and other serious injuries.
If you decide to get a retractable leash, make sure it has a band design rather than a string. People have lost fingers when the cable is wrapped around an extremity and the dog suddenly pulls.
4. Teach Basic Obedience Commands
Most walks pass without incident, but occasionally you’ll need an instant response from your pet to keep him safe. This is why it’s essential to teach commands such as wait, heel and sit. A strong recall is also vital for safe walking if your dog spends time off-leash.
It’s important to remember that teaching a command at home doesn’t mean your dog will obey on a walk though. Many people do a great job of training commands at home, but are surprised when their dog doesn’t respond when there are distractions.
To prevent this issue, you need to “proof” commands in a variety of environments. Once a dog knows a command with no distractions, gradually teach him in more difficult situations. It’s only when a dog responds correctly to a command in all environments – including when other dogs and distractions are nearby – that it can be trusted.
5. Wear Reflective Clothing and Bring a Flashlight
It’s often difficult for drivers to see walkers and dogs in low-light conditions. So, if you’re going to walk at dusk, make sure both you and your pet are wearing reflective gear.
Sometimes you may need to walk your dog in the dark – especially in the winter. In this case, bring a torch along with reflective clothing. You may also want to purchase flashing collars or lights for your dog.
6. Remember Your Dog’s Athletic Ability and Fitness
Not all dog breeds are built for long walks, so it’s important to match the length and exertion level to your dog’s capabilities. Over-exercising a dog can have a variety of health consequences, including a higher risk of injury and heat stroke.
A good example of breeds that can’t handle long walks are those with brachycephalic noses. Pugs, for example, often only need two 15-minute walks per day. Other breeds are much more athletic and need longer walks with higher intensity.
You should also be aware of your dog’s fitness levels. Just like humans, dogs need a gradual increase in exercise level to avoid injury. If your pet is out-of-shape, start slowly and build up the length and intensity over time.
7. Always Wear Up-To-Date Identification
It sounds obvious, but it’s vital for your pet to have an up-to-date identification tag. It’s easy to forget to change the tab when you move to a new house or go on vacation with your pet, but these are the times when a dog is most likely to get lost.
Similarly, make sure your dog’s microchip data is updated whenever your information changes. There are many dogs in shelters who have out-of-date microchips, which means their owners can’t be located.
Walking your dog is one of the great joys of adopting a canine friend – but it’s vital that both of you stay safe. A little planning can make the difference between a safe walk and potential danger, so don’t overlook the tips in this article.
Richard Cross is a Chief Editor of TheDogClinic.com