How to get your dog ready for and ensure problem-free walking
Now that it’s spring, you and your dog will certainly be in the mood for walking. Most dogs love it. Mention the word ‘walkies’ or reach for the lead, and watch your dog’s reaction. If he’s anything like mine, he’ll jump up and down, pant with excitement and have his eyes fixed on you. For a dog, going for a walk is like reading his email: messages are left at every post and corner. Here are 10 useful tips to make you and your dog’s walks even more pleasurable.
1. Puppy socialisation
Take your puppy to puppy classes when still young. Puppy trainers will help you set the right foundations to make any further training much easier. Well-socialised puppies will be more confident in public for the rest of their lives, and will be less prone to aggressive behaviour towards other dogs or people.
Provide your puppy with a soft puppy collar and lead right from the start, so you can begin his training sessions as soon as possible. Fit the collar while he is eating, and let him wear it during mealtimes so he can make a positive connection with wearing a collar. Do not fit it too tightly – always allow space for two fingers to fit between the collar and the puppy’s neck. Once he is used to the collar, you can attach a light lead and let him drag the lead for a while before picking it up. Then walk alongside him and encourage him to follow you. If he does, give him a treat and lots of praise. You can even use a treat to make him go where you want – keep the treat in your left hand and let him follow your hand, while holding the lead in your other hand. If he starts pulling on the lead, stand still and keep quiet until he comes back to you, then praise and reward him. Be persistent and consistent.
Some dog owners complain about their dogs pulling on the lead. These dogs often have tension in the shoulders, and the best advice is to walk them in a harness rather than a collar. There are several harnesses which are specially designed to resist pulling, and will help you to control your dog. Ask your veterinarian for advice.
4. Collar and leash
Use soft buckle collars for young puppies and training collars, chain slip collars or clip-on nylon slip collars for older puppies and adult dogs. When choosing a chain slip collar (a chain with a ring on each end), make sure it fits your dog’s neck with about 5cm of excess chain. Breeds with large heads (such as Labradors or Rottweilers) will need chains that are about 10cm longer than the width of their necks to make sure the collars fit over their heads. A large selection of different types of harnesses is available on the market in South Africa, but consult your vet before choosing one for your dog. Start your dog on a narrow leash of about 2m long, and keep the retractable or fancy wide leashes for later, when you are sure you can easily control him.
All dogs should wear some form of identification, especially when they’re taken on walks where they could disappear. It’s best to have a name tag with your contact details on your dog’s collar, as well as an embedded microchip under his skin. If one fails, the other could serve as a backup. Also carry a clear photo of your dog in your wallet in case you need to ask strangers if they’ve spotted him.
6. On or off the leash?
Keeping your dog on a leash is always the safest way to go for a walk, but some people (and dogs) prefer to run freely. Don’t walk your dog off the leash in a street or near traffic unless he is truly exceptionally obedient. Even trained dogs have been run over on walks or while jogging with their owners. Also, do not ignore sign boards. If it says dogs have to be on a leash, keep yours that way. You can always opt for a retractable leash, which will give your dog much more leeway.
7. Under control
Keep your dog calm and under control when you pass strangers. Obedience training will help you achieve this
8. Poop scoop
Always take a poop scoop and some plastic bags along to clean up after your dog.
9. Watering holes
Take along fresh water from home – most dogs prefer the taste of the water they know at home. Make regular stops along the way, and give your dog water in a collapsible cup, inflatable water dish or zip-closure bag. Find a shady spot and use the time to rest for a while.
Not all dogs are well socialised, and innocent dogs (or people) are often attacked by other dogs in a public area. Keep your distance if a strange dog shows signs of aggression, but whatever you do, don’t run away! If your own dog is on the aggressive side, watch out. According to the South African Animal Matters Amendment Act no 42 of 1993, any person whose negligence of an animal causes injury to another person is guilty of an offence, and liable for a fine or imprisonment if found guilty. You’ll also be held responsible if your dog attacks another dog in a public area, especially if you can be proven to have been negligent. Best to go for some socialisation classes and obedience training.