My Walk Rules!
As a professional dog walker I see loads of people out walking their dogs on a regular basis. Now you might think that walking a dog is a pretty simple thing to do but you'd be surprised at how many people seem to get it horribly wrong. So here's some simple tips on how to make sure you and your dog get the most out of your walk without bothering anyone else.
Always take the lead...
My rule of thumb is if you see another dog on the lead then lead-up (especially if your dog is overly friendly and has questionable recall around other dogs). You have no idea why that dog is on a lead. It could just be that it has terrible recall but it could also be that the dog doesn't like other dogs or perhaps the dog has just had an operation and needs to have its exercise limited. No matter what the reason it's not cool to let your dog run up to unknown on-lead dog and romp about. Even if you're dog has excellent recall and walks dutifully by your side you should still always carry a lead. The unexpected can happen at any time and if it does you'll be glad you have it.
When walking in town, your dog should always be on lead. While you may have the most obedient dog in the world the law in the UK still states that a person who causes or permits a dog to be on a designated road without the dog being held on a lead is guilty of an offence (according to section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). Putting aside the legal requirement it's just good sense to. A car might backfire or a cat could run past causing your usually mindful dog to bolt across a street in front of traffic with devastating consequences.
Walk on by...
While it's nice to see our dogs interacting with others sometimes they can get over excited. By all means allow your dogs to have a sniff of each other if it is safe for them to do so but don't linger for too long. It's also useful to remember that some dogs simply don't like other dogs. The reasons for this are really not important, however, respecting their space is. If you see an owner of a dog pulled off to the side of a path with their dog on a lead it's probably because they are trying to avoid you and your dog so just walk on by. Please don't stop to chat especially if the other dog is lunging and barking - it's stressed and needs space. The owner is likely stressed too having felt the need to explain their dogs behaviour to dozens of people before you and is just praying that you'll keep walking.
Stop to smell the roses...
I knew a Lhasa Apso once that literally seemed to stop to smell every flower along its path...it drove his owners nuts as they just wanted to exercise their dog and didn't want him standing about sniffing all day. While, yes, our dogs certainly do need to be exercised physically it's as important that they are allowed to explore their environment. Humans, while using all their senses to do this, primarily using their eyes but for dogs the primary sense is smell. So be patient with your dog while they're sniffing, if it's where another dog has peed it's comparable to you checking a friend's facebook status or twitter feed. There's lots of information to be taken in and processed and this helps with the dogs mental stimulation.
Be all ears....
Taking your dog for a walk is an opportunity for you to engage with each other and have fun. It's also a great time to practice your training and your dog needs feedback when working on this. This isn't going to happen if you're wearing a set of headphones or are deep in conversation on your phone. It's also your job to look out for your dog and this means paying attention to your environment and you need your hearing, and not just your sight, to do this.
I recall driving towards a woman who was running with her dog along a road with no pavement. She was wearing headphones. I couldn't drive around her as a coach was approaching from the opposite direction so I had to stop. She couldn't understand why I hadn't gone round her and gesticulated at me as she ran around my vehicle and in front of the oncoming coach which screeched to a halt. It was a very near miss and the driver of the coach and I just looked at each other in disbelief as the runner carried on unaware of how she had put not only her own life at risk but that of her dogs. Had she been able to hear anything other than her music she would have heard the approaching vehicle behind her and realised why I had stopped.
Even if you aren't on road you really should be listening out. For instance if you can hear a lot of barking up ahead you can pop your dog on a lead or take a different path to avoid your dog becoming involved in whatever is going on up ahead.
Make time to take time...
So often a dog's walk is seen as nothing more than a toilet break. We're in such a rush to get on with things that we don't take the time to think about what a walk is to our dogs. It's not just an opportunity for our dogs to relieve themselves it's a chance for them to exercise their bodies and minds. Ideally a dog's walk should not be rushed so it's important that you schedule enough time for your dog to enjoy their walk. Your bad planning or poor time keeping is not the dogs fault and they shouldn't be made to suffer for it by being dragged around the block at breakneck speed. Don't inflict your stress on your dog - make time to take time.
Scoop the poop!
The great thing about engaging with your dog and watching them interact with their environment is that you actually notice when they're doing their business...so pick it up! We're not the only ones that enjoy the outdoors but some dog owners seem to want to spoil it for others by leaving their dogs poo behind. And once you've bagged it take it with you - don't leave it on the path or worse hanging from a tree!
Finally, enjoy your walk. If you enjoy it, there is a good chance your dog will too.