The following article was recently featured in the PotomacPatch newsletter by Marisa Landau. Marisa writes about tips and her own experiences with her dog, Kaya.
Walking a dog may seem like a mindless activity, but believe me, its not just a walk in the park. Having run a professional dog walking company for four years, I have learned that there are 10 things that are crucial to ensuring the safety and happiness of dogs, their owners and the general public. Here are some guidelines every dog owner or dog walker should follow out of courtesy, safety and just plain common sense.
1. Pick up poop.
Not only is not picking up poop illegal, but it is also unsanitary and can ruin other people’s shoes. If you have ever had the misfortune of stepping in dog poop, you know how frustrating it can be!
2. Keep your dog on leash in unfenced areas.
Although you may feel confident in your ability to control your dog with vocal and non-verbal commands, you never know when something might distract him and cause him to run off. I have seen plenty of dog owners lose track of their “well-behaved dogs” when a deer passes by or another dog approaches. It is also important to keep your dog on leash because you don’t know how another dog may respond if your unleashed dog approaches them. Some dogs get “leash aggression” when approached by dogs that are not leashed. It is illegal to keep dogs off-leash in public areas—that is what dog parks are for.
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
Talking on the phone or listening to music while walking dogs may be a good way to pass the time but keep in mind that it is also distracting. I have found that bad things are most likely to happen when you let down your guard. Between traffic, other dogs and sirens, you need to know what is happening around you to keep you and your dog safe. These days you can find plenty of stories of people being hit by cars while they are texting or talking on the phone, so imagine if that sort of distraction caused something horrible to happen to your dog.
4. Don’t allow your dog to jump and sniff people unless given specific permission.
Passing by dog owners in tight spaces, hallways or elevators can be a nuisance or even frightening for people who are scared of dogs. As difficult as it is for some of us to imagine, not everyone loves dogs and therefore not everyone welcomes a wet nose to the crotch or a paw print on their pant leg. When passing other people, keep your dog very close to you out of courtesy to others. Do not allow him to sniff or jump on other people unless they approach your dog first or ask to say hello.
5. Ask before allowing dog to greet others.
I can’t keep track of how many times people let their dog run up to my dog and say, “It’s OK, he/she is friendly” without bothering to ask if my dog is as well. Just because your dog is friendly DOES NOT mean another dog will not react (particularly if one dog is on leash and the other is not). My dog, Kaya, does great with 99 percent of other dogs but every now and then a certain smell or look from a strange dog will set her off. It really bugs me when people let their dogs approach anyone without bothering to ask if it is okay with the other person. Please realize that like people, dogs react differently to various individuals and even the friendliest dogs might react poorly if provoked…or even if not.
6. Wait until you have right of way to cross the street.
This seems like common sense, but I have seen this scenario too many times: Someone is walking their dog and tries to hurry across the street before oncoming traffic arrives. The dog senses that his owner is in a hurry and, because he is nervous, sits down and refuses to walk. The owner is now stuck in the middle of the street with a dog refusing to move while cars are headed right for them. All it takes is a couple of seconds to wait for the walk signal to keep you and your dog safe.
7. Be mindful of where your dog goes potty.
This can be tricky in more urban areas as the good potty spots are limited due to a minimal amount of grass. However, when walking along people’s yards try to be courteous about where your dog does his business. If he must go on a lawn, keep it 2-3 feet from the road. Don’t let your dog go traipsing on someones flower bed. Here is a little known secret: The grassy areas between the sidewalk and the streets is considered public property and therefore is fair game.
8. Keep your dog on a maximum six foot leash in busy areas.
This will keep your dog from jumping on other people and from lunging into the street. Retractable leashes are great for open fields or trails, but on busy paths or sidewalks keep your dog close out of safety and courtesy to others.
9. Make sure the collar and/or harness is on properly and securely.
I have heard stories of multiple dogs escaping and running away from either slipping out of their harnesses, or from backing up and slipping out of a collar that was too loose. This is particularly crucial for dogs that are nervous or skittish. If a dog hears a loud noise and tries to back up, he can very easily slip out of his collar if it is too loose. Always make sure that your dog’s collar and/or harness is tight enough so that you can slip just two fingers underneath it.
10. Pick up poop (so important that it has to be said twice)!
You may think you are being sneaky by pretending not to notice, claiming you forgot a bag or all of the above, but you’re not fooling anyone. I am a true believer in dog “poop karma.” If you don’t pickup after your dog, it is likely that you will ruin a nice pair of shoes by stepping in another dog’s mess…maybe then you’ll change your ways!