6 Ways to Stay Safe While Walking Your Dog
Your dog gets excited when she sees her leash, dancing around until it’s clipped on her collar and the door opens for her daily walk. It might even be the best part of her day.
The average dog owner spends 300 minutes per week walking their dogs. These walks provide dogs with more than just a chance to stretch their legs. Walks offer exercise, mental stimulation, and socialization.
Whether you walk the same loop around the neighborhood every afternoon or lace up your sneakers and let your dog sniff out new trails on the weekends, follow these six safety tips.
How to Walk Your Dog Safely
Walking your dog might seem like the simplest exercise: Grab the leash and head out the door. But, it’s important to follow a few best practices:
Start With Training
Your dog may not know how to walk on a leash. Puppies need to be taught to walk on a leash and some rescue dogs might not have much experience with the joys of a daily walk. Providing some leash training before walking your dog can help set them up for success once you’re on route.
Talk to Your Vet
Not all dogs are up for long walks. Ask your vet when it’s time to start walking your puppy, whether your senior dog can still keep up with the pack, or if there are health conditions that might make a regular walking routine risky for your pooch.
Once your dog learns good leash manners and has the green light from the vet, it’s time to start exploring.
6 Ways to Stay Safe While Walking your Dog
You may not think that walking your dog comes with risks, but there are a few safety tips to keep in mind before heading out the door. Here’s how to make sure both you and your dog stay safe.
Choose the Right Equipment
A leash and a collar might be standard dog walking gear but Ashley Foster, a certified dog trainer and member of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers board of directors, believes that it might not be enough to keep all dogs safe.
If you have an escape artist that can slip a leash, Foster suggests a double leash system that attaches to a collar and a harness. Dog harnesses may also be a better option for walking dogs that tend to pull because it reduces pressure on their throats. It’s also important to find the right fit.
“Check out various harness designs and options and you’re bound to find a product that fits your dog’s body and doesn’t influence her range of motion,” she says.
Dr. David Wohlstadter, senior emergency room clinician with BluePearl Veterinary Partners recommends a fixed length leash over a retractable leash, adding, “With retractable leads, your dog can get too far away from you; if something happens, you have no control.”
Your dog should also be wearing identification tags with your phone number in case she gets loose on a walk.
Consider the Weather
Dogs may need to go outside for potty breaks in rain, sleet, heat, snow, and dark of night, but that doesn’t mean all weather conditions are safe for longer walks.
In the winter, Wohlstadter warns that dogs could slip on the ice and sustain injuries. The chemicals used in ice melt could also cause burns, so it’s important to provide protection (like booties) and wipe down their paws with a warm cloth after a walk. In the summer, dogs can overheat and suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
“A Siberian Husky will be fine in most winter weather but dogs with shorter hair, like Pit Bulls and Boxers, will get cold much easier and could benefit from a dog jacket or sweater,” he says. “Older dogs, especially brachycephalic [short-nosed breeds like Pugs, Pekingese and Boston terriers], don’t do as well in the heat and shouldn’t go on walks when it’s too hot outside.”
Obey Leash Laws
Know the local leash laws and follow them. It helps keep your dog safe and ensures the safety of other dogs (and owners) that are out for their daily walks. If your dog is off-leash in an undesignated area and runs up to a fearful or reactive dog, it could lead to injuries.
“Not every dog is dog social; some dogs may be fearful, frustrated, or reactive to other dogs coming into their space,” Foster says. “Owners of these dogs…will walk their dogs in areas where there are leash laws to make sure that they set their dogs up for success.”
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
Exploring a new neighborhood, park or trail is a great way to spend time with your four-legged friend, but it’s important to ensure the route is dog-friendly. Are there sidewalks along the entire route? Are there parts of the trail with steep drop offs? Look for other dogs on the route, too.
“If another dog is giving signals—barking, growling, starting to lunge—cross the street or turn around,” Wohlstadter says. “Be aware of what’s on the ground around you. You don’t want [your dog] to grab a bone or start licking up antifreeze that’s been left out.”
Additionally, it’s not a good idea to be looking at your phone or texting while you’re walking. Pay attention to your pup, not your phone.
Pack Provisions and Water
Packing water and a collapsible bowl might not be necessary for a quick walk around the block but Foster recommends both if it’s hot outside or you’re heading out for a longer hike.
“Allowing your dog to drink from puddles, ponds or any other bodies of water can be risky for their health due to contaminants, possible parasites, and toxic algae blooms,” she says.
Watch Your Dog for Cues
Just as your dog jumps around when she sees her leash to let you know that she’s excited for her walk, she’ll also let you know if something is amiss when you’re out.
Wohlstadter suggests looking for telltale signs that something is off: Excessive panting and sluggish walking could be signs it’s too hot while shivering and picking up their feet (to avoid standing on icy pavement) could be signs it’s too cold.
“You know your dog best,” he says. “If they’re doing something ‘off,’ cut the walk short.”
What to Do if Your Dog Gets Hurt
Sometimes even the best safety precautions aren’t enough to prevent illnesses and injuries.
Purchase a small first aid kit that contains antibacterial wipes, self-adhesive vet tape, blood stop powder, and hydrogen peroxide spray to treat minor scrapes or cuts that occur on your walk. There are some kits that are small enough to clip to your dog’s leash.
It’s also a good idea to program the phone number for the ASPCA Poison Control Center and the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic into your phone. If your dog accidentally ingests something on your walk or sustains a more serious injury, the experts on the other end of the line can provide advice for how to proceed.
Taking a few precautions before your daily walk will ensure that you—and your dog—return safe and sound.