Walking your dog can be fun, relaxing and beneficial for both of you. Or it could be a chore because your dog takes you for a drag, won’t come when he’s called or attacks (in an aggressive or friendly way) other dogs or people on the way.
Dogs need to go for walks, not only for the exercise, but for the mental stimulation. They like to sniff under bushes and at lampposts, meet other dogs or people and leave their mark on the community (e.g. by urinating and scratching the ground, known as P-mail). This way dogs are able to keep up with local “news”, which helps to keep them calm, contented and well-behaved.
Some tips for easy walking:
Ten minute daily walks in your neighbourhood can be just as beneficial as long free runs at the beach or in the park or mountain.
If you are unsure about your dog’s recall or social skills, keep him on a long loose lead with a secure collar, harness or head halter.
Each day go in a different direction, not always the same route around the block. This helps as your dog cannot anticipate where you are going and will be less likely to pull.
Look where you’re going, not at your dog. You should be the leader and make decisions about where you want to go.
With a relaxed arm, let him follow the direction your feet are going. There is no need to shout, yank on the lead or even speak to your dog.
To give your dog “calming signals” walk in large circles or zigzags and stop to “smell the roses”, allowing your dog to do the same.
Allow your dog to go up to other sociable people and dogs with a slack lead. Stand side-on to them and your dog without staring. These are non-threatening signals, so your dog doesn’t think you are afraid of the other person or dog. This helps to prevent fear reactions or over-protectiveness.
If your dog pulls on the lead, try changing direction when you feel the tension on the lead. Or you could try standing still (or even sitting down) until the lead is slack, and then continuing. Your dog will soon learn that you only walk when the lead is slack and that you are in charge.
If you have more than one dog, it may be wise to walk them separately, as dogs can behave very differently as a group than they do individually. It is always easier to manage one dog at a time. Once each dog is manageable on his own, you can consider walking them together on leads, preferably one adult person per dog.
As early as possible socialize your dog with people (including different race groups, disabled people and children) and other dogs (including strange dogs and puppies). This is essential if you want to walk your dog in public areas and should start when your pup is nine weeks old and continue for the rest of his or her life.
A well-trained and obedient dog is much more pleasurable and safe to be around. This means you have to take the responsibility of taking your dog to training, getting someone in to help you or doing it yourself with the help of previous experience or a good up-to-date training manual, DVD or other source (not 15 minute TV programmes!). Dogs can learn to be controlled by voice, clicker, hand signals or whistles.
The recall: The most important instruction to teach a dog is “Come!” and many unfortunate incidents can be avoided if dogs respond to this instantly. Always use positive reinforcement (praise, physical contact, a toy or food) to reward your dog for coming, even if he comes 10 minutes later!
If you are a long distance walker or runner and you want to take your dog with you, make sure your dog is a suitable breed, age and fitness level. Some breeds are excellent sporting breeds (e.g. Border Collies, Huskies, Whippets and Ridgebacks), while others are just not built for athletics (e.g. Bulldogs). Just like people, dogs need to build up their fitness gradually. Bear in mind that a fit dog will be very frustrated if he is not exercised regularly. Like human athletes and sled dogs that run regularly they should be fitted with footwear, especially if they run on hard surfaces like tarmac. Be careful about exercising in the heat of the day as dogs suffer very easily from heat exposure. A rough formula for getting a puppy fit to walk or run long distances is the following: Up to 15 minutes daily on a lead until your pup is six months old. After that, add on 10 minutes per month.
The guidelines below should apply whenever you walk your dog and many are based on the Table Mountain National Park’s Code of Conduct for Dogwalking.
There are people who are afraid of or don’t like dogs and would prefer never to come into contact with them. These people are also entitled to use our mountains, parks, beaches and streets and their wishes should be respected. Be aware that not all people are familiar with dogs and be particularly careful with dogs around small children. Be aware of your dogs at all times and do not allow them to interfere with the pleasure of others using the area. People who are obviously afraid of dogs should be respected and your dog kept away from them.
When walking on a path give RIGHT OF WAY to people unaccompanied by dogs.
Always carry a leash in your hand so that you can restrain your dog if necessary. You never know when you may need it.
Put your dog on leash:
- At the start and end a walk – These are times when your dog may be excitable and the leash will help to control her and demarcate the beginning and end of a walk. It also helps if you have a dog that escapes and takes herself for a walk. She will learn that having the leash on is her ticket out.
- When passing through sensitive indigenous areas that are being rehabilitated
- In car parks
- While passing through areas such as picnic or braai sites or tourist areas
- When you see wild animals – Wild animals such as baboons and snakes can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Try to ensure that your dogs do not chase or injure fauna. Chasing birds, squirrels and other small prey may seem natural and fun for your dog, but hunting can result in a very uncontrollable dog. Besides, if you are an animal lover, you do not want to disturb wild animals in their natural habitat. Discourage your dog from chasing animals by calling him away and/or putting the leash on. This is where the recall is useful.
When meeting a leashed dog, while your dog is off-lead, you should provide space for both dogs to pass without incident. Unleashed dogs should be discouraged from running up to leashed dogs. This is where the recall is useful.
If a loose dog runs up to yours while he is on the leash there is a good chance that he is friendly, so don’t panic, shout or stare at the dogs. If you are unsure of the other dog’s intentions, change direction slightly away from the other dog, doing a circle or zigzag. Simply keep walking, relax and allow your dog to follow you, using a friendly tone of voice to call your dog.
Always take a couple of plastic bags to pick up after your dog. Be responsible for removing your dog’s faeces from paths and public areas. Deposit it in bins, where provided, or carry it home. This is common decency and also helps to prevent the spread of disease. Irate home-owners have been known to shoot dogs for defaecating on their verges. Leaving your dog’s faeces in public areas only gives ammunition to the anti-dog people who would like to see dogs banned from all public areas.
Dogs that enjoy swimming or are advised to swim for medical reasons can be allowed to do so in specific places, but not all places allow swimming – check first. Swimming can be good for building strong muscles without putting strain on the joints and for some skin problems. On hot days it’s also good for cooling down.
Bitches in heat must NEVER be walked in public.
Make sure you have the relevant permits and comply with any park notices regarding dog walking or swimming.
Enjoy walking sensibly, considerately and pleasurably!
By Karen Gray-Kilfoil
ANIMAL BEHAVIOURIST & HUMANE EDUCATOR
Tel/Fax: 021 785 5811
For info about local animal organisations see http://scenicsouth.co.za//civic-community/animal-matters/