Chapter 9: Walkies
No matter what other kinds of exercise you do with your dog, taking him or her for on-lead walks should remain a regular part of your routine. It is, in fact, an important part of the bonding process between you and your dog: in the wild, canines travel in packs for hours every day and this is the city/suburbs human-canine version of that.
Detour: Finding Variety In And Out Of The City And Suburbs Setting
Living in a suburb or city environment, your dog will do plenty of walking on concrete. This is good to help file down your dog’s nails, but for a change of pace go off-concrete with your dog when you can.
Visit the beach, go on a long drive and walk in the mountains - as long as it’s safe and dogs are allowed (check beforehand), go for it!
Help retain dogs’ rights to places by picking up after your pooch.
People leaving behind dog poo has resulted in many places banning dogs, so help dog-friendly areas remain dog-friendly by taking plenty of poo bags with you and picking up after your dog every time.
Teaching Your Dog Commands
I’ll list the commands you’ll need with each activity, but as this website is not about training, I won’t be giving instructions on how to teach them to your dog. That’s the kind of work you’ll be doing in obedience class with your trainer.
The exception is that I give instructions on some of the commands used for wheeled activities (Chapter 14: Putting The Wheels In Motion) seeing as they are commands that would never be taught in an obedience class.
Commands Needed For On-Lead Walks
Detour: Praising And Reinforcing Commands At The Same Time
The reason I use good wee-wee instead of the more usual good dog is because it’s a praising method that reinforces the command itself.
As another example, when my dogs sit after I give the command sit I praise them with the words good sit. Not only does it give them praise, but tells the dog precisely what I’m praising for. Similarly, I’ll say good heel when the dogs are heeling well, and good stay when they’ve patiently remained put where I’ve told them to.
You might work with a trainer who doesn’t like this method - they might want you to use the more generic praises like yes, good, or good boy/girl/dog. It’s totally up to you what to do, and all ways have their merits. But when you make the decision, stick to whichever you choose - don’t constantly switch or you'll confuse your dog.
Equipment Needed For Walks
Get sturdy sneakers specifically made for walking or running. Find some that are a good fit, and don’t skimp on quality in favour of a cheap price - you never want to risk the health of your joints for the sake of saving a few bucks.
Detour: Open Shoes In Warm Weather?
What if the weather’s warm and you’d like to wear open-toed shoes? Well don’t. Open-toed shoes are made for walking at a leisurely pace, and your aim is to go well beyond that. Only sneakers will allow you to walk your dog at a pace that will amply increase fitness.
But what if it’s so boiling hot that you can’t handle the thought of putting your feet in closed shoes? Well then it’s too hot to take your dog out at all. Wait until a cooler time of the day, put your sneakers on and take your dog for a walk then.
Why A Treat Bag?
As the name suggests, a treat bag is used to hold treats. And the reason to take treats with you is to practise what you learn in obedience class during your daily on-lead walks.
There are different types of treat bags to suit different people’s needs, so check out what various petshops have to offer.
Adjustable leads can be altered to fit around your waist so that you can attach yourself to your dog.
Why Attach Yourself To Your Dog?
In one word: safety. If you accidentally let go of the lead or briefly need your hands for something else (like picking up a poo, for example), your dog will still be safely attached to you.
Your Lower Back
Be conscious of your lower back when attaching yourself to your dog.
While heel-walking you’ll have one or two hands on the lead, and that keeps your lower back safe. But going hands-free after giving your dog the free command is a very bad idea. A dog who’s been told free is unpredictable in his or her force and direction, and an enthusiastic dog (especially a big dog) could put your lower back out.
For safety, keep at least one hand on the lead at all times, whether heel-walking or free-walking.
An adjustable lead won’t necessarily give enough length for a comfortable walk with your dog (it depends on how short/tall you are and how short/tall your dog is), so you’ll possibly need to also use an EzyDog Standard Extension too: put the adjustable lead around your waist, attach the extension to the adjustable lead, and attach the extension to your dog.
No Springy Leads
Leads with elasticity are not suitable for heel walking as they don’t give you enough control. They’re great for when you need some shock absorption - like when your dog runs as you skate or scooter (more on this in Chapter 14: Putting The Wheels In Motion) or if you're doing an on-lead free walk - but not for heel walks.
Some petshops try to sell the idea that elasticity in a lead helps protect your shoulder, but that assumes your dog is dragging you around during walks. I’m assuming that you - not your dog - will be in charge of the walk and that you’ll train your dog to walk at a heel unless you give the command free.
Detour: Making Walks Work For You
Although this website is about helping your dog through exercise, there’s no crime in taking full advantage of the added benefit to you, which is toning up and losing weight.
For developing a specific fitness program using walking your dog as the main tool, get a hold of the book Fitness Unleashed by Dr Marty Becker and Dr Robert Kushner.
Now with any book (or website) I recommend, I don’t necessarily agree with every single word the authors say. I generally won’t mention the points I disagree with. However in this case I will mention one point as it’s directly relevant to the topic of on-lead walking: the authors of Fitness Unleashed recommend the use of a retractable lead in all scenarios. My advice is to never use one in any scenario.
No Retractable Lead!
Here’s why I’m 100 percent against the retractable lead:
The Head Halter
Training your dog to heel-walk (rather than dart about, lurch forward, and pull backwards at his or her will) has two benefits:
But heeling is not the easiest thing to get a dog to do due to his or her enthusiasm about being on a walk. Luckily there’s a device on the market designed to help you teach your dog: the head halter.
Why I Prefer The HaltiŽ
There are a few brands of head halter on the market, but the HaltiŽ by KraMar PetCare is currently the best because it has an attachment that clips onto the dog’s collar as a backup connection. (Love that extra dose of safety!)
Note: Not A Muzzle
A head halter is like a horse’s bridle and helps you control the dog by leading him or her ‘by the nose’ (both figuratively and literally). Although the device goes around the dog’s muzzle, the head halter does not function as a muzzle. In other words, it doesn’t stop the dog from opening his or her mouth, and that means two things:
Why Not Attach The Lead To A Regular Collar?
A correctly-fitted head halter is safer than a correctly-fitted collar to use during on-lead walks. This goes for any breed of dog, but especially small-headed breeds.
You can judge if your dog is a small-headed dog by comparing the size of our dog's head and neck: if the neck is around the same size as the skull or thicker, then your dog is a small-headed dog.
Even with a correctly-fitted collar, a small-headed dog can execute an escape using a backward pull rather easily. In fact that’s how Jordan, my second Jack Russell (a small-headed breed of dog), ended up dead.
I wish that of all the books and websites I’d read up to that point, even one had told me that collars are not to be used for walking your dog and are simply there to house a dog’s ID tag. Jordan’s untimely death is why I’m telling you emphatically that you should NOT attach a lead to your dog’s collar when taking him or her out.
Only put the head halter on your dog when going for walks. It’s a big fat no-no to leave your dog by him- or herself with anything on but a collar and ID tag.
Why? Because even a dog that’s generally tolerant of the head halter will not tolerate it forever. The dog will eventually try to take the head halter off by rubbing his or her face along the ground. A lone dog desperate to take a head halter off can do a lot of damage to the surroundings and - more importantly - to him- or herself.
Head halters are designed to require little more instruction than what you read on the packet.
However, although it can be used straight out of the box it’s best to check with your vet or trainer that you’ve altered it to correctly fit your dog (the two-vertical-fingers-underneath rule that you use with collars as discussed in Chapter 8: First And Foremost, The Collar does NOT apply with head halters). Without the correct fit, effectiveness is lowered and the head halter could possibly become unsafe (ie. by slipping off).
What If My Dog Doesn’t Like The Head Halter?
My dogs tolerate the head halter because it involves going for a walk, but have no real love for it. From talking to other people, it seems that it’s not just my dogs who don't love the head halter - lots of dogs express varying levels of irritation to the part of the head halter that sits on the muzzle. But this doesn’t mean the dog won’t get used to it with time.
Many people have told me that they tried the head halter once and because their dog didn’t like it, they stopped using it. The question I ask is: what ever happened to a little persistence? It’s just plain ridiculous to try something for twenty seconds and then give up if your dog doesn’t like it, because I’ve got news for you: there are plenty of things your dog won’t like that you will do for his or her own good (eg. vaccinations, baths, etc).
If this particular device helps to get your dog heeling, then use it, whether the dog likes it or not. It’s called tough love and it helps your dog because the better your dog’s heel, the more walks your dog will go on, and the fitter and happier your dog will be.
Consider this: if you could ask your dog to choose between a walking device of his or her choice and less walks, and a head halter and more walks, your dog would most definitely choose the latter. However, since you can’t ask, use common sense and tough love to do what’s best for your dog. And if that involves using a head halter when your dog doesn’t particularly like it, then so be it.
Use the advice I give in Chapter 8: First And Foremost, The Collar for desensitising your dog to a collar for desensitising your dog to the head halter and your dog should be used to the head halter in no time!
Detour: The Check Chain And Half-Check Chain Debate
The question among vets, trainers, and behaviourists that continues to rage is this: is using a check chain or half-check chain cruel?
Proponents of these tools say that positioned and used correctly they pose little risk of damage to the throat, but that incorrectly positioned and used they can cause damage.
People against the check chain and half-check chain will say it causes damage no matter how it's positioned or used.
I guess it's up to you to make up your own mind, but I will say this: you'll notice I don't advise the use of the check chain or half-check chain in any of the activities in Little Dog In A Big City. (Hint, hint!)
Increasing The Intensity: Power Walking
Adding some power walking to your walks will benefit you and your dog enormously.
Build up your walking speed over time by alternating between fast- and medium-paced walking. At a certain point you’ll probably be able to do entire walks at a fast pace (ie. power walking) if you wish, or you might want to stick to alternating.
Either way is beneficial, but the advantage of alternating is that you’ll be able to walk for longer overall. Longer walks (provided that they’re still physically taxing - not just a leisurely stroll) mean more energy expended.
Increasing The Intensity: Hill Work
Adding hills to your walks is also a great idea. And when I say hills, they don’t have to be giant mountains - small and medium inclines count too.
They add intensity to the walk and bring into play muscles that don’t get used in the same way while walking on flat ground. Again, start slowly and alternate between flat and hilly terrain.
What About Running?
Running is high impact, which makes it potentially more dangerous to your joints than walking which is a low impact exercise.
This elevated likelihood for injury is the reason I don’t do it myself. That, and the fact that I’ve personally never met a runner who hasn’t permanently injured themselves from running. In other words, the possibility for injury translates into reality a heck of a lot.
Although I don’t run with my dogs, if you want to run with yours there’s nothing stopping you. Nothing except your health professional, that is - clear it first with them and, if you’re given the go-ahead, build up gradually from walking to running.
You can use the same commands for running as for walking, but teach them to your dog before progressing to running. Also, be sure that in the concrete-filled city/suburbs setting you live in, you run off-road as much as possible to help protect your joints.
Does That Mean Running Is Bad For Dogs?
Dogs are (clearly) built differently to us. This makes running less potentially injurious to your dog than to you.
However not all dog breeds are made for running. Most dogs are born to run. Others are born to run and run and run…and keep running. And others aren’t good candidates for running at all, so get your vet’s blessing before running with your dog.
SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!
Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance
It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.
Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.
Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.
Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.
If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.
All information and photos are copyright © Despina Rosales.