For my dogs, going for our daily walk is the highlight of their day — they love prancing down the street and taking in the sights, sounds, smells and chance encounters with their best buddy, Louie, who lives down the block.
Not only does walking give them much-needed exercise, but being outside in the fresh air and interacting with the world outside of their home environment is important for their overall health.
By following some basic best practices, you can maintain positive relationships with your neighbors and keep the experience safe for you and your pets.
LEASHES ARE MANDATORY: Always keep your dog on a leash unless you’re in a designated off-leash area, such as a dog park.
Some people gloss over this rule, believing that their dog is well-trained and has enough self-control to stay by their side. This could be dangerous. Having the pet on a leash protects him, you and anyone you encounter along the route.
We never know what we might come across that can trigger a dog. We also need to be mindful of other people’s personal space, as not everyone is looking to be approached by a dog. Even pets with excellent recall can be spooked or become upset by another animal or person.
At the end of the day, dogs are animals and their behavior is not always predictable.
A sturdy 4-foot to 6-foot traditional leash is recommended to keep the walker, the dog and others safe. The leash should be long enough for the dog to have some freedom, but short enough to maintain control.
I do not recommend using retractable leashes, as they offer less control and can pose a serious risk of injury to people and pets.
PICK UP AFTER YOUR POOCH: This should be a no-brainer, but surprisingly, it’s not. Nobody wants to walk across their own lawn and step in dog poop. We should be considerate of both personal and public spaces, so cleaning up applies to community areas like parks, sidewalks and streets too. Make sure to bring plenty of plastic bags on every walk and pick up the poop every single time.
RESPECT OTHERS: Allowing the dog to walk through other people’s yards, disrupt gardens, terrorize flowers or pee all over lawn decorations is just bad etiquette. Treat other people’s property the way you would want yours to be treated.
If the dog is a barker, jumper or lunger, it is important to discourage this behavior and keep a safe distance from people you encounter along the walk.
My dog Romeo barks at people jogging by, passing in cars, on bikes and in golf carts. We are working on correcting this behavior, but since we adopted him as a senior, it has been a challenge breaking a behavior that he’s likely to have his entire life. Though I know Romeo is harmless, he could potentially be frightening to those unfamiliar with him.
BE OBSERVANT: Texting or scrolling while walking the dog is a bad idea. It is important to stay vigilant, be aware of your surroundings and stay present during walks. You are responsible for your dog’s actions and will want to be alert to traffic, other roaming animals, people along the route and more. Always be prepared to change course, if necessary.
Dog walks are a nice way to spend quality time with our canine family members and are beneficial to their overall health. Let’s all do our part to keep it a pleasant and safe experience for everyone.
Traci D. Howerton is the volunteer coordinator for Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), a nonprofit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. For topic suggestions, email [email protected] or for more info on ARNO, visit www.animalrescueneworleans.org.