One very common request I get as a dog trainer is "How can I make my dog walk better?" While I do not think we need to make our dogs do anything, there are tips to help you and your dog have a more enjoyable and beneficial walk. All of our staff at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care are taught these tips as well- they are generally easy to implement and go a long way in helping our clients enjoy their dog walking time more.
Tip #1: Know Your Dogs Exercise Needs
Many owners do not fully realize what their dogs exercise requirements are. We need to remember that every breed of dog was bred to do a job, and those jobs required our dogs to either be more active or less active. When humans began artificially selecting traits in dogs to breed for, we began to alter their genetic makeup. This is key to understand when determining the correct amount of exercise for your dog.
Dogs that were bred to work for hours in nature, like herding dogs, livestock guardians, and hunting dogs, may have a higher exercise requirement than dogs bred for companionship. We bred dogs to do jobs, and as we selected certain traits, their genetic makeup changed and is what it is today.
It is not only our dogs genetics that determine their level of exercise, we also need to consider things like their age, health, their natural propensity to want to exercise. I once had a basset hound, that when he was done, would lie down and not move Many basset hound parents are aware of the phenomenon when the hound lies down during a walk and you cannot get them to walk until they are ready- like this sweet puppy in this video (not our dog or our video, the video was off of YouTube).
Is your dog a puppy or a senior? These dogs may require less exercise than an adolescent or adult dog of the same breed. Does your dog have a medical condition or injury that will reduce their ability or desire to exercise? Is your dog having pain issues? These are all key when determining the appropriate amount of exercise.
Our first dog walking tip is to know the amount of exercise your dog needs. We recommend speaking with a trainer, breeder or vet (or a combination of these) to get basic guidelines, then cater these guidelines to what your individual dog needs.
Dog Walking Tip #2: Know What Type of Walk to Give Your Dog
There are several ways to walk your dog, and determining the type of walk your dog needs helps tremendously. Again, to do this, we need to consider what our dog was genetically bred to do to help us. For example, a dog that was bred to track game, like a Beagle or Fox Hound, will most likely want to follow their nose much more than a dog that was bred to run for hours like a Border Collie.N
No article on dog walking tips would be complete without discussing what kind of walk your dog needs. Our next tip is to know what TYPE of walk is best for your dog. Many pet owners are not aware of the benefits of the many different types of walks they can take their dogs on, but using some or all of these in a deliberate manner can help dog owners meet their dogs needs.
- Sniffari: these are walks where we allow the dog to sniff and move in the direction and pace they choose. While these are important for all dogs, some breeds are more prone to needing them than other breeds. Our hunting dogs like Golden Retrievers, Beagles, and hounds of all sorts, love sniffy walks! Allowing them to sniff helps these breeds satisfy a need to do what they were bred to do.
- Exercise walk: these are faster paced and more deliberate walks. What the average dog owner thinks of when they say "dog walk". In these walks, we move faster, change pace often and the purpose is to help dogs who were bred to move for long periods of time to get their energy out in a safe and satisfying way.
- Group Walks: these are growing in popularity for us. Some dogs are very social and were bred to be social. Group walks provide a safe environment for dogs to socialize and work together without the risk associated with unsupervised play. The group of dogs are able to walk together, follow scents, socialize and they learn how to be with other dogs on leash. Not every dog is social, and that is ok- not every dog needs group walks, but they are a great option for dogs that were bred to work in groups like hunting dogs, tracking dogs, etc.
- Enrichment walks: these walks are when we use a combination of sniffaris, exercise walks, and new environments to allow the dogs to explore, problem solve and think like a dog. We try to use the dogs genetics to help them satisfy their needs and teach them to use their brains in a way that many of todays dogs have forgotten how to do.
- Urban adventures: these can be done solo or in a group. Dogs are put on long lines and we go hiking for 1.5-2 hours. We allow the dogs the freedom to select the pace and direction of our walks. Some choose to move slower and sniff, some choose to move faster and explore. We allow them to climb, burrow, swim, problem solve, etc. The goal of these walks is to help urban dogs reconnect with nature and remember what they were bred to do.
Taking the time to offer your dog the type of dog walk they need will reduce frustration for you and your dog. If you have a sniffy-loo of a dog, put you try to take them for a quick run, both of you will feel frustrated by the experience. The same is true if you take a dog that needs to run and stretch its legs for a slow and leisurely sniffy walk.
Dog Walking Tip #3: Use Proper Equipment
Equipment is one of our top recommendations when we work with families or staff on dog walking tips. The correct harness, leash and other equipment can make all the difference! The equipment we recommend can vary, depending on the dog we are seeing, but our general rule of thumb is:
- Use a correctly fitted harness with the option of a front and back clip: If your dog is reactive and pulls hard, I recommend the Freedom Harness by Two Hounds Design. It has a martingale loop on the back and two clips. It also comes with a special leash that clips to the back and front at the same time, giving the owner much more control when walking a strong dog. I also highly recommend the Balance Harness by Blue9. This harness is highly adjustable and also has a front and back clip. The added bonus of the Balance Harness is that it is great for dogs that are sensitive to things going over their heads, as it can be opened and secured around the neck area like a collar.
- Use the correct leash: retractable leashes are not recommended, they can break, causing significant injuries. Plus there is some conjecture that retractable leashes encourage pulling (the only way the dog can get the extra leash length is to pull). We try to train the dogs we walk that when they feel the pressure of the harness, they need to stop pulling. Use a fixed length, flat leash. I see many rope style leashes now, but they are hard to hold if your dog pulls suddenly or hard. Want to let your dog roam farther from you and explore? Try a long lead! We use lengths from 10ft-100ft (our favorite is 30 or 50ft). Long leads can take some practice to manage them, but they are a great way to let your dog explore and wander a little farther off while still keeping them safe and under control.
- Bring treats-and use them: want to encourage your dog to walk with a loose leash and check in with you? the easiest way to do this is to reward them when they do! Bring treats with you, and when your dog checks in with you, walks next to you, or comes when you call them- give them a treat as a way to let them know you are happy. Dogs are practical and will do what they need to do to get what they want. Most dogs love food and will work for food. One trick though to keep in mind- when you are asking your dog to do something harder, the payout must be better (use a higher value treat). For example, my own dog is dog reactive but walks mostly with a flat collar and leash. If we encounter several dogs, he is given more treats and higher value treats to remain calm as we pass. Just as we want more compensation for harder work, so do our dogs.
- Know your dog and what other equipment you will need: does your dog need to carry a toy from time to time on the walk? Bring one with you! Will you be out for a long time in warmer weather? Bring a collapsable water bowl and water. Of course, don't forget the poop bags!
Tip #4: Know Your Environment
Our next dog walking tip is to know your environment, but knowing your environment is so much more than being able to find your way home (although this is key as well). Knowing your environment is about knowing the paths you can take, exit routes if needed, what hazards or opportunities lie ahead? These all come together to make your dog walk a really great experience or a not so great experience.
- Knowing your paths and exit routes: Walking dogs in any environment has its challenges, but walking dogs in urban environments presents special challenges. Dogs leaving buildings that are close to the sidewalks or blind corners, dog friendly patios and off leash dogs (that's for another day) can all present special challenges. It's important to know what is typically around the corner, up the block or across the street. If you have a reactive or nervous dog, how can you change direction or exit a situation when encountering another dog (or person). When hiking, where can you move off the trail if needed, are there ways for you to turn around, change course and exit if the situation requires it?
- What are the hazards and opportunities? What is an opportunity for one dog may be a hazard for another dog. For example, a dog friendly bar patio that spills onto the sidewalk and partially into the street is a hazard for my deaf, reactive dog. However, when I walk a golden retriever puppy who wants to greet everyone and everyday, it may be an opportunity for socialization. The same is true when hiking, some dogs thrive on rugged hiking trails, others will have medical conditions like back injuries, arthritis or joint pain exacerbated. Knowing your dog will help you determine what is a hazard or an opportunity.
- Be aware of other dogs and their owners: Not every dog is friendly- not every dog wants to greet other dogs. We can never know if a dog has a past trauma, a fear, if they are ill or if they are simply not dog/people social. When approaching other people or dogs, be sure your dog is under control and leashed. Ask the other person if your dog can say hi, don't assume it's ok. Be aware of the body language of other dogs and their owners.
Tip #5: Remember to Have Fun
The best dog walking tip I can give any owner is this- have fun! Walking with our dogs is meant to be fun for them and us. It is a chance to bond with your dog and to strengthen the relationship between you and them! While walks are a good time to train, they need to be fun as well. Our dogs learn through play and fun- they need to relax and decompress just like we do!
Take time to watch, really watch, your dog on a walk. It's so fascinating to see what they choose to do, how they move, how they create space when needed, how they think, problem solve, relax. It's always interesting for me to see how each dog benefits from their walks and how they choose to express their needs- physical, social, and emotional- when out on a walk with their owners.
Have fun with your dog, let them have fun with you! Happy Walking!!!