Safety Tips I Learned as a Professional Dog Walker

If you’re not able to adequately exercise your dog every day, hiring a dog walker is a great option. As a former professional dog walker, I saw firsthand how much a visit can benefit people’s pets. It breaks up the monotony of their day — especially for animals who are left alone for long stretches. It allows them to burn some mental and physical energy. And a few of my chunkier clients even lost some weight, thanks to the extra activity.

As a dog walker, my first priority always was the safety and wellbeing of the animals. These are six safety tips I used on the job.

1. Always check the gear

Any time you walk a dog — regardless of whether it’s your own or a client’s — it’s wise to check the condition of your dog-walking gear. Owners would provide me with their dogs’ leashes, harnesses, collars, etc. But that didn’t necessarily mean it all was safe to use.

Sometimes, the equipment was a little too worn or flimsy to keep the dog secure. Or they were items I just didn’t feel safe using, such as retractable leashes. I always carried a spare leash and collar that I could use in a pinch until I talked with the owners about their gear. Still, it’s best to catch any issues with equipment before they become dangerous. Even the smallest tear in a leash or problem with a harness buckle probably means it’s time for something new for the safety of your animal.

2. Two attachments are better than one

walking two dogsCredit: CasarsaGuru/Getty Images

Even with gear that’s in good condition, I still prefer two attachment points linking the dog to me for extra security — e.g., hooking a leash both to their harness and collar. It was one of my worst nightmares as a dog walker that a leash would spontaneously split in half or a collar would come undone, and the dog would run away. Plus, until I had been walking a particular dog for a while, I didn’t know whether they were extreme leash lungers or harness Houdinis. So whenever possible, I used two attachment points to cut the risk of something going wrong.

My personal preference is to hook a waist leash to their harness (for the dogs who wear one) and a handheld leash to their collar to carry loosely as a backup. This is the setup I often use with my own dogs for extra peace of mind. But of course it comes down to what works best for you and your dog — and certainly not all dogs need this added level of security.

3. A carabiner can equal peace of mind

Another gear hack I learned as a dog walker is how to make use of the ever-versatile carabiner. This video details 25 handy carabiner hacks for dogs — one of which I employed frequently as a walker and still use with my own canine kids. And that’s linking the dog’s harness (or other special gear they use for walks) and collar with a carabiner.

This hack is great if you only prefer to hold one leash — totally understandable — but still want a little more security than one simple attachment point. With the harness and collar linked, you have a built-in fail-safe. If the harness pops open or your dog manages to slip out of it, it still will connect the leash to their collar (as long as the leash remains attached to the harness). This allows you time to get the dog’s gear sorted out without ever losing your attachment to them. A locking carabiner is ideal for this purpose. Just make sure it’s not too heavy or bulky for your dog, while still being sturdy enough to withstand their pulling.

4. It’s OK to say ‘no’ to passersby

two dogs meet on leashCredit: nelyninell/Getty Images

It’s difficult to walk a dog without attracting some attention. Passersby want to pet your dog. Other dogs make a beeline in your direction. Or perhaps the dog you’re walking wants to greet everyone they see. But in many circumstances, that’s not the safest choice for anyone involved — and you have to learn to say no when you need to.

When I was walking for clients, I was in unfamiliar neighborhoods with dogs I didn’t know very well. And that could be a recipe for disaster if I let them interact with strangers on the street. So I had to politely decline advances from passersby who wanted to “meet” my dogs. What’s more, I learned sometimes you have to be pretty forceful to stop people before they reach out and touch your dog. (Dogs are irresistible — I get it.) I still adhere to this practice when I walk my own dogs unless I’m comfortable with the person approaching. That way, no one gets hurts. No doggie scuffles break out, and no germs are exchanged. That’s not to say socialization isn’t incredibly important for dogs. It simply must be done in circumstances where you feel you have control.

5. Most dogs respond to ‘red light, green light’

As a dog walker, I encountered dogs with all sorts of leash manners. Some days, I walked puppies who had no training at all, and other days I had older dogs with established bad habits. (And I had really wonderful dogs who just loped along by my side, too.) But regardless of what I was walking into, I had to be the one in charge to make the walk a safe, positive experience. And sometimes that meant working on a few basic obedience skills.

I learned most dogs respond to the “red light, green light” training method to stop pulling. “If she pulls on the lead, stop and wait until she stops pulling,” according to Best Friends Animal Society. “As soon as the tension on the lead is released, praise her, offer a quick treat and then continue walking.” Another effective method I often used was “crazy walking,” as Best Friends puts it. If the dog is pulling, simply turn and walk in the opposite direction (but don’t jerk their leash). “You can also try a lot of random changes of direction, so the dog gets used to focusing attention on you and moves with you,” Best Friends says. Of course, training must be consistent for the dog to truly learn. But in the brief sessions I spent with these animals, even the most exuberant leash pullers showed improvement.

6. Walk and talk

A person walks a beagle, who's looking up at them.Credit: SbytovaMN/Getty Images

As a dog walker, I usually carried owner-approved treats to help me establish a positive rapport with the dogs. Plus, I talked to them a lot on walks to hold their focus and praise them for good behavior. “Whenever your dog walks next to you, reward her for ‘being in position’ or for simply walking with a loose leash near you,” Best Friends says. “The more you reward her, the more she’ll want to hang out near you. The reward doesn’t have to be a treat; praise, petting and attention are also rewarding to your dog.”

It’s obviously a lot easier to walk a dog who’s focused on you. But it also helps to keep them safe because their attention should already be on you if you have to quickly react to something hazardous. So even though I probably looked silly walking and talking to all of those dogs, it made our walks safer — and honestly a lot more fun.

Main image credit: damedeeso/Getty Images

46 comments

Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba9 days ago

Useful

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Thomas M
Thomas M21 days ago

Thanks for posting

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heather g
heather g23 days ago

I liked the tip for discouraging a dog from pulling on the leash.

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Louise A
Louise A25 days ago

thank you

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Elaine W
Elaine W25 days ago

Good and helpful information.

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Yvonne T
Yvonne T27 days ago

thank you for the good advices....

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Danny Chan
Danny C27 days ago

I once saw a dog walker with at least eight dogs and thought it was an interesting sight. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Helen C
Helen C27 days ago

Thank you for the useful tips

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Pearl W
Pearl W27 days ago

Hi All - Thanks for the timely tips - I've never had the pleasure of a permanent dog in my home - A friend is off to hospital so I'll be dog minding for a week or so - Peoples comments, the article and the links are particularly useful - Missy and I are already friends, so if for some reason I get stuck, C2 will have the answers - smiles

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danii p
danii p28 days ago

Thank you

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