If you aren’t doing it already, you should probably be walking your dog. There are benefits for dogs who go on walks beyond just physical exercise. Besides, walks with your canine companions can be lots of fun for you as well as your pup.
Once you’ve committed to taking a jaunt down the street, you will want to make sure you have equipment that is appropriate for the endeavor. From a modern, science-based training perspective, that means you will want to avoid equipment that causes physical or emotional harm.
Your dog should be wearing her or his dog tags. I generally recommend not just rabies tags, but also a name tag with contact information. If your dog gets away from you for some reason and keeps running, you want whoever find her or him to know how to contact you. Safety is paramount.
My favorite collar for adult dogs is a martingale collar. I say “for adult dogs” because they are a tad more expensive than normal flat collars, and puppies are going to grow out of them. Just get a flat collar for a puppy, and when she or he is fully grown, graduate to a martingale.
The genius of the martingale is the way it is designed. When the small loop is pulled, it closes the bigger loop, but only so far. This means that the collar closes enough to prevent the dog from slipping it, but it doesn’t close so tight that it restricts air. When putting this on your dog, make sure to fit it properly. You should be able to get a finger or two under the collar when it is at its tightest.
If you are not going to use a martingale, then simply use a flat collar. Do not use choke chains or prong collars.
I do not recommend retractable leashes, since they constantly offer a sense of tension, which encourages pulling. Even more problematic is that larger dogs can break them. Instead, pick a standard leash that clips to a collar or harness.
If you are going somewhere that your dog can roam a bit more freely, then consider a cotton training lead. These are longer (from 15’ to 50’) and the light weight lead can be drug on the ground by the dog. If you do this, try to keep the lead close to the distance between you and the dog, letting it out as the dog goes farther away, and reeling it in as she or he comes closer. This way, of something causes your dog to want to take off, you still have leash control. Training leads can be looped over one shoulder and across the body (like a side pack, see how I’m wearing it in the picture) or wrapped around the waist to help free up your hands. Some leashes are specifically designed to be worn around the waist.
There are three basic harness options. The first is the back-clip harness. This is best for dogs who do not pull. Whenever a dog reaches the end of the leash, the dog will experience you “pulling” back. This causes a natural reaction on the part of the dog to pull away from that which is pulling (think about a good game of tug). If a dog is a strong puller, then a back-clip harness will give the dog more leverage with which to pull, and thus actually encourage more pulling.
So, if your dog has not yet been trained to not pull on a leash, then you probably want a front-clip harness (like Ruffwear Adventure or the Easy Walk harnesses). This harness will take away the leverage that the dog has for pulling. By replacing the linear energy with rotational energy, if a dog starts pulling then the dog starts to rotate around the clip, which starts to turn the dog toward you. You will want to make sure to train your dog not to pull, since continually pulling on front-clip harnesses can lead to extra pressure on the shoulder area. This is not a solution for pulling. This is a helpful tool in place while you train your dog to walk on a loose leash. Your goal will be to get your dog out of the front-clip harness and into a back-clip harness or just a collar.
I used to accept these in cases of extreme and strong pullers. I have moved away from that position. They are aversive enough that it is extremely difficult to condition a dog to wear one comfortably. I recognize that other science-based trainers will use them in more extreme situations. However, I have yet to come across a situation for which a front-clip harness wasn’t enough.
Reflective and/or Illuminating Gear
There’s always the chance that your dog might get away from you. If that happens at night, then you have added difficulties. Therefore, you might want to consider some sort of visual marker for night-time walks. If you pick up something like an LED collar, then you can drop it on your dog before you go out, and take it off upon your return. You can also use reflective tape on a regular collar, or some sort of reflective vest.
GPS Pet Tracker System
If you are like me and want to go that extra mile to make sure you know where your dog is at all times, consider a GPS pet tracker system. I use Whistle. The unit costs around $60, and there is a monthly subscription (about $10) per dog. It comes with a health monitoring system, but I personally only care about the GPS locator. I have had minimal problems with Whistle, but I understand others have had significant ones.
The Whistle Tracker is not without it problems. As you know, once a dog is on the loose, they don’t hold still for very long. I can take up to 10 minutes for the unit to register that the dog is “out of the zone”, and then it can be about three minutes per update. Obviously, this is not going to be incredibly accurate, but at least you know where to look in general. In their closed, online community, I have seen several people complain that their trackers were saying that their dogs were down the street, when the dog was actually in be with them. I’ve never had that problem, and I don’t know what lead to it. Overall, though, I don’t think the technological options are top-notch in the area of pet tracking. But, I find it functional enough to spend money on it.
There are other trackers out there besides the Whistle. If you are interested in buying one, I recommend that you read the reviews on Amazon. I’ve considered trying something new, but then after looking to see what others have experienced, I have opted not to buy. Do your research.
When you are out walking your dog, you are (probably) wearing shoes. That means that you are protected from things that can cause your feet discomfort, so it’s easy to forget the needs of your canine walking companion. Please make sure that you are paying enough attention to accommodate potentially uncomfortable situations for your pet. If it’s really hot out, make sure to allow and even encourage your dog to walk on the grass rather than the hot sidewalk.
If it is icy out, you will want to protect your dog’s paws. First, watch for sidewalk salt. There is a petsafe salt made by Morton Salt that people can use, but most people don’t, presumably due to expense. The regular salt can get caught in your pup’s pads and burn. Second, keep in mind the temperature. Dogs can get frostbite, too.
To prevent all of this, you could pick up some cold-weather boots for your dogs. Personally, however, I recommend Musher’s Secret. It’s a wax boot that you smear on your dog’s pads and feet to protect them. If you are out on trail in warmer weather, I understand that it can help protect paws against rocks and other such things as well.
If you are on a major budget and feeling really adventurous, you might want to consider making your own wax protection for your dog.
If you ever walk down the street and see someone walking a dog with a muzzle, I hope you think, “that person is being responsible” rather than “scary dog”. I would assume that the dog is wearing a muzzle for good reason. And, sure, the moment you see the muzzle, you will probably want to give the dog plenty of breathing room. This is a good thing. Consider the alternative for the walk: no muzzle. Consider how things could go awry quickly if someone started the “Hi, can I pet your dog?” conversation, especially if it were one of those people who don’t take “no” for an answer (and, yeah, that seems to be most people).
I’m extremely picky about the muzzles I recommend. In fact, I only recommend one: the Baskerville basket muzzle. While it offers protection, it still allows the dog to pant, drink, and take treats. Again, this is a tool you will want to condition your dog to enjoy. Here’s a creative way of doing that.
I always recommend age-appropriate shots, Heartguard, and flea and tick protection (I use Frontline). If your dog is going to be outside (and this article is about walking, which normally happens outside, and should happen often), you are not always going to be able to see the danger around you. I know people who only use flea and tick medication for the warmer months. I prefer to use it all year, just in case it is needed. I like the “better safe than sorry” approach.
While your dog is on a leash, others might be off leash. That means you might end up with some not-so-nice canine visitors. In order to prevent a potential dog fight, you have a couple strategies at your disposal.
My preferred one is to take hot dog pieces (which we already have in a baggie for treats) and toss a handful at the oncoming dog. Yes, I’ve done this. The dog went from growl to excited scavenging immediately, and started rooting around in the grass to pick them all up. While she or he is rooting around in the grass, quietly and calmly walk away in a different direction.
Another option is SprayShield citronella spray. This is obviously aversive, so it should only be used for aggressive dogs.
I Can Help
If you are looking for a modern, science-based trainer who does not use intimidation, fear, pain, or violence to motivate a dog, I would be glad to work with you. If you live in the Beloit, WI area, I can come to your house. If not, we can work over Skype.