Dog walking should be a fun bonding experience for you and your pooch, not a dreaded task. But if your dog isn’t following your lead, it can become a drag—quite literally! Whether you have a puppy who is still learning the ropes or are looking to teach an older dog new tricks, these dog walking tips can help.
Dog Walking Gear
Collar with ID tag—check! Leash—check! Yep, that’s pretty much all you need to walk your dog. But there are lots of choices out there when it comes to dog collars and leashes, so which should you get for your four-legged friend?
Pick Your Leash
There are a variety of leashes out there with different pros and cons. Select a leash that you think would work best for you and your dog.
These leashes, which are made of synthetic material like nylon, are usually the least expensive of the bunch and can come in lots of fun colors and patterns. They’re typically lightweight and easy to wash, which are two ticks in the “pro” category. The “con” is that the synthetic fabric can cut into or burn your hand, so this leash may not work well if your dog tends to pull.
Leather leashes generally hold up well over time and tend to be gentler on your hands than a synthetic leash. The downside is that they are typically more expensive and might not be as easy to wash as synthetic fabric.
Some people like the look of chain leashes, but others find them heavy and uncomfortable to hold. Chain leases are also uncomfortable for dogs to chew on, so they can be a good option if you’re trying to stop this behavior. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) tends to recommend against using such leashes, though, as they can limit your ability to control your rambunctious pup.
Extendable or “Flexi” Leash
These leashes can be let out and reeled back in with the touch of a button. They give your dog more freedom to explore but need to be used with caution. They’re best for not so busy places where there are fewer opportunities for your dog to wrap it around people, pets, trees, or other objects. They’ve also been known to pose a risk to the pet parent, too. Reports document finger amputations resulting from a digit getting caught in the leash loop when a dog is pulling out the leash.
Choose a Comfy Collar
As for collars, most dogs do fine with a nylon or leather collar. Choose a style, color, and pattern that you like and looks good on your dog. If you have an adorable Poodle or cute little Terrier, a pink collar with a fancy design might be a fun choice. For a Yellow Labrador or German Shepard, a traditional dark leather collar could be a fine selection. It’s really up to you!
Most importantly, you should make sure the collar fits your dog comfortably. It shouldn't ride up on your dog’s neck or slide down to the shoulders. A good rule of thumb is that the collar should fit snugly but allow you to slide two fingers underneath it easily.
While chain-slip and prong collars may help suppress unwanted behaviors, they don’t teach proper dog walking behavior.
Say “No” to Chain-slip and Prong Collars
Please avoid using chain-slip or choke collars, which have a chain that tightens around your dog’s neck as it’s pulled. Prong or pinch collars should also be avoided. These collars have prongs that point inward towards your dog’s skin and cause discomfort when pulled or tugged.
While chain-slip and prong collars may help suppress unwanted behaviors, they don’t teach proper dog walking behavior. At the very least, they can be unpleasant for your dog. At worst, they can cause injuries from minor bruising to more serious nerve damage. If you’re thinking about using either of these collars, contact an experienced dog trainer for help and advice first.
Alternatively, a harness may be a good option for small dogs, especially those with delicate windpipes. However, they are not recommended for dogs that pull, or large dogs since they can make it difficult to control a dog.
Dog Walking Tips and Tricks
These dog walking tips can help you train a new puppy or solve common dog walking issues with more experienced pooches.
New to the leash?
If you’re training a puppy to walk on a leash, you should first let your little furball get used to the idea. Attach the leash to the collar and let your puppy drag it freely around your yard or house. Be sure to supervise your puppy at all times, so he or she doesn’t catch the leash on anything and get hurt.
You should also stop your puppy from chewing on the leash to help avoid this behavior in the future. If you notice your puppy putting the leash in his or her mouth, try a distraction, like throwing a ball or toy. Or, try spraying the leash with a bitter chewing inhibitor which are available at most pet supply stores.
After your puppy is used to how the leash feels, pick up the loose end and let your puppy take you for a walk. Keep the lead loose and let your puppy roam around. Once your puppy is comfortable with this activity, it’s time to turn the tables and take back the reigns. As you walk your puppy, keep it fun by piling on the praise and offering a treat when your little furball does a good job.
If you use clicker training, take your clicker along when you walk your puppy and click when your puppy is walking along nicely. Clicker training is a positive reinforcement technique that can be very helpful for training your puppy all sorts of behaviors from going for a walk to using a crate.
Common dog walking issues
Three of the most common dog walking problems are pulling on the leash, chewing or mouthing the lead, and lunging, barking, or otherwise reacting to people, animals, or other things that cross your path.
1. Pulling on the leash
Dogs typically pull on the leash when something interesting comes into view, and they want to check it out and get there fast. Some dogs also pull at the beginning of a walk because they’re so excited about going outside. Remember it’s a natural instinct and try not to get upset or frustrated with your dog. Instead, try these techniques to help keep your dog from pulling.
Special harnesses that are designed to discourage pulling by a dog are available. Talk to your veterinarian, a behaviorist, or a dog trainer for recommendations.
There are certain games you can play with your dog that reinforce impulse control, like “Ready, Set, Down.” This can help your dog get past the urge to pull on the leash.
Pick up the pace.
Walk faster so your dog has less of a chance to notice things that might cause him or her to pull.
Change your route.
Try walking where there is less of a chance you’ll run into distractions if your dog feels compelled to chase wildlife or check out people and other dogs in your path.
It can also help to avoid walking at dusk or dawn when small animals are more likely to be scampering around.
Calm your dog down first.
Dogs who are bouncing around even before the walk begins may be more likely to pull. Help train your dog to calm down by holding the leash quietly until all four paws are on the ground.
When your dog complies, offer lots of praise and a good long walk as a reward.
Chat with your dog.
Talk with your dog as your walking to help keep the attention on you, and give lots of compliments for appropriate behavior. You can also bring along a pocketful of small treats to offer your dog if he or she manages to walk without pulling.
2. Chewing on the leash
Pretty much all dogs love to chew, especially younger dogs and puppies. Chewing, like pulling, is a natural behavior for dogs, which they use to explore their world. Puppies also chew to relieve the pressure and pain of teething. It’s totally natural for a dog to want to chew on the leash. That said this chewing could start causing problems before and during walks—not to mention the wear on your leash!
As we mentioned, using a chain leash can help train a dog not to chew on the lead. A chain simply doesn’t feel as good to chew on as a synthetic or leather leash. It can be cold and downright uncomfortable. You can also try distracting your dog from chewing on the leash by picking up the pace or using some of the other dog walking tips already discussed.
3. Lunging or barking
It can be upsetting and even embarrassing if you’re otherwise sweet dog starts lunging or barking at other dogs or people as you walk through the neighborhood. If this is a new problem, you may want to have your dog checked out by your veterinarian. Your dog may be acting out because a common dog illness is making him or her feel anxious or irritable.
These sorts of behaviors can also come up after an incident with another dog, for instance, a scrape in the dog park with another pooch. In this case, you may need to slowly get your dog comfortable being around other dogs. You can consult with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or other professional for help. Learn about dog behavior and training options.
Dog Walking Safety
Walking should be a fun activity for you and your dog, but you still need to remember to watch out for your dog’s safety while you’re out together. This ASPCA Pet Health Insurance customer found out the hard way that electronic gates are dangerous for dogs.
“I was out walking with my service dog Bella when she was got caught in an electric gate that lets cars in and out. The gate was squeezing her to death! I put myself in harms way to get her out and had expensive veterinary bills afterward. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance is like having an angel on your shoulder. Thank you or helping me save Bella’s life!” - N. Cross, Queens, NY
We are so happy we could be there to help Bella’s dog parent. Learn more about dog insurance for your four-legged friend.