LEASH WALKING AND SAFETY
As a young girl, I always dreamed of what life with my first dog would be like. I had visions of early morning jogs with my pooch trotting loyally by my side, going to the park together and watching as he leapt in the air for Frisbees or butterflies. I’ll admit, I knew NOTHING about dogs, but thanks to dog parks and experienced trainers, we can really have those treasured moments with our pup pals.
Some people are fortunate in that they have a large fenced yard or lots of country property and room for their dogs to run safely. For the rest of us, it is important that we provide other means of exercise, socialization and stimulation. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of letting our dogs run free, especially when watching agility or herding trials or seeing working dogs on a farm. While it’s true that many or most dogs excel at obedience with consistent and proper training, you must consider your unique situation, environment, and dog’s skill level and personality before letting him/her loose. If you are unsure as to whether or not your dog can handle the temptations that accompany freedom, leash walking is an excellent alternative source for the mental and physical exercise they need. There are countless benefits to these special outings, for both you AND your pooch!
- Good health. Walking is a great way to stay fit, no matter what species you are. People of all shapes and sizes can enjoy this cardiovascular exercise at their own pace. Walking requires no special equipment and experts say that just three 30 minute sessions a week can make a great difference in your own mental and physical health. Having your dog with you can make the walk more interesting and enjoyable, as well as provide security knowing that you’ve got at least some sense of protection. Be prepared to bring “doggy bags” to clean up his messes and some water for your pooch and yourself if it is a hot day or you are planning on being out for a while. Take your dog’s health in consideration and try a couple short walks a day for overweight or elderly dogs until they are in a condition to go a little longer without discomfort. Pay attention to where Fido walks; asphalt can be hot and abrasive, and glass or small rocks may cut his pads.
- Better training. Taking a walk with your dog on a leash provides quality time and reinforces the relationship that you have as his leader. The more you take your dog out on a leash, the more he is taught to look to you for direction and follow your commands. Leash walks are a perfect time to work on basic manners such as “heel,” “sit,” “down,” etc. Try working on basic leash manners in your own yard before starting out on the streets as some of these commands can be extremely helpful in situations where you may come across pedestrians, cyclists, other dogs, or automobiles. It is important that your dog isn’t chasing after cars and dragging you into the street. A well-behaved dog assures his own and everyone else’s safety.
- Never a dull moment. There may be fun things to chase or watch in your own back yard but there’s a big, beautiful world out there full of sights and scents that your dog has never experienced before. Sniffing is natural and fun for him, just be careful that he doesn’t ingest any “goodies” while on the walk! Your dog will be much more prepared for unexpected situations if he gets a chance to explore often. Most dogs receive much needed socialization by meeting other pedestrians and dogs on these outings. Walking through fields or in the woods can be a great outdoors experience for both of you, appealing to your dog’s nature as a an animal. Make sure that your dog is on a flea/tick/heartworm preventative, depending on the season/area. Always check your dog for ticks or other parasites when you return and keep him up to date on his immunizations. Ask your vet what vaccines and tests he recommends for your particular situation.
There are many different options in both leads and collars that you can choose from for your walks. Before purchasing, examine your dog’s behavior, strength, and size and make sure you buy accordingly. With leads, take time to check out the clip at the end of the chain. Could the dog open it himself? Is it possible that the leash or clasp will break under much stress? Is the handle comfortable enough for you? Make sure you choose a length that is easy for you to handle and will keep the dog in control, especially in areas with traffic or other dangers.
The most common leads are the everyday web nylon kind, four or six feet in length and come in single or double thickness and different widths. Similarly, there are chain leads, which come in various sizes and strengths. These work for most every dog and every situation, but will it be comfortable if you must wrap it around your hand? For strong pullers, there are braided leads that will hold just about any dog. Retractable leads are also an option, though I strongly recommend using them only in your yard or an area where the dog will have room to safely run. Never use a retractable lead with a slip collar (“choker”) or a dog being trained not to pull, as the constant tension may be confusing or restricting. I never recommend walking a dog with one of these leads in an area with traffic. It is too difficult to control a dog that is 15 feet away, don’t risk it! Imagine if your dog darted after another dog or animal, or in front of a car; you can only pull back an arm’s reach of leash at a time. Also buy only retractable leads that are rated for your dog’s weight. A strong dog could snap the cord or spring mechanism in the leash handle.
Consider your dog’s collar a training tool, and very important. You should always keep some sort of ID on your dog in the event that it would get loose. Flat buckle collars are perfect for this, as they won’t constrict around your dog’s neck. For training you may also consider slip collars- made of chain, nylon, or leather- or a prong collar. There are now combination slip/flat collars called martingales, which do not tighten the whole way but give you some control over the dog. These are great for dogs like greyhounds that tend to slip from other collars with ease. With some dogs, especially smaller ones who pull, you could try a harness to avoid injury to the neck. They now make halters or head-collars that slide over the snout like a horse’s halter to redirect the dog’s head when it pulls. Please consult a trainer before using any of the non-traditional collars as they can be dangerous if used improperly. Never leave any sort of training collar, especially those worn on the head or that tighten, on your dog when not in use. Dogs have been strangled when a chain slip lead gets caught on furniture, a crate, or other items in the house. When crating your dog, it is safest to remove ALL collars to avoid tangling in the metal.
Walking your pup on a leash is one of the best ways to enjoy dog ownership but only when done safely and properly. Make sure you and your dog are prepared before every outing, and have the proper tools and accessories that you might need. Your dog needs the privilege of being outdoors, and there’s no better way to spend that time than by your side.
Â© 2005 Crystal Collins