How do you walk your dog?

I have been thinking about the various ways people walk their dogs, or have their dogs walk them. For some it’s barely controlled chaos, for others it’s an exercise in total control of their dogs. For me, it’s a cooperation between human and dog.


I was out today after being laid up for a bit from surgery. It’s not the first time I’ve been out but it’s the first time I managed to walk a dog by myself without someone else. I haven’t been in this situation before in my life so it was a good time for reflecting. I observed several other people walking their dogs and my reflection turned towards our relationship with our dogs during a walk.

I’m a great proponent of allowing dogs to walk off leash whenever possible. This means finding a bit of land where this is allowed. This quite often requires research and travel, which can be inconvenient or impossible. Most of the places where people live in the United States have leash laws. Which means you must keep your dog on leash at all times. Or find a dog park.

But dogs need exercise and enrichment so walking on leash is what they get. My goal is to make it an enjoyable time for my and my dogs. If that means that we have to stop and smell bushes 17 times, then that’s what we do. If I’m out for a walk with my dogs and exercising my dogs is my goal, then they have some say in what we do. If I’m out with my dogs and have a specific destination in mind or a time limitation, then they don’t get so much say in what we do. Either way, it’s a cooperation between us. And, during the walks, my attention is on my dogs. I may be listening to a book on tape, or chatting with someone, but I’m paying attention to my dogs and what they are doing. Also, what is coming our way.

As I said, on my walk today, I observed several others walking their dogs.

First there was the over-eager dog. This was a black lab. His goal was to get where ever he was trying to get. To the next tree, to the lamp post, across the street. He strained and pulled at the far end of the leash and was choking himself to get there. His breathing was labored but he was as happy as can be. The entire time, the human on the other end of the leash was pulling and yanking and tugging, yelling “no”, trying to get the dog to stop pulling, all to no avail.

Then I saw a small dog. I’m assuming the gender of dog for both of these but for argument’s sake we’ll call this female. It looked like a little poodle. Just like the lab illustrated before, the poodle was straining at the end of the leash, pulling for all her might, trying to get where she wanted to go. The difference here was that, in this case, the dog was able to get her way because the human on the other end of the leash stumbled around being pulled every which way by this tiny little dog. It was somewhat funny to watch a full sized human pulled around by a tiny tiny dog.

The final observation of the day is a couple that owns two German Shepherds. One female and one male. They are a very diligent couple and walk their dogs several times each day so the dogs clearly get lots of exercise. However, it’s also clear that these dogs are not enjoying their walks. They are required to stay perfectly in heel position the entire time. If they stray from heel, then they get a tug on the prong collar followed by a harsh verbal correction. As they walk, the dogs exhibit signs of stress, yawning, lip licking, etc. As these people approach other dogs, their dogs start to get aroused, and begin growling and barking. This is immediately corrected with a sharp yank on the prong collar and more harsh words. I see this couple every day and this is how they walk their dogs. Today after she was corrected via collar tug, the female snapped at the owner, who then smacked the dog on the back of the head.

These look nothing like the walks I have with my dogs. My dogs do have some concern with other dogs and we work on that. However, when we are not working on that specific issue, the leashes are loose, the dogs are walking slightly ahead of me but sometimes slightly behind. They stop and sniff at bushes and trees and whatever else there is. I pay attention to what they are sniffing and make sure it’s not something bad for them. Then gently move them along. They always look like they are having a great time and never look stressed, except when another dog approaches. Then we use a little “Control Unleashed” and make sure that their interaction with other dogs is positive. I can’t say I’m perfect, far from it. But my dogs know what the rules are and follow them. They don’t drag me around but they aren’t expected to stay in heel the entire walk either.

So think about the relationship you want with your dogs. Do you want them to drag you around? Do you want them to be perfectly behaved? Or do you want them to have a mind of their own within some boundaries? Teach your dogs to walk politely on leash and give yourself a lifetime of happy walks with your dogs.

One thought on “How do you walk your dog?

  1. Well-written and I’ve seen them all….the pullers, the unhappy heelers, the bush sniffing pooches checking for pee mail. Except for the poodle, all the dogs you described were originally bred for herding/shepherding…..They LOVE to zip around….and check things out. It is unkind to never allow them to run…really RUN! It is not only good for the bodies, but it is good for their minds. Carrying a pocket full of treats to reinforce those brilliant recalls periodically makes it fun AND educational!

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