So you've organized your busy schedule to make room for dog walks and even found the perfect walking route. But don't head out the door just yet! There are a few simple safety tips new dog owners should remember during a walk.
We sat down with Anne Curbow, owner of Must Walk Dogs, an Iowa-based dog-walking and pet-care service, to learn the best dog-walking tips for new owners. Curbow has gone on more than 900 dog walks in the past year and consistently works with all types of dogs. Here are the six common dog-walking mistakes she sees new owners make and how to avoid them.
Large dog breeds are often excited to go outside for a walk, but smaller dogs might not be. Some dogs zigzag throughout the walk or stop repeatedly along the way. If your dog is set on staying put, Curbow recommends rewarding with kibble. If you're walking a puppy, a smaller breed, or a stubborn pup, just remember to bring a small handful of kibble in a plastic bag on your walk.
When walking dogs, it's important to be mindful of common outdoor safety hazards. "In the spring when things are melting, you really want to be careful of chemicals that can be in the street, especially when the snow first starts to melt," Curbow says. "Chemicals can get into the dog's paws and dry them out. If they lick their feet, the chemicals from the ground can poison them."
Avoid chemicals by walking on sidewalks and considering paw protection. Booties are a great option, but not all dogs will tolerate them. If your dog isn't a bootie fan, Curbow recommends rubbing down paws with a warm towel after each walk. You might also consider applying petroleum jelly to your dog's foot pads before walks for extra protection.
It's tempting to opt for a retractable leash, but Curbow advises new dog owners to stick to short leashes. "When you are walking through the city or your neighborhood, a shorter leash is better because you always have direct control," she says. "If you weren't paying attention and you forgot to lock a retractable leash and your dog sees a squirrel, he might run off in that direction." If you are walking a new dog, a short leash is best.
It's a smart idea to consider a harness, especially if you own a smaller breed. "With a harness, you have even better control than with a regular leash, and when you pull, it doesn't choke them nearly as much," Curbow says.
Owners of large breeds often choose to use a prong collar. Prong collars are made up of a control loop with a number of fang-shape metal prongs. When the control loop is pulled, the metal prongs pinch the loose skin of your dog's neck. "The pull isn't too hard," Curbow says. "We have a German shepherd that we walk, and the prong collar prevents her from running all over the street when she sees a squirrel."
In the winter, if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet. The same is true in the warmer months of spring and summer. "Overheating can happen really easily, especially to dogs who have a lot of fur. If your dog is heavily panting, it's time to find water and consider cutting your walk short, Curbow says. If your dog gets thirsty during walks, consider taking a water bottle or a thermos with a detachable cup along.
Don't approach other people or dogs unless you know them. Your dog might be extremely friendly, but you don't know how the other dog will react. If the owner approaches you and is comfortable handling his or her dog, feel free to let your dogs meet, Curbow says. Otherwise, don't wander across the street to see a fellow pooch without keeping tabs on your pet's behavior and ensuring the situation is safe.
If your dog has finished a great walk, reward him or her with a treat! It's a great idea to use treats as a way to reinforce good behavior and praise your pup.