Commanding the Walk

image001Whether you’ve mastered the walk or still have issues with your dog, there are certain dos and don’ts that we should all follow to make for a more pleasant, safer walking experience.

First off, while on a walk you should always clean up and pick up after your dog!

But there are other rules that, when followed, eliminate a lot of problems with other people and dogs you may encounter along the way.

Know your dog: You should know the sort of things that might put your dog in an undesired state. Does he have issues with people in uniforms, like letter carriers? Does he bark at or try to chase bicyclists or skateboarders? Does he go nuts on sight of a squirrel, cat, or other dog?

Of course, you will work with your dog to eventually eliminate those bad reactions, but until then you can minimize them by calmly avoiding situations that could trigger your dog.

Note the key word “calmly.” If you become anxious about a person or animal approaching, your dog will sense this and possibly go into alert mode. You need to train yourself to spot the situation without reacting to it, and then change direction, move off of the sidewalk, or whatever else you need to do without making a big deal out of it.

Be aware of what’s around you: In order to be prepared to avoid situations that might set your dog off, you need to be aware of them before your dog has noticed. Always walk with your head up and eyes forward, scanning the area.

Not only will this help you to spot any possible things to avoid, but this posture and alertness will help you stay calm and secure. Your confidence will help your dog stay calm and submissive.

Being aware and staying alert is the best way that you can avoid either of you being struck by a car that suddenly pulls into or out of a driveway, or that doesn’t fully stop at an intersection.

On a related note, it’s always a good idea to train your dog to stop and wait at the curb until you tell them it’s all right to go.

Learn how to read other dog walkers: Not everyone out there is in full control of their dogs on the walk, and the walkers who aren’t in control are also the ones most likely to cause some sort of incident, whether it’s dogs barking at each other, jumping on or snapping at people, or just plain getting loose!

This is a learned skill, but with practice you will learn to tell whether an approaching walker is in control or not. Is their dog walking next to or just behind them, or is it lunging forward or pulling them off balance?  Does their body language project confidence, or do they seem unsure, anxious or fearful?

How do they try to correct their dog?  If they’re doing it very quietly or non-verbally, then they’re probably in control.  If they’re shouting, “No!” at their dog constantly, then they aren’t in control but are very unstable. If you can hear them coming before you can see them, then it’s probably best to cross the street or move up onto a lawn or driveway until they’ve passed.

Change course the right way: Having to avoid other dog walkers or pedestrians is not the ideal situation, but it can sometimes be necessary to avoid a confrontation. The important part is in how you do it.

As mentioned previously, the trick is to make it appear to be just a normal change in course on your walk. Do not abruptly stop and pull up on your dog’s leash, and do not yank your dog to try to change direction. If you’re going to cross the street, approach the curb normally, wait until it’s clear, and then calmly cross the street with your dog.

If a small verbal cue to redirect your dog is needed, that’s fine. The important part is that you do so calmly. Remember: Dogs interpret loud human sounds as barking, and barking by one dog often induces excitement in another.

If your dog might have an issue with a person, then something as simple as a friendly, “Hello!” can help mitigate any problems by letting your dog know that you aren’t threatened by the other person.

The leash walk is the most important activity you can share with your dog. It’s a time for both of you to bond, and for you to practice calm, assertive leadership.

Here are five tips on what not to do when you’re walking your dog!


Never  panic. Whether you realize it or not, you communicate your current energy and state of mind to your dog right through the leash, and the quickest way to put your dog in a state of alert is to tense up suddenly.

If you’re nervous, then your dog will sense it and react by becoming anxious or protective! Either state of mind can lead to aggressive behavior!  Additionally, if you become fearful, that strange dog approaching can sense that as well.

The worst possible combination would be two fearful owners approaching with dogs in an excited, alert state. This is the kind of interaction that can and does lead to dog’s fighting.

Don’t let your dogs approach others without asking: You may have the friendliest dogs in the world, but that stranger walking toward you doesn’t know that, and you don’t know them or their dogs, either. This is where communication is again a dog walker’s friend.

Just as you should alert other people to anything your dog might do as they pass, it doesn’t hurt to ask about other people’s dogs with a polite, “Are they friendly?” If the other walker’s dog has an issue, they’ll tell you, and you can both act appropriately.

Generally, people will tell you through their reaction how they feel about dogs. If they shy away as you approach, make sure that you’re between them and your dog, and keep your dog from approaching them, even if it’s just for a friendly sniff.

If a stranger approaches your dog, it’s up to you to let them know whether it’s safe or advisable to do so. No one will be offended if you tell them, “My dog doesn’t like strangers.”

Don’t use a variable length lead: Retractable leads have a purpose, and it’s very specific. They were originally designed for certain types of tracking and recall training with dogs. If you don’t know what those are, then you have no reason to own or use a retractable lead. You should never use such a lead for just walking your dog.

There are three big issues with retractable leads, the first of which is safety. Since they can effectively allow your dog to run for twenty or more feet before the end of the line, they allow your dog to build up a lot of speed, maybe enough speed to pull you off your feet, break the lead, or yank the handle right out of your hand.

There’s also that twenty feet of line between you and your dog, which can be nearly invisible under the right circumstances. Your dog can get tangled in it, or tangle you or another person in it. Even the website for a prominent manufacturer of retractable leads warns of multiple possible injuries, including cuts or burns from the line, falls, eye and facial injuries, and even broken bones or loss of fingers.

Beyond safety issues, retractable leads just teach your dog the wrong thing: That pulling on the lead will get them what they want — in this case, the freedom to run all over the place. When they stop pulling, the lead pulls back, so the desire to pull and run away is constantly reinforced.

Finally, retractable leads may be illegal in your area. For example, the leash law in the city of Los Angeles reads, “Every person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of any dog shall keep such dog exclusively upon his own premises provided, however, that such dog may be off such premises if it be under the control of a competent person and restrained by a substantial chain or leash not exceeding six feet in length”

Don’t escalate the situation: If you do have an encounter with another person or dog owner that starts to go bad, the worst thing to do is to escalate the situation. Getting into a shouting match will just excite the dogs while reducing your control over them.

The walk is not the time for you to catch up on email or texts, or to phone a friend, and you really don’t need that MP3 player plugged into your ears, either. If you walk with a friend or family member, it’s all right to have a conversation, provided you can multi-task and perform all the dos at the same time.

However, you’re the pack leader on the walk, or should be, and you can’t do that if your attention is focused elsewhere. It only takes an instant of inattention to wind up in an awkward or unsafe situation. You owe it to your dog to be aware and fully in the moment.

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