Common Mistakes Made While Walking Your Dog and How to Resolve Them
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Walking your dog should be a fun and engaging activity between you, your dog, and the environment. However, for most people walking the dog is instead a pain, dangerous, or so difficult they just don't. If this sounds like you, keep reading!
We are going to discuss the top mistakes made by pet owners when they walk their dog and how best to overcome these mistakes so that walking the dog can become an enjoyable activity!
#1 - Being on your phone
When you have your dog in one hand, and your phone in the other (whether it be up to your ear or scrolling in your hand) you are not going to set yourself up for success. We don't like it when dogs get distracted while on walks, so do the right thing and limit the distractions to yourself as well. Not only is being on the phone while walking your dog distracting though, it's dangerous! You aren't effectively able to assess the environment to ensure it's safe if your attention is elsewhere. All too often, we have unkind dogs or other dangers that run up to us quickly while out walking. You want to make sure you are as prepared as possible to handle these situations and being distracted won't help with that.
#2 - Not letting your dog sniff
It's such an easy mistake to make, especially if you haven't spoken to a force-free trainer about the best ways to walk your dog. We assume that the more we walk (read: the less sniffing the dog does) the more tired the dog will be. (see #3 for more info on this). This isn't true at all! Sniffing allows your dog's brain to work harder and tires them out faster than a long walk ever could. When a dog uses their nose, it releases dopamine to their brain which helps relax them. So the more sniffing your dog does, the happier and calmer they will be.
#3 - Walking too far
Yet another easy mistake to make is to assume that the farther we walk the dog, the more tired they will become. This can actually produce the opposite effect and cause our dog to become high strung, overstimulated, and hyperaroused. This is especially true if you have a young puppy who hasn't been properly socialized to everything they are walking past, or a dog who has triggers and experiences more and more of them the more you walk, resulting in trigger stacking. Trigger stacking is when the stress from multiple triggers compounds and causes a dog to become reactive, aggressive, or both. The further of a walk you go on, the more you encounter, which can make your dog struggle behaviorally. Instead we recommend giving yourself a time frame (example: 15 minutes) and let your dog sniff to their hearts desire (taking from #2) during that time. It's not about how far we go, it's about how many sniffs we get in.
#4 - Not using appropriate equipment
There is so much out there on the internet (yes, even this blog) about what tools to use and why. These resources can be credentialed and verified by science, or just someone's opinion, or something in between. It can be so hard to know who to listen to and what to use. Well, coming from a credentialed trainer, I recommend walking dogs on harnesses over collars. The reason for this is because I want to limit risk to the dog any way possible. Collars can cause damage to the thyroid and trachea if the dog pulls even just a little bit every so often. Harnesses are not created equal either and we only recommend a few. Of course, we do not recommend the use of aversive tools such as prong collars, choke chains, and e-collars. These tools have too high a risk of creating negative associations towards stimuli resulting in more aggressive/reactive/fearful behaviors later on. Training will always be necessary to teach your dog not to pull no matter the type of equipment you use, so you might as well use the humane and safer options.
#5 - Walking where they aren't ready
It can be so fun taking your dog with you places and it can also provide a great training opportunity. That being said, it's always important to set your dog up for success over everything else. Many times, one may take their dog to a very busy and distracting location and then get upset when the dog doesn't perform well. It can take a lot of training and many months or even years to get your dog ready for such locations. Expect your dog to only handle what you've prepared them for. If you haven't prepared them for this location, it's best to leave them at home, or stay far enough away from the distractions to keep your pup successful. There may even be cases where walking your dog at all isn't the best idea; read more on this in our previous blog.
#6 - Walking around stimuli they aren't ready for
Similar to the above #5, it's also common to run into stimuli or triggers your dog doesn't know how to handle when out on a walk. This is why it's so important to frequently survey the area and make sure you are staying clear of triggers or big distractions. For example, if your dog doesn't like other dogs, it would be best not to walk them around the park where other dogs are surely to be present. If your dog gets overly excited with people and has even knocked a few people down, it's best to avoid getting too close to others until more training has been done. Again, always set your dog up for success and only let them experience what you've prepared them for.
#7 - Expecting perfect results 100% of the time
A lot of what we've discussed so far has a caveat: "if your dog hasn't been trained for this..." however even if your dog has been trained, don't expect them to perform the best results every single time. So much is at play, the dog's health, the time of day, the location, the number of distractions or triggers around, the general mood your dog is in, the type of training methods used, and more! Dogs are living beings and we can't (and shouldn't) expect the same results every time. They aren't programmed like robots and never will be. Always reassess your dog's mood and body language and determine how your dog is feeling first. Then ask yourself if your dog can handle everything you are about to ask them to do. It's not a bad thing to say no and go home instead, in fact, that makes you a responsible pet owner who has their pet's best interest in mind!
These are just some of the common mistakes we see people make when out with their dog. Don't feel embarrassed or ashamed if any of these are things you've done in the past. We are all human, and nobody is perfect! The important thing is to continually educate yourself and do better for both you and your pet's well being.