Are You Ruining Your Dog’s Walk?

Your dog gets excited at the mere mention of a walk. But are your dog walks as enriching as they could be? Here are seven mistakes you might be making when you walk your dog — and how to fix them.

1. Hurrying potty time

THE MISTAKE: You’re on a walk, and suddenly your dog decides it’s time for a bathroom break. So they sniff the ground — and sniff some more. Then, they pee, sniff a little bit more and pee again. And maybe they even kick up some grass to really leave their mark. All the while, you’re impatiently waiting, trying to coax them to get moving again. Sound familiar?

THE SOLUTION: “Where dogs choose to go to the bathroom is an important decision,” the American Kennel Club says. “It’s not just about relieving themselves, it’s about communicating with the world-at-large.” With their superpower noses, they learn about the other animals who were in that area. And the pottying (or scent-marking with their feet) allows your dog to leave their own message. When you cut them off in the middle of this process, it would be as though someone walked away mid-conversation as you were catching up on each other’s lives. You don’t have to loiter for every potty stop, but do allow your dog some time to check their canine messages for a more enriching walk.

2. Being the fun smells police

dog smelling flowers in a fieldCredit: Rocter/Getty Images

THE MISTAKE: Your dog has their nose to the ground for your entire walk — wanting to sniff every tree, rock, stick, blade of grass and that gross piece of smashed food on the sidewalk. But every time they pause to investigate, you tell them to “come on” and hurry along your way.

THE SOLUTION: While it’s important that your dog knows how to politely walk and isn’t just dragging you from smell to smell, there’s value in occasionally permitting their nose to lead the way. “Our dogs ‘see’ the world through scent, and allowing them to interact with their environment through their noses taps into an often-overlooked processing tool,” PetMD says. So aim to take designated walks that indulge this natural behavior. “It’s easy to take a smell walk, just set off on a path and when your dog stops for a sniff, let her,” according to PetMD. Still, make sure your dog is under your control — and that you’re not giving them mixed signals by saying “heel” one minute and then letting them veer off toward a smell the next. And if your dog is a puller, work on their loose-leash walking before giving them more leeway with “smell walks,” or it could reinforce the negative behavior.

3. Not knowing leash etiquette for humans

THE MISTAKE: You and your dog are on a walk, and you’re allowing them to pull to the very end of the leash, zig-zagging back and forth. Then, another dog and their owner come walking toward you, and you have to jerk your dog back to avoid a confrontation. Your dog just struggles harder against your pulling. But is this really your dog’s fault?

THE SOLUTION: Many people take their dogs to obedience class. But what some don’t realize is training is just as important for the humans — especially when it comes to leash etiquette. “If your dog is pulling or not listening to you while you’re walking together, please do not use leash corrections (e.g., jerk or popping the leash, forcefully pulling the dog in the other direction) and avoid using pinch or prong collars or chain collars (aka ‘choke chains’),” Best Friends Animal Society says. Not only can these methods hurt your dog, but they also can make the behavioral issues worse. Instead, learn how to properly walk your dog, so there’s some slack in the leash. And always keep them close enough, so you can safely have them right by your side in a moment’s notice.

4. Never training your dog

THE MISTAKE: You get a new puppy and think it’s cute that they excitedly bite on the leash, bark at squirrels and run up to other people on walks. Then, that puppy gains 100 pounds but still engages in those same behaviors. Suddenly, it’s not so cute anymore. It’s actually pretty dangerous.

THE SOLUTION: No dog walks perfectly on a leash without some training, just like no human knows exactly how to walk a dog without education. And a dog who’s out of your control is just an accident waiting to happen. So ask your vet or local animal shelter for some dog trainer recommendations. Remember always to use positive reinforcement: treats and praise. Start bringing treats or a portion of your dog’s daily food on walks to help keep their attention on you and reward good behavior. You might have to start your training in your house or yard, where your dog can remain calm and focused. But as long as you’re consistent, you should see some improvement in their walking manners.

5. Using the wrong gear

dog biting leash on a dog walkCredit: Gregory_DUBUS/Getty Images

THE MISTAKE: You walk your brachycephalic bulldog on your lunch break in the heat of the day, using a choke collar because they’re a puller. And you just noticed your leash looks a little frayed. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

THE SOLUTION: Your dog’s gear is something that should keep them safe on walks — not cause them harm. Many dogs walk fine with a standard leash and collar. But for dogs who have breathing problems and/or are pullers, even a regular collar — and definitely a choke or prong — can cause some serious damage, including a collapsed trachea. Plus, those negative-reinforcement collars might stop a behavior in the moment, but they also stress your dog and don’t actually help them learn correct behaviors. Best Friends recommends head halters or harnesses (preferably with a front attachment) for leash training. Likewise, use a 4- to 6-foot leash — skip the hazardous retractable leash — so your dog always remains within a safe distance. Use items that are weather-appropriate and visible for nighttime walks. And don’t forget to frequently check your gear for wear and tear.

6. Allowing unsafe greetings

THE MISTAKE: “Hey, want to meet my dog?” you say as you’re already halfway across the street toward another owner and their dog. You let your dog — who’s friendly but exuberant — go right up to this strange canine. What could go wrong?

THE SOLUTION: Not everyone wants to (or should) meet your dog. Not every other dog is friendly. And it might actually be your dog who has some behaviors that would lead to an unsafe greeting. Socialization is incredibly important for dogs, but it must be done in controlled situations. Despite an owner’s promise that their dog is friendly, that strange dog might start a scuffle with your dog. Or they might have a contagious illness. Likewise, a strange person might cause your dog undue stress by petting them improperly, being overexcited, etc. So for healthy socialization, make plans to walk your dog or have play dates with other dog owners you know and trust. You also can carry treats that you allow a passerby to give to your dog for a positive interaction.

7. Sticking to the same route

woman walking two dogsCredit: CasarsaGuru/Getty Images

THE MISTAKE: You walk. You turn a few times. And then you’re back home. The route is so routine that your dog just plods through unenthusiastically. Is this even enrichment for them anymore?

THE SOLUTION: Not every walk has to be special. Sometimes walks are just a potty break or your dog’s daily exercise. But every now and then, don’t forget to shake things up. “Consider hopping in the car and driving to a whole new spot for your dog’s weekend walks,” PetMD recommends. Or, health-permitting, vary your pace from a walk to a light jog to keep your dog engaged, even if it’s just for a short distance. You also can bring some treats and practice training commands along the walk — though your dog will just see it as part of the fun. Break up the walk monotony, have fun and enjoy the bonding time with your dog.

Main image credit: SbytovaMN/Getty Images

104 comments

Jacob S
Jacob S27 days ago

Thank you for posting

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Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a month ago

The dog wants to be with his or her pack so walking on is not spoiling the walk

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Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a month ago

The dog gets the length of the lead to run on or hang back. I keep walking. We are out for a walk not a lengthy sniff and scratch. When I had a dog that was; now I don't.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a month ago

ok

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Clare O'Beara
Clare Oabout a month ago

th

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William T
William Tabout a month ago

thanks for the article

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Peter B
Kevin Babout a month ago

Thank you.

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David C
David Cabout a month ago

thanks, and yes I probably do.....

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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