Walking your dog seems simple enough. It’s just you, your pup, and the great outdoors. But without the right equipment and approach, a much-anticipated walk can be disappointing.
Get some good gear
Search for “walking a dog” online and you’ll find pages of photos with people holding leashes attached to a collar around a dog’s throat, which is exactly what the experts we spoke to advise against.
There are simply too many reasons your furry best friend might pull on the leash, pressing the collar against their windpipe. That could choke them or, in a worst-case scenario where they leap off a bridge, leave them dangling by their neck.
A comfortable harness
You can avoid potentially strangling your dog by buying a dog harness. There are many to choose from, including models that can help keep an eager canine from pulling on the leash.
You can check out some harnesses, here.
Before you strap on a harness, though, it is recommended to take a few days to familiarize your dog with the equipment, as they may not be comfortable with it at first. That means creating positive associations by putting it on and taking it off multiple times in a row while giving them treats, and buckling them in during meals and playtime.
A leash that lets you maintain control
For most, if not all, of the time you’re walking your dog, your hand will be holding a leash. So get something comfortable. You want something you can really grip. For a medium-size dog, a ½- to ¾-inch-wide nylon leash will do the job. Try rope-style leashes for another option.
You can check out some leashes, here.
A waist leash is another option. They allow you to keep your hands free to work on training or simply enjoy time with your dog. Ultimately, it comes down to how well you know your dog and how well you’ve trained him.
Another note: Don’t get a retractable leash unless you’re going to spend a lot of time roaming parks, beaches, or hiking trails, where you can let your dog run relatively free.
See some retractable leashes, here.
On city streets, they can be more trouble than they’re worth. For one, you don’t really have control when you let the leash spool out, and while you’re supposed to be able to reel it back in, they sometimes malfunction.
Other useful options
A harness and leash are the bare minimum you need to walk a dog, but you should bring a bunch of bags along to pick up your pup’s poop, too. Don’t forget dog treats, either, especially if your dog is highly motivated by snacks.
And if you like to accessorize, consider a fanny pack. They can hold treats, your phone, your keys, and whatever else you normally would’ve shoved into your pockets or carried in your hands. Like this one here.
Plan when to walk your dog
Depending on your dog and the reason for walking, you should hit the street one to four times a day. That could include one long exercise trek, two shorter workouts, and/or bathroom time. You can head out in the morning or evening to avoid midday heat and traveling less-crowded paths to avoid overstimulating your pup. These numbers may vary depending on your pet’s age and energy level, as well as whether you have a fenced-in yard.
Keep things consistent
As soon as the leash is on, decide which side you will keep the dog on for the duration of the walk. Stop to reposition them if they wander astray while you’re moving. It’s also important that if multiple people are taking the dog out, they all maintain the same basic procedures.
Think about the route
In short, don’t walk your dog on hot surfaces. If you can’t touch the ground with your bare hand or step on it with bare feet, it’ll hurt your pet.
Beyond that, though, the preferred path depends on the dog. Some dogs will walk on anything because they had a lot of experience getting to know different environments. Others will take a long time to walk over bridges. If something is new, dogs sometimes respond with fear or hesitation. So if they’re not a fan of what’s around them, you’ll know.
Pick up your dog’s poop
That’s it. That’s the tip. Don’t let it decompose in nature or “fertilize” someone’s yard. Send it straight to the landfill. Use poop scoop like this one, or just poop bags like these. You can use a poop bag dispenser too. They are so practical. Like this funny one.
Keep your dog’s pee away from people
Generally, try to find a grassy area or curb for your dog to urinate on and stick to it. Ideally, you’ll want to train your dog to pee in one or a few spots and keep them away from hosing down anything people might touch or pick up, including trash cans.
Learn to handle distractions
If your dog has a high prey drive, anything that moves quickly will spark excitement. Having the correct dog products is one part of the solution, but training is the other. For example, a dog might react to people and other canines, so you have to teach him to heel to your right side. He will know that this means treats, pets, and praise, so he will respond to the command well.
You should also train your dog to look back at you every time they see a squirrel or something interesting, to essentially ask permission to investigate. Whenever your pooch does so, you’ll want to reward it.
If your dog isn’t well-trained yet, it’s important that you understand their triggers and how much they can handle stimulus-wise. Know what to look for and keep an eye on your surroundings so you can manage any potential problems before the situation escalates. Cities are full of distractions, so it's better to stand between two parked cars and do command training to get the dog to focus on you and ignore whatever’s whizzing by.
Don’t always follow the same route
Once you’ve established a solid walking regimen, it’s good to keep things interesting. Dogs will find something to sniff even if the path is familiar, but it adds that extra layer of excitement if you go somewhere new. If you’re still training your dog, however, stick to a route your pup is used to, which limits distractions.
Understand the risks of exercising with your dog
You may be a marathoner or an expert cyclist, but your dog may not be (we’ll bet they can’t even ride a bike). Just like humans have to work up to running or exercising, dogs do, too. You’re not going to be setting any personal records on your dog’s first run.
If you do exercise with your dog, pay attention to them and make sure you meet their needs first. That means running when it’s cool out, bringing a bottle of water to keep them hydrated, and taking frequent breaks. After all, a dog’s normal body temperature is a few degrees higher than a human’s, and they’ve got a full suit of hair. It's like having a fever, with a coat on, and running!
Riding a bike with a dog is more complicated because wheels move faster than legs (even four of them). Any ride you take will have to be fairly leisurely. There’s also the risk that your dog pulls the bike off balance. But before you even get on a bike, you’ll want to make sure your dog is used to being near them. A good way to familiarize them with the machine, is to walk them next to it. To avoid having to hold anything while riding, you can get a bike seat attachment that connects to your dog’s leash.
Be careful when going off-leash
Before you set your dog free, make sure you know the leash laws in your area. Many places require dogs to remain linked to their humans at all times. You’ll also want to have rock-solid commands that will make them come to your side immediately, stop what they’re doing, and drop animals and objects they’ve picked up.
Dog parks or fenced-in yards, are most ideal for off-leash sessions. That goes for well-trained dogs, too, because once you take the leash off, a lot of factors will be beyond your control. Even wide open areas like beaches and parks are risky because your dog may encounter an unexpected trigger or unseen danger. In such situations, it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of your pet and a learned list of commands.
Cool down after the walk
Once you get back home, you can flop down and relax or try to squeeze a little more productivity out of your pooch. When a dog is calm and tired post-walk, you can take advantage of that time to work on essentials that are tough when a dog is amped up, like crate training.
Not every walk is going to be perfect, but if you have a plan and know what you and your dog want to get out of it before you go, each one will be better than the last.