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Taking Time to Smell the Roses (and Other Things): Tips for Walking Your Dog

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All dogs need to walk. And it’s good for people, too.

But there are all different sorts of dog walks, from leisurely sniffing expeditions to vigorous exercise.

What are some ways to get the most benefit and enjoyment from walking your dog?

10 Tips for Walking Your Dog

Most of us could use more exercise, and walking with your dog is a great way to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. The bonus is that walking is free! Here are a few questions based on tips from our friends at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

  1. Are you and your dog healthy enough? If your pet is overweight, elderly, or has other health issues, check with your vet before starting a new exercise regime with your dog. Same goes for you.
  2. How far should you walk? Start slowly and work your way up to longer walks. This is good for both of you.
  3. Should your dog be trained first? Train your dog to walk on a leash. A good harness can help if they are pulling, and it’s a great idea to take some classes or get help from a credentialed trainer to make sure your dog learns good leash manners.
  4. Are there any laws about walking your dog? Follow local leash laws (most places require dogs to be on a leash) and don’t forget bags or a poop scoop. Be a good neighbor and dispose of dog poop in a garbage can.
  5. What if your dog doesn’t want to walk? Drive to a nearby park or a new place, especially if your dog is resistant to walking and seems to want to head home.
  6. Can you walk your dog when the weather is hot? In summer, avoid being out in the hottest part of the day, and avoid hot surfaces like sand and asphalt that can burn your pet’s paws. A general rule is if it’s too hot for you to have your hand on sand or asphalt, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. No one wants an emergency trip to the vet when it’s totally preventable.
  7. Can you walk your dog when the weather is cold? In winter, avoid the coldest part of the day, and learn to recognize signs of frostbite and hypothermia (for people and your pet). Some short-haired breeds will need to wear clothing. Read our post about choosing safe and comfy pet clothing.
  8. Should you be worried about where your dog walks? Make sure to walk on firm footing (not deep sand or uneven surfaces) to avoid injuries to you or your dog.
  9. What should you notice about your dog during your walk? If your dog starts limping or has trouble breathing, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. Some dogs have very short snouts, such as bulldogs, which can make breathing a challenge.
  10. Is it important to let your dog sniff? Yes! These are stressful times. Make sure you are enjoying the walk, too, and sometimes that means slowing down for your dog to sniff all the sniffs (see below).

Try a “Sniff Walk”

Dogs understand their world through their incredible noses, so be sure to let them take some time to sniff. That’s how they understand who’s been where. Leading veterinarians and pet behaviorists encourage people to take their dogs on a “sniff walk” (also known as a “scent walk”). That’s a walk where the dog has the power to decide how long to stay in a certain spot. This is a great mental exercise for your dog to help keep them happy pups. 

You can follow their cues while they keep their ears forward and nose to the ground following a scent. You can even teach them a verbal cue like “go sniff” that will help them know the difference between a sniff walk and one where you want to keep moving. 

Switch It Up

It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern, but dogs and humans benefit from variation in walks. Try a new pace, or a new place. It can be fun for both of you to see (and smell) the world from a different perspective. 

Dogs also benefit from the mental exercise of training. You can bring treats along (put a portion of your dog’s regular food serving to keep calories under control) and create little challenges along the way. 

  • Work on “heel” by having treats (see sentence immediately above) at the ready as they stay close.
  • Have your dog sit or go “down” when another dog comes near.
  • Teach them to “touch” their nose to your finger when they hear or see something unusual.
  • Have them sit at an intersection and wait for you to give the “okay” before crossing.

Off-Leash Dog Parks

Not every dog is a good candidate for an off-leash dog park, but some have a great time burning off excess energy in these social settings. 

Taking your dog to an off-leash dog park does involve some risks, including meeting aggressive dogs and increased exposure to parasites. Your dog needs to be fully vaccinated and well trained. Look at their body language to make sure they’re having a good time.

If you plan to visit off-leash dog parks, check out our tips for safer dog park visits.

And remember: Even if you frequent dog parks, it’s still important to teach your dog to walk politely on a leash. 

Walking your dog is a great way to get the exercise that’s good for your minds and bodies and to connect with your beloved pet.

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