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Dog Walking Etiquette

We all want to enjoy calm, walks with our dog. We have this picture in our head of walking through beautiful countryside, dog rambling alongside the family and generally having a lovely time with a well-behaved dog. In reality, you arrive at the park with the kids in the car, kids shouting, dog barking and over excited, you are short on time, thinking about all the things you have to do at work and really you are not in the ‘zone’.

I absolutely love my walks with my dog Wicket. Whilst he’s not perfect (and neither am I!), it is usually the most enjoyable part of my day. I am not ‘walking the dog’, we are going on a walk in each others’ company and I love it. Our walks are enjoyable and I look forward to them.

Did this happen overnight? No! Did I work hard to get to this point? Yes!

Jo's Top Tips for a Successful Dog Walk:

  • Be polite and respectful of other peoples needs and their dog’s needs. You don’t know why their dog needs space. My own dog, Wicket is 12 years old, he has a heart condition and his vision isn’t as good as it once was, plus he’s slowing down. He loves his walks but really doesn’t want to meet other dogs (unless he knows them well), particularly young males or pups who want to play roughly. Dogs you see on walks may be unwell, have medical conditions which aren’t always visible. They may simply require space – and let’s face it sometimes us humans need space too – some days a chat is nice, other days I want to walk and be with my dog and not interact (yes, I think I’m getting more anti social as the years go by!). I do at least want a choice about this.

What does being respectful of other dogs and humans mean?

  • If you see a dog on lead approaching, put your dog on too. If you are unable to recall your dog, then you need to do more training before you let your dog off lead. An off-lead dog should not be allowed to run up to an on lead dog. It is not fair and will often result in a negative experience for both dogs.

  • If you are approaching an off-lead dog and as they see you, they put their dog on lead, do the same, they have done this for a reason. Some dogs struggle with big dogs, small dogs, black dogs or certain breeds. You do not know their history and should respect their choices. Do not take it personally.

  • Avoid other dogs if you know your dog isn’t great at on lead greetings.

  • Please do not shout out ‘it’s fine, my dog's friendly’ as your off-lead dog bounds up to theirs, this really isn’t fair and certainly doesn’t take the other dogs needs into account. Your dog might be friendly, but their dog might be old or unable to deal with your ‘friendly’ dog.

  • Have a think about whether your dog really is being friendly. Perhaps they are practicing some adolescent risk taking? Perhaps they do not ‘listen’ to other dog’s body language? Or chose to ignore the fact they have opted out of playing with them! A little bit of reading and learning about dog body language can really help you understand dog body language more.

  • If you do have to meet another dog on lead, try to stay relaxed and release any tension in your lead for the best interaction. Keep this short and move on quickly.

  • If your dog is off lead, do not allow them to run up to other people, kids or dogs. Call them back and keep focus on you, put on lead until they pass if needed.

  • If both dogs are off lead. Check from a distance that the other person is happy for your dog to run up to their dog. If both owners are happy for the dogs to meet, then go ahead. Move on quite quickly and ensure the play isn’t too over the top.

What else to think about?

  • Be your dog’s safe place! My Papillon Fleur needed me to help her on walks and in public spaces. In fact, in busy environments (on holiday etc) I often used a carry bag for her.  This can seem ridiculous to some, but some breeds are very fine boned and so small that they are hidden in crowds and so easily trodden on. Not to mention how scary it must feel to be on the floor with giants stepping very close to you! All dogs need to see their human as their safe place to some extent, particularly puppies. Manage the environment to prevent them getting into tricky situations. Get them out of there if things are too much. If they run to you and jump at you, this likely means they are asking for help (not playing up!) – think about what they need (space usually). Tiny dogs may need extra help here and if you can help to teach them to run to you for a ‘lift’ (I train this cue with little dogs). Many big dog owners are unable to see the risks for little dogs, thinking that their dog would never harm a small dog. As the owner of both very big dogs in the past and a tiny dog more recently I now understand that sometimes small dogs need picking up. I don’t mean mollycoddling, just safety. Again, this is about respecting other people and their dog’s needs. If you have a big dog and see someone picking up their little dog, don’t take this personally (and please don’t tell them they shouldn’t pick up their dog! This is bound to cause offence!), instead try to understand from their point of view. One large paw on a tiny dog’s back can by lethal.

  • Use good management, particularly if you are socialising and walking a young puppy. Every interaction is a learning experience and we want these to be positive and allowing your young naïve puppy to run up to another dog (on or off lead) is the sure way for them to have a scary negative experience. They will likely be growled at, pinned, or pawed to the ground. This is a scary experience and your puppy has learnt that the park and other dogs are scary. You need to prevent this in the first place. Take your time, check out your surroundings, keep your puppy on lead when needed or use a longline whilst training a great recall and rewarding your dog for focus on you.

  • Be prepared! Always take treats/rewards and poo bags with you. More than you think you’ll need! For some reason humans seem to have an obsession with when they can stop taking treats on walks. I still take treats for my 12 year old dog. I never want to stop rewarding the good stuff. These days he doesn’t have as many treats and I don’t need them in the way I did when he was being trained, but I still have them with me. If he decides not to chase that deer we spot on our walk I don’t want that to go unrewarded so I must be prepared.

  • Be mindful and present. We’re all making huge efforts these days to live in the moment. Your dog walk can be your chance to do this. You are building a relationship, in nature and need to manage and train. This means you need to put your phone away and simply be present with your dog! Taking time out from emails and busy lives, which cause distractions preventing you from being present both with your dog and with the world around you.

  • Let them sniff!! Put your loose lead training to test whilst walking to the park but once at the park allow your dog to sniff freely. We control so many aspects of our dog’s lives. Let them do what they love, SNIFF, SNIFF, SNIFF!! Let them off if you have good recall, or use a longline attached to a harness (not a retractable line). Make sure you are training recall so that you can phase out the longline eventually. Allow them the freedom to choose to sniff before you march away in military style. I like my dogs to walk without pulling when street walking, I choose green spaces to allow them to sniff (‘go sniff’ on cue) and then walk on to the next green spot until I get to the park. This stops a dog from pulling you from scent to scent along the streets and also helps prevent excessive marking outside your own house and along your neighbours property.

  • Set up play date walks with dogs you know well or who you know enjoys your dog’s company. Arrange walks with these dogs so they are learning positive associations with other dogs.

  • Limit the number of dogs your dog interacts with on walks, particularly during adolescence. This behaviour can be hugely rewarding and addictive (think teenagers enjoying fast rides at theme parks). Think about what your dog is learning? What they are learning now is what you will get more of in the future.

  • If you are socialising a puppy think about the suitability of the park you have chosen. Too busy? Too many crazy dogs running around? Can you find a quiet spot to sit on a bench and watch the world go by? Are you creating positive associations?

More general thoughts:

  • It goes without saying to pick up after your dog and deposit your dog mess in the dog bin.

  • Observe signs telling you whether dogs should be on or off lead.

  • Don’t try to stroke or allow your kids to stroke other people’s dogs. You are strangers and they may treat you as such!

  • Don’t feed other people’s dogs treats as this causes other owners’ dogs to run up to people on walks and ‘mug them’. They may also have food intolerance'.

One final thought - Enjoy your dog and your walk. We lead such busy lives so take the time to engage with your dog and build your relationship.

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