We all enjoy walking our dogs. There are so many ways to enjoy your time outside with your dog and they are all great! Hiking off leash with your dog is such an amazing way to spend your afternoon. Walking on leash at your local state park can be a great way to spend down time and get some good exercise. Simply a stroll around your own yard or neighborhood can be just what you need. Wherever you go with your dog, it doesn’t take much to have another well meaning person ruin your outing.
There are more reasons to follow dog walking etiquette than just being a polite person. Someone could be out enjoying nature and be fearful of dogs. You wouldn't want your dog upsetting them, right? A senior dog with vision issues could easily be startled by another dog rushing them before they're ready to say hello. A young puppy in their critical socialization window can be startled by a gregarious dog and even develop a fear response as they mature by such an event. I could go on for days! Instead, please take a moment to share these simple guidelines to ensure you aren't just enjoying your time in nature with your dog, but making sure others are too.
First you need to make sure you have the necessary tools with you. Whether you walk your dog on or off leash it is critical that you bring a fixed length leash with you everywhere. Poop bags are an obvious must. Leaving your dog’s waste on the side of a trail is more than just unsightly but it’s bad for the environment as well. Even though the waste will break down over time, the bacteria and possible parasites will linger. While treats are not mandatory, they can be extremely helpful if your dog is overly stimulated by another person or animal.
Make sure you know the leash laws for the area and specific trail you are walking on and follow them. When a park sign says “On leash dogs only,” this is not a suggestion. This does not mean walk far enough into the woods that anyone from the road will not see you and then let your dog off the leash. It means keep your dog on leash at all times. It is simply unfair for an off leash dog to approach a leashed one in an area when the people are expecting all dogs to be leashed. It is a recipe for disaster. Do you have your dog under voice control? That’s amazing! Consider yourself one of the lucky ones and treat yourself to those trails that welcome dogs off leash!
Keep your dog in your sight at all times. Whether you are walking your dog on a long line or walking them off the leash, they need to remain in your sight at all times. Your dog can get into a lot of trouble if given the chance. Do not let them run ahead and greet another person or dog without the permission to do so. This doesn't mean chasing after them to catch them so they don’t jump on someone. It means training them to stay close to you at all times so you can easily and safely intervene when needed.
Do not let your dog off the leash if you cannot guarantee they will return to you 100% of the time when you ask them to do so. Do not let them run free if you are not willing to bet 2 weeks of pay that they will return on cue! Does your dog do great in your yard? That’s awesome! Keep them there and leash them off property until you have time to train more and build trust in them.
Yield to oncoming hikers. When walking on trail with your dog it is always polite to move to the side and let others pass by. This may mean calling your dog to you, leashing them and moving over. Or, simply moving off the trail with your leashed dog. Most dogs will behave better if they can sit and calmly watch others pass by rather than try to walk by a moving person or other dog. This also means maintaining control of your dog as another dog walks by. Do not allow your dog to approach another person or dog without express permission. “It’s okay, he’s friendly!” are words that should never leave your mouth. Ask first, only allow your dog to greet others if they are behaving well. Otherwise your dog will learn that rowdy behavior earns a greeting. When in doubt, encourage your dog to leave others alone and have them focus on you.
No one wants to ruin someone's day or to upset their dog. Accidents happen but plan to do better next time. Be prepared for what and who you might encounter when on a walk. Remember that not all dogs are friendly and follow these basic guidelines to make sure you have an enjoyable walk with your dog and others will too.
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