If you’ve never taken a dog out for a walk by yourself before, the first time can be daunting. Maybe you’re dog-sitting for a friend, or maybe you’re interested in dog-walking as a means of income. If you’re lucky, maybe you even have a brand new canine buddy of your own! Whatever the reason, it’s important to know a few basics before leashing up for your first outing.
Why Do We Walk Dogs?
Outside time is important for dogs for more reasons than for them to simply relieve themselves. Going on walks gives a dog a chance to exercise, provides mental stimulation, and encourages bonding between you and your pup! That’s why it’s important for dogs to go for at least one substantial walk per day.
Before you embark on an outing with your furry friend, it’s important to consider a few things in order to set yourself up for success.
Check the collar/harness
Check the fit of your dog’s collar or harness before leaving home. Make any necessary adjustments. You want the collar or harness to be tight and secure but not TOO tight. A good rule of thumb is being able to slip two fingers underneath! If you can fit more than two fingers, it might be too loose. But if you can’t quite fit two fingers, it might be too tight!
Choosing a leash
Go for a traditional leash over a retractable one! Retractable leashes are often too long which isn’t ideal for maintaining control over your dog. Just think- if you’re near a busy road or pedestrian area, you’re going to want something that’s easy to grab and reel in. Also, the retraction mechanisms of retractable leashes have also been known to disengage when pulled hard enough, and those tiny, thin leash lines can potentially cause injury to both humans and dogs (think rope burn. Ouch!).
What to bring
Make sure you bring poop bags along and anything else you might need. Treats are always good to have on hand, particularly for puppies, dogs in training, or dogs with behavioral struggles. It’s also always a good idea to bring water and a bowl or other container for your pup if it’s a long walk on a hot day.
Pro tip! No poop bags? Just take along a couple of plastic grocery bags or produce bags!
Remember Doggie ID
Make sure your buddy is wearing identification. Unpredictable things can happen to even the most experienced dog-walkers. In the event that something goes awry on your walk, you’ll want to be sure your buddy has some ID in case they get loose! It’s never a bad idea for a pup to wear a little name tag with a phone number.
Check the weather
Check the weather conditions before you leave. Your doggo might require a coat or booties if it’s cold or wet. If it’s hot and sunny out, their paws could burn on the pavement or they could tire out/overheat quickly. Bring water!
Dogs and Heat
On hot days when the pavement is too hot, try to stick to earlier morning and later evening walks! These times in the day tend to be cooler. If you can’t avoid being out when it’s especially hot out, plan to take a route with shade, grass, or forested areas.
“How do I know if the pavement is too hot,” you ask? Simple. If it’s too hot for your own foot or hand when pressed to the pavement, it’s too hot for a little buddy’s feet!
Know that all dogs have different tolerances for heat. Some may tire out more quickly than usual and might simply sit down on the sidewalk if they’re too hot. Give them some water and time to recuperate, and try again.
Now that you’re prepped and primed, you’re ready to head out the door!
During Your Walk
So you’ve made it outside, and now you and your pup are on the move. Here are a few helpful things to keep in mind during your walk!
Reward good behavior with a slackened leash. A taut leash signifies to the dog that they’re doing something wrong!
“Wrist-wrapping” is a great way to stay in control on a walk. This means simply putting your hand through the loop at the end of the leash and then wrapping the top foot or so of length around your palm. If you have enough length left, it’s also not a bad idea to keep your other hand on the leash partway down, especially if you have a strong buddy! Some dogs are “pullier” or more excitable than others. Wrist wrapping your leash provides an extra level of security if your buddy were to lunge forward or tug suddenly.
It’s important while on your walk to keep potty etiquette in mind.
There’s nothing worse than a person leaving their dog’s #2 behind for an unfortunate unsuspecting pedestrian to step in!
Using proper poop bag technique makes picking up #2s simple and painless. Simply open your baggie, put your hand inside, creating a protective “glove” over your hand, pick up the poop with your protected hand, and then carefully reverse the bag and tie it off!
It’s also important to keep a pup’s #1s in mind… Steer your dog away from peeing on things like the front steps of buildings, the middle of the sidewalk, gardens, flower beds, planters, other dogs, and in general the personal property of others.
Marking vs Peeing
A good thing to be aware of when walking a dog for the first time is the difference between marking and peeing. “Marking” is different from peeing in that it’s done for the purpose of marking territory instead of simply relieving the bladder. Some dogs mark more than others. Your dog might even do quite a bit of marking when they’re outside!
Knowing the difference can be tough, but sometimes the stance a dog takes is different when peeing versus marking, and marking is usually done directly onto something (think fire hydrant!) as opposed to into the ground. If you ever suspect the amount of stops your dog is making on a walk is related to peeing as opposed to marking, contact your veterinarian right away- this could be indicative of urinary issues.
Better safe than sorry!
When in doubt, air on the safe side. There are several common dog-walking scenarios where a little cautiousness can go a long way in preventing headaches later.
Secure Your Gear
Make sure your harness/collar and leash are on correctly and securely before you head out. A loose dog is dangerous, and having secure gear ensures that you are in control of the situation!
Give Others Space
Generally, do your best to give other dogs and people space.
Ask other dog-walkers if it’s ok for your dog to approach their dog. “Is it okay to say hi?” is a good question to ask. While it may not always look like it at first, some dogs may be aggressive towards other dogs or people, or maybe they’ll simply get too excited and make a scene. If another dog-walker seems hesitant, just let them be.
If you’re not sure how your dog is going to react to a well-meaning, friendly stranger approaching them for a pat, speak up! It’s never rude to air on the safe side.
Do your best to keep your dog in close, particularly in more crowded areas. Keep in mind that not everyone is excited about dogs or will want to interact with your dog! Some pups can be adorably curious, and you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you look over only to realize your friendly four-legged friend has their snout fully buried in a mortified stranger’s stroller.
Scan The Ground
Make a habit of scanning the ground ahead of your buddy for chicken bones and other trash. Some dogs are more prone than others to grabbing and eating things off the ground, and things like chicken bones, sticks, and chocolate can be dangerous for a dog to ingest.
Now you’re ready to get started!
If you’ve never walked a dog before, don’t worry- it’s normal to feel a little nervous the first time! But, preparing well by choosing the right gear and knowing the basics will go a long way in easing your mind. Before long, you’ll be walking dogs like a pro! Now have fun out there, you two!