Misbehaving Dog Walks
Ways Humans Get It Wrong
by Karen Shaw Becker
One of the primary activities we do with canine family members is to take walks because they love them and benefit from them. But just as some dogs, for a variety of reasons, are difficult to walk, some people are less-than-ideal dog walkers.
When we’re teaching our canine BFFs how to behave at the end of a leash, most of us aren’t nearly as concerned with our own behavior during these outings. We assume we’re doing everything right, and it’s our furry sidekicks that need correcting. But believe it or not, we’re just as capable of bad behavior during walks as the other way around. Here are a few reasons why.
Not allowing sniff time. A dog’s most acute sense is that of smell. She explores and experiences the world through her nose. Smell is a dog’s “first sense”, much as sight is ours. Just as we depend on our eyes to inform us of the world around us, dogs depend on their noses.
If we can imagine how it would feel to take walks with our eyes half-closed, then we can empathize with how it feels to our dog to be prevented from stopping to sniff things. It’s unnatural, slightly intimidating and, ultimately, boring. Dogs need lots of outdoor sniffing opportunities to help them learn about the world around them and stimulate their minds.
For a change of pace, instead of a normal walk, try taking the dog on a “sniffari”, letting him take the lead. Allow him to sniff whatever he pleases and make all the navigational and investigational decisions.
Ignoring the dog. Unfortunately, there are pet parents that do everything but pay attention to their dogs during walks. The daily activity becomes so routine that they do it without giving much thought to the furry fellow at the other end of the leash. This is a bad habit primarily for the danger it can pose to the dog that is often busy looking for dead or possibly deadly things to pick up in his mouth or interesting places to lift his leg (like a car door).
There is also the potential on walks for unexpected things to happen, like an unfriendly dog appearing seemingly out of nowhere or a car swerving dangerously close. Staying focused on our dog and our immediate environment affords the opportunity to react quickly when necessary, keeping both owner and pet out of harm’s way.
If boredom prevents being fully present on a walk, change the scenery. Instead of heading outside in the same old direction, buckle the dog in and drive a few blocks away or to a neighborhood park or nearby hiking trail. Everyone will find new things to see, smell and experience.
Choosing the wrong type of collar, harness or leash. Many pet parents don’t realize the importance of choosing the right type of collar, harness and leash for their dog. Certain dogs should wear a harness and should never be leashed or even handled by the collar. These include dogs that pull or lunge while on a leash, those prone to tracheal collapse or a seizure disorder, and dogs with chiropractic issues involving the neck or back. Choke collars and other outdated training devices can cause pain and injury to a dog’s neck and in extreme cases, strangulation. They should be replaced with safer alternatives.
For walks, training sessions and whenever the dog will be on leash, use either a head collar or no-pull harness. Be wary of retractable leashes, which have the potential to injure both dogs and their owners. Flat leashes should be no longer than six feet.
Multitasking. This almost always involves a cell phone. If we have a phone to our ear while walking, we have only one hand available for our dog. And even if earbuds are being used and the phone is in a pocket, it’s impossible to be present for both the pet and the person on the other end of the line. The dog will inevitably be the loser in this deal. And if texting, searching the internet or even listening to a podcast or audiobook while walking, our attention is not on the dog.
One of the most important gifts that can be given to our dog whenever we interact with him, including on walks, is our undivided attention. Put down the phone and other distractions and let him know through our focus how much he means to us.
Veterinarian Karen Shaw Becker has spent her career empowering animal guardians to make knowledgeable decisions to extend the life and well-being of their animals. Visit DrKarenBecker.com.