How to Walk a Dog

As every dog owner knows, the one responsibility that almost always come with his/her furry friend is the need to walk it. In rain, sleet, and even blizzards you will probably see a few dedicated souls taking their dogs out for a stroll. While it may look easy to the uninitiated, walking Rover is a complicated process of give-and-take, a struggle for dominance between the walker and the walkee. Do it right and your pet will love you forever. Screw up, and the daily walk will become your daily dose of Hell.

Preparations: What to do Before you Step Out your Door

Think you're ready to take the pooch out the front door and into that great big world? Well, hold on a minute. There are some things that you should do to prepare yourself first:

  1. Most importantly of all, MAKE SURE YOUR DOG HAS IDENTIFICATION ON ITS COLLAR. Attach dog tags stating the your name and your home phone number to the collar. (As Die Trying pointed out to me, some people will use a dog's name on its tags to steal the dog. Putting your name on them removes that potential hazard.) Also include the rabies vaccination tag that you received from your vet. In the event that your dog does get away during a walk, its dog tags will be your only hope of ever finding him/her ever again.
  2. Make sure to choose a good collar for your dog. For small breeds it isn't as important, but medium and large breed dogs can easily break through a weak collar. For larger dogs, I would recommend buying a choke chain and for enormous dogs such as German Shepherds, a prong collar. Though these devices sound like instruments of torture, when used properly, they are not harmful to the dog. Choke chains are lightweight and avoid the fur matting that occurs with larger collars. Prong collars are similar to choke chains but with metal prongs attached. (Though this sounds barbaric, I can assure you that it's completely humane. A large breed dog such as a husky has such thick fur that an ordinary choke isn't even felt by it. The prongs simply cause the chain to be noticed by the dog and don't dig into its skin.) To use either or these methods of control, simply flick your wrist while holding onto the dog's leash. This should cause the chain to constrict for a fraction of a second, causing the dog to pause in its behavior and take notice of you.
  3. This brings us to the final important consideration: the leash. While the novice may think that any leash will do, the sad fact is that most leashes are inadequate for use with a larger dog. Smaller dogs such as shiatsus can be walked with almost any leash. Again, they're too small to break loose. However, for a larger dog, the type of leash must be carefully taken into account. For these so-called "horse-sized" dogs, you should select a leash that is thick and won't easily break or snap when pulled on (believe me, it can happen). The adjustable leashes (the ones whose length can be adjusted by pressing a button on the owner's end) should be scorned for use with any dog. In a large dog, the thin cords connecting the handheld portion to the collar can easily snap under pressure. Such leashes also bring with them a corresponding loss of control by the walker; it becomes much more difficult to reign a dog in or bring it to heel.

Choosing The Length of a Walk

Before you and your new best friend depart on your adventure, it's important to have a game plan. You should have a general idea of how far you want to walk the pooch. A general rule of thumb: the larger the dog, the longer the walk should be. A 90 lb. dog needs a lot more exercise per day than a 10 lb. one does. In addition, puppies and older dogs should be walked less than their middle-aged cousins. The temperature is also an important factor in determining a walk's length. If it's freezing cold outside, you might want to shorten the walk for your sake and avoid freezing. (Thick-furred dogs will love the cold and consequently attempt to lengthen the walk. Attempt to resist, and bring a coat.) On an extremely hot day, a walk may not even be advisable. Remember, dogs can't sweat off excess heat and suffer heat exhaustion much more easily than their owners do. Finally, the weather must be taken into account. If you attempt to walk your dog in a monsoon, neither you nor the dog will be particularly happy. However, a light rain should not forestall a walk; bring an umbrella. Snow is another issue. Most larger dogs love snow and will stay outside as long as possible; your need for warmth might be the deciding factor in the walk's length in this case. Small dogs, such as Chihuahuas, probably won't be able to walk in a good-sized amount of snow and may have to stay indoors.

The Ultimate Test

Now that you've bought a collar, chosen a leash, and mapped out your route, it's time to put everything you learned to the ultimate test. While walking, be sure to remember several key things:

  1. The most important thing that you can do (and also one of the most difficult) is to project an image of confidence to your dog. He/she will probably be sizing you up and seeing how far he/she can push the envelope with you. Be sure to set up strict rules for the dog to follow; if he/she lapses, don't be afraid to reprimand. While you should avoid becoming a tyrant, it's important that you let your dog know who's boss.
  2. As a matter of courtesy, be careful where your dog defecates and urinates. Don't let him/her have a bowel movement on someone else's lawn and ALWAYS CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG. Not only is it most likely illegal to leave dog waste lying on the sidewalk, it also poses a health hazard, attracts flies, and looks disgusting. Urine is another matter. Most people don't mind if a dog pees on a tree near the sidewalk. Use common sense to judge whether or not it's appropriate to allow your dog to answer its call of nature.
  3. When meeting other people on the street with your dog, remember to look at your dog through their eyes. If your dog is big and ferocious-looking (like mine), chances are that these features will be what most strangers react to, not the smile on its face (yes, dogs can smile) or its wonderful temperament. Don't be put off if people even go so far as to scream and run away from you (it's happened to me). When your dog meets a little kid, exercise common sense. If your dog is small, be careful that the kid doesn't terrorize it by poking it, pulling on its tail, etc. If your dog is larger, than be careful that it doesn't jump and knock the kid down because of its excitement (dogs jump when they get excited).
  4. Probably the most stressful part of the walking experience is when your dog meets another dog. Several questions should immediately flash through your mind:
    • Is your dog aggressive? If he/she is, steer your dog away immediately; you don't want a fight on your hands.
    • Is the other dog aggressive? Same rules apply as above.
    • Is there a large size difference between the two dogs? You don't want your dachshund to be squished by a pit bull or vice versa.
    If you can answer "no" to all of the above questions, than it's probably safe for the two dogs to meet. When this does happen, be sure to keep both dogs calm. While it's okay for the two to sniff each other and bark, running and jumping should be discouraged; it's much too easy for the leashes to get tangled up.
  5. Lastly, in the midst of all these rules and pointers, it's also important to remember one final thing: relax and have fun. Walking the dog should be a pleasure, providing the two of you with a time to bond. You have the chance to take a break from your busy schedule and listen to music, think, or just mindlessly amble along. The dog has the chance to get out in the fresh air and sniff every fire hydrant to its heart's content! Enjoy!