A Walk in The Park
Updated: Mar 28
Many love the idea of walking their dog(s) while getting exercise and enjoying a beautiful day. Yet, the dream and the reality can often be at odds due to a dog's poor walking manners. In honor of National Take a Walk in the Park Day, celebrated annually on March 30th, we're sharing a professional dog walker's perspective on how to safely and enjoyably walk your dog.
Dog Walking Manners
The dog walking manners that we expect of our dogs are not necessarily natural behaviors. The first time a dog wears a leash, you can see that they are confused and oftentimes even uncomfortable. Their reaction is similar to that of a baby being buckled into a car seat. While there are many benefits of using safety equipment like collars, harnesses, leashes, and, in the case of babies and children, car seats, it takes time for the user to adjust to the experience.
Dog walking manners must be taught. Dog walking manners include behaviors such as not pulling, listening to the handler, paying attention to the handler's movements, and following the handler's lead. Dogs are often forced to develop these skills while adjusting to wearing collars, harnesses, leashes, and in some cases, clothing to protect from the elements. It can be a lot for a dog to handle.
Our recommendation is to take it one step at a time. Whether you have a new puppy or are teaching an old dog new tricks, teach dog walking manners in stages. First, get your dog comfortable with the equipment he or she has to wear. Use treats, have them wear the equipment for short periods, then work your way up to longer sessions.
Once your dog is comfortable with the equipment, now it's time to work on loose leash walking.
Loose Leash Walking
Loose leash walking is a skill every dog needs. No matter their age, dogs have to walk on a leash for veterinary and grooming appointments, exercise, transport, and travel. If they are uncomfortable on leashes and/or a danger to themselves and others, these mundane tasks and experiences can become a nightmare.
The one and only Victoria Stilwell outlines best practices when teaching loose leash walking here. With the right equipment, positive reinforcement, and practice, loose leash walking will become your dog's natural walking state, which will make everyone that walks him very happy.
Dog Walking Tools
As professional dog walkers, we use no-pull harnesses and martingale collars when walking most of the dogs in our care. Because we walk many dogs daily, we have to prioritize safety. We encourage you to do the same by using the right tools when walking your dog.
To begin with, we urge you to avoid using retractable leashes. A standard 6-foot leash is an ideal tool for a daily walk around the block or local park. Retractable leashes are not safe. They have been outlawed in some countries and their use can result in harm to dogs, handlers, and third parties. Learn more about the dangers of retractable leashes here.
Collars are not ideal dog walking equipment because they are designed to display ID tags. They are not designed to restrain an enthusiastic dog while on a dog walk. Instead, especially while practicing loose leash walking, a no-pull harness is a great option. While they can take a few tries to get dogs accustomed, no-pull harnesses work efficiently and, with the use of treats, are usually accepted quite quickly. We don't recommend the use of no-pull harnesses indefinitely because they have shown the potential to cause shoulder and back injury or pain, but they are a good tool to use while your dog develops their loose leash walking skills.
Finally, avoid no-pull harnesses that go around the muzzle. These can be difficult for a dog to accept. Plus, they can cause long-term neck pain and injury. A no-pull harness that wraps around the body and has a D-ring at the chest is safer overall even if there is a small chance of shoulder pain due to where the straps wrap.
Dog Walking Practice
Rome wasn't built in a day and dog training is no different. Think of walking your dog as a part of your dog's education. When they first start their leash training, they are in Kindergarten. They are reading your cues, learning to wear their uniform, and practicing their skills.
As you practice daily or a few times weekly, your dog will advance to higher-level skills. He or she will start to anticipate the routine, route, and behavior you're looking for. Always keep treats handy - we love a treat pouch - to reward the behavior you like to see. The more you reward their behavior, the more often they are bound to repeat it.
If, for any reason, you feel more comfortable having our team of professional dog walkers teach your loose leash walking skills, we're happy to help. We can also reinforce the learning that's going on at home. Please contact us at Hello@HeartsAtHomePetSitting.com or
757-745-9868 to schedule services, discuss your training goals, and more. We proudly serve the Tabb, Grafton, and Seaford areas of Yorktown as well as Poquoson, Virginia.