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7 Dog Walking Mistakes You Might Be Making

Dog walking with owner in the park
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Walking the dog … most pet parents do it every day without giving it a second thought, but there’s more to dog walking than simply clipping on a leash and heading out the door. In fact, without a little forethought, you might be making some common mistakes when you hit the pavement with your pooch. Everything from the equipment you choose to the route you take can impact the quality and enjoyment of your stroll. Read on to learn how you can avoid these common dog walking missteps. 

Why Dog Walking Is So Important

The most obvious reason many of us walk our dog is hygiene—we do it to give them a chance to go potty. But there are so many other reasons why walking is a great idea for the health and wellness of your best friend. Walking expends energy while giving your dog a chance to take in the sights and sounds of your neighborhood (both of which can also help to take the edge off activity levels). Plus, enjoying the great outdoors with your pup is a wonderful way to strengthen your bondif you do it the right way!

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Walking Your Dog

Owner walking with dog in a meadow

Some of these leash walking mistakes might come as a surprise because they’re subtle. The following are a few of the ways we might be falling short when it comes to walking our dogs:

Using the wrong type of leash

Believe it or not, this simple tool can have a major impact on the quality of the walk for both you and your dog. Leashes that are too short can take the fun out of walks for your dog because they don’t allow for sniffing, and leashes that are too long put your dog at risk for accidental confrontations or veering into traffic. And retractable leashes have a list of issues, from causing rope burn, to snapping under pressure, to encouraging pulling due to the constant pressure on the string. The best leash option for your dog is a 5- to 6-foot fixed length leash that’s thin enough to be comfortable for your dog but thick enough to keep them safe. 

Using old school tools for pulling

Dog walking wearing a no pull harness

Prong and choke collars might seem like quick fixes for dogs with a leash pulling habit, but the fact is they’re now considered outdated because we have more dog-friendly tools available to combat the tendency. No-pull harnesses that fit around your dog’s torso or legs address pulling in a gentle way that doesn’t rely on pain to train.

Requiring heel position

Heel used to be the go-to walk position but the reality is it’s an unnatural and unenjoyable way for your dog to navigate the great outdoors. Leash walks are your dog’s opportunity to sniff and connect with the world around them and forcing your dog to remain glued to your side prevents your pup from doing so. Heel is a competition obedience behavior that slipped into the real world and shouldn’t be a part of your casual neighborhood walks. As long as your dog keeps a gentle curve in the leash and walks without pulling, you’re good to go, no heel necessary!

Not allowing sniffing

Dog sniffing on a walk

While walks sometimes feel like a chore to you, they’re cherished recreation for your dog that gives them the chance to connect to their environment. While scanning the horizon is part of it, dogs need the chance to pause to really breathe in the scents around them. Hurrying your dog along deprives them of the opportunity to learn what’s happening in the neighborhood, from the other dogs that have already passed by to the creatures that scurry along at night. Plus, most dogs require time to sniff before they choose where to eliminate. Dogs need a solid pause of at least five seconds to get a read on a scent, and longer to really understand it. Depriving your dog of this wonderful and enriching experience can take the fun out of your daily walks.

Being on the phone

We get it—you’re busy. But disconnecting from your pooch to plug into your phone deprives both of you the chance to bond during your walk. Leash walks should be an adventure that you enjoy as a team, and that can’t happen if you’ve got your eyes glued to a screen. And not only that, being on your phone could be downright dangerous if your dog spots something chase-worthy while you’re not paying attention. Next thing you know you’ve got a cracked phone and a dog disappearing in the distance! Staying connected to your dog, not your phone, during walks will keep both of you safe and happy.

Not acknowledging check-ins

Dog next to owner on a walk checking in

This one is subtle but it’s so important to keep your bond strong. If you’re not paying attention to your dog (perhaps you’re on your phone?), you’ll be unable to experience those beautiful moments of connection when your best friend glances up at you as if to say, “Ain’t this is fun?” Telling your dog “good job” or better yet, offering a treat when it happens, will help your dog learn that checking in with you is a good thing, which in turn can decrease pulling and increase the strength of your bond. Choosing to look at you despite all of the intriguing distractions around you during a walk is a huge compliment, so make sure to let your dog know that you appreciate it!

Walking the same route

Your dog is probably happy to hit any street or trail, but walks become even more fun when you switch it up! Walking in a different place gives your dog a chance to experience new sights and scents, which is inherently enriching. It’s important to give your dog safe, novel experiences for mental exercise, but the good news is you don’t have to travel to the mountains to make it happen. Something as simple as walking a parallel street, or beginning your walk where you normally end, is enough to provide a new and exciting adventure.

Dog Walking Essentials

Owner walking in the park with their dog

Of course you need a leash, collar or harness, and waste bags when you go for a walk, but there are other important items to consider when you’re heading outside:

  • Treats: Whether you’re still refining your dog’s leash manners or you’ve got a slowed-down senior, you should still fill your pockets with some goodies to reward your dog for their polite walking. 
  • A collapsible water bowl: Going for a walk on a hot day? Don’t forget your dog’s travel bowl. With tons of sizes and shapes to choose from, you’re sure to find a bowl that’s light enough for you to carry and that your dog feels comfortable using. (Some even allow for shared sipping!)
  • Reflective materials or lights: If you’re walking at night, your dog needs a way to be seen. A leash with a reflective band in it or lights that attach to your pup’s collar can help to prevent accidents.

Identification: Even if your dog is chipped, it’s a safe bet to outfit your dog with an ID tag that contains your contact info. In many cases, it’s the quickest way for a runaway dog to find their way home to you.