I am the veteran of an estimated 15,000 walks over the past 10 years. During this time I have gone from owning one Kerry to owning 3 Kerries.
I walk my dogs for pleasure, both mine and theirs. Molly and Heddy have had extensive training, and I try to allow them freedom to sniff and explore on the leash while we are walking (in our vocabulary "take a break" time) and avoid making it a forced march or "heels" "sits" and "downs". We are able to have freedom, yet walk reasonably mannerly, because they have a solid base of training.
If you are new to dog walking, the good news is the more often you walk, the more it becomes a routine - which means the dogs better understand what is expected and acceptable the more enjoyable it is for all.
I've seen just about everything in my hours on the road, and here are a few things that I have learned walking my Kerries, which might help you.
Before you leave the safety of your front door
- Be sure your dog is wearing correct ID.
- Be sure you know how to use/operate any collar (flat, martingale, or harness) or leash (6' leather, retractable), especially training equipment (choke or slip collar, prong collar, Halti or Gentle leader) properly and effectively. It takes instruction and guidance to use this equipment safely, properly and effectively. Be sure it is properly adjusted and fitted.
- Know the shortfalls of your equipment:
- Dogs have been known to back out of Halti or Gentle Leader head gear.
My trainer recommends using a light weight leash attached to the Halti for guidance, and a regular flat leather leash attached to a secondary collar (flat collar or slip/choke chain) for control.
- Prong collars have been known to come undone
My trainer always recommended looping a slip/choke collar through the prong collar's loop, as back up, just in case the prong collar should come undone.
- Retractable Flexileads:
- Use only once your dog is adequately trained on a fixed length leash. Otherwise, your dog will think that walking on a taut line is "normal" and will always pull against the leash and drag you along.
- Practice learning how to use the brake and how to quickly reel your dog in, away from danger, before you use in public
- Use only in large, open spaces, where the lead can't get entangled in bushes, and away from pedestrian traffic and roads
- The nylon cord can cause serious "rope burn" don't ever reach for the cord, and keep away from bare legs
- If you are using a flexilead near a road, reel your dog in and lock, so that your dog is walking on a short leash, and that, if distracted, he/she can't charge into traffic
- Realize that if you drop the handle, it is dangerous. It will snap back and retract very quickly. If attached to your dog, that means it will snap back towards your dog. Our late friend Molly-the-Bulldog lost several teeth when her owner accidentally dropped the flexilead grip.
- Dogs have been known to back out of Halti or Gentle Leader head gear.
- Go to the bathroom yourself, who knows where the road will bring you or how long you may be gone.
- Clear your head. If you're frustrated or impatient, your dogs will pick up on this. I find mine really act out when I'm feeling impatient. Go with the flow and you'll benefit from the endorphin flow as well.
- Be sure to grab a pooper scooper.
- When you walk your dog off your property, be sure it is on leash. In most areas of suburban USA, that's the law.
- Given that I like to enjoy my walk, I have learned it is important to get my dog's attention before we head out (one of those mind games). So I generally subject them to a session lovingly known as doggie pushups, which starts with sitting and waiting patiently while their walking collars and leashes are put on, waiting while I exit the door first and once in a while a run through the basic commands immediately once we get outside, "Sit", Down" and "Stay". This basically let's your dog know that YOU are going to be the walk master. You'd be surprised how this little exercise of mind control lasts the duration of the walk.
- You should always walk on a sidewalk, when available.
- If, at any time, your walk takes you along a road without a proper sidewalk, remember that pedestrians should always walk left FACING traffic; meaning on the left shoulder of the road, and as far to the left as possible, single file. This allows you to see approaching vehicles and oncoming traffic. I always have the dogs walk on my left, aside from being the proper heel position, it places me, the most visible, between them and traffic.
- In winter, you should consider wearing bright and/or fluorescent and reflective when you walk you dog. Bright and/or fluorescent material reflects surrounding light and makes the wearer more visible during the daytime, even on low light situations. Reflective material reflects light back to its source during low-visibility situations will increase your visibility to motorists at night, dusk, dawn, and in the rain. Also consider carrying some source of light at night, or maybe adding some reflective tape on you dog's collar and/or leash. There are lots of products designed for runners and bikers, and now pets as well.
- Clip on lights (with various flashing options) designed for bikers can be clipped on the leash or your dog's collar and is very effective.http://www.rei.com/online/store/
- A selection of reflective products for the dog
- A selection of reflective products for you
- Carry a lightweight, powerful flashlight with fresh batteries in your dog walking jacket. That way, if you come across something which needs investigation, or you're caught out at dusk, or in an emergency you'll always have it.
- When you are out in public, it is your responsibility to keep your dog safe and the public (human and canine) safe from your dog(s).
- For dogs who can be unpredictable with people or dogs, or who are very dog aggressive, consider using a muzzle when having to walk in a crowded area (busy commercial area, vet's lobbies, etc). When I am forced to walk Heddy in a crowded commercial area or through the lobby, I have her wear her Jafco muzzle (http://www.leerburg.com/708.htm). It allows us to get to where we need to without any fuss. When muzzled, I find dogs generally don't even attempt to do anything you wouldn't want them to.
- If you have a cell phone, you might want to put it in your dog walking jacket pocket. In an emergency it's invaluable. It's a good idea to have the number of your local animal control and your local non emergency police numbers pre-programed into the phone in case you see a stray animal.
Four Tender Paws - Remember your dogs are not wearing shoes
- Consider the material and temperature of the surface on which you're walking on, especially if you're walking in a warmer climates.
- If your dog stop for no apparent reason, changes gait, starts to limp, or hold up a paw, stop and investigate. A rock can lodge between the pads, or they can have a sticker, burr or thorn either in the pads, or in between the pads or toes.
- Remember the more inviting the lawn looks, the greater chance there is that its beauty is chemically induced. Exposure to garden chemicals should be avoided, they are known to be harmful to animals health. Public parks often post prior to chemical treatment, then flag once treated. If you walk your dogs in a public park pay attention to postings and flags.
The NEVERs and ALWAYSes of dog walking
- The walk master really needs to be 100% focused the entire walk - and should not be sipping cappuccino or reading the Wall Street Journal. I find that having good eyesight and being aware of the surroundings really helps - I'm always keeping an eye way out ahead, to the side, and behind me for signs or sounds of potential trouble.
- Always wear appropriate walking shoes. Heels or flip flops will be no help if the going gets rough.
- Never try to carry anything but the leash - keep your hands free - you may need them. If you need to bring anything along, select a walking jacket with large zip pockets (pullovers usually have a large, central pocket) and if you like to carry water you can find a thermos with a shoulder strap.
- Before you allow anyone to walk your dog, consider how much they can reasonably handle. Can your well meaning elderly father/mother or daughter/son really safely and effectively handle an excited 30+ lb Kerry Blue Terrier in any circumstance?
- Always be courteous and considerate of dog owners you meet along the way and the owners of property you pass. If anyone asks you not to allow your dogs on their lawn (Many people believe that a dog's urine will create brown spots on their lawn), respect their wish, that walk and every walk - there's plenty of other green space out there for the dog to sniff.
- Walking well means that your dog is walking on a slack leash. If your dog is pulling on the leash or dragging you along, you need to go back to some basic training. It's worth the time and effort as it will greatly improve your enjoyment for years to come.
- Never attempt to walk two Kerries single-handedly until both are independently trained and voice responsive. Even if one is trained, the untrained dog, over time, will weaken the responsiveness and training of the trained dog. Sometimes that means having to walk the dogs in shifts.
- Never EVER attempt to walk more than two Kerries single-handedly. If you've done it and gotten away with it - keep in mind the odds are against you in the future. There is just too much horsepower in these guys for a mere mortal to control if a stimulating situation presents itself. Again, if you have multiple dogs you may have to walk them in shifts.
- We always walk Molly and Scamp single-handedly. They are extremely bonded and walk at the same pace, although at times they tend to go in opposite directions. We use 6" leather leashes. I have found it's very difficult to manage two leashes separately, especially if the going gets tough. So I have attached the two 6' leashes (either using a special German leash (http://www.dogsportsequipment.com/german.htm) with extra hardware for this purpose or using a mountaineering Carabiner (now available everywhere)). That way you're managing only one 12' long leash. When someone wants to go sniff to the right, you let out slack to the right. It's very efficient for walking two dogs single-handedly. It also makes it easy when it's time to pick up after the dogs; as you only need one hand to manage one leash, so one hand is free for pick-up.
- If I had the time I would walk each of my dogs separately it's a much more enjoyable experience for both dog and owner. This is especially important if one of your dogs needs a little more "work" because walks are an opportunity to enforce some good training basics. Being walked individually the dog is much more responsive, attentive to the walk master. When time permits I regularly take each of the dogs out for a "private" walk with mom.
- Always pick up after your dog, and dispose of properly.
- I have a mountaineering Carabiner attached to the handle of each of my leashes. In an emergency it allows me to very quickly, temporarily, tie my dog up safely. Also, If you don't have a zipper pocket it's a very secure place to clip your keys, come what may (replacing the new car lock/unlock key fobs is outrageously expensive)!
- It a good idea to carry a few personal cards in case you meet congenial people who might be future walking partners or friends. You may add the URL of the Foundation's web site for those people who want to read more about the breed.
Clueless owners and unruly dogs you're bound to encounter
- I ALWAYS yield right of way to clueless pet owners or people having a difficult time controlling their dog, or with an off leash dog they are ignoring. I have found you may be able to teach an old dog new tricks - but it's not true of the dog's owner. I am not out to save the world, I am out to enjoy a peaceful dog walk, and exiting stage left is often the best strategy
- If you find a good walking route with no off leash or unattended dogs you're lucky - they are few and far between. I recently saw a community service message from animal control which recommended that you report any off leash dogs you should encounter - especially if it is menacing in any way. They will not necessarily respond immediately, but once a certain number of complaints are registered about a specific dog, they will investigate. Also I have found that the police do not use 911 to report a non-emergency dog incident and prefer you to call on the non emergency number, learn what that number is in your area.
- If you are having trouble with a particular dog or owner/dog on your regular walking route, plan to meet the owner to discuss your concerns at a non-emotional time. Arrive on your walking route one day without your dog and explain your concerns and present some concrete suggestions to the offending dog owner. The majority of dog owners don't understand even the most basic aspects of dog training and behavior, which is why their dogs are so poorly behaved. If you often find an unescorted dog along your route and you know where it lives (check the tags) make plans to visit the offending owner and express your concern. You'll find many owners will be cooperative, even if they were previously unaware of the problem.
- After I fended off an attack of an unescorted Great Pyrenees by removing my sandal and hitting the GP dead center between the eyes, I understand the benefit of having good aim, and having something to be able to throw. Since a stone is not always readily available, thereafter I have carried a few golf balls in my pocket - they're compact enough to keep in a pocket - yet quite hard - I imagine if one hit you between the eyes you'd think twice about continuing the pursuit. Although I have been given pepper spray - after being charged on numerous occasions, and having the other dog sink their teeth in one of mine, I don't relish the idea of an unescorted or off leash dog getting that close to me and mine. A golf ball allows me to keep a wider "safe" perimeter.
- Don't be afraid to use your voice. Don't be shy to call out to an owner to leash their dog if you feel threatened. If a dog is menacing you - shout "NO" with your deepest, most stern voice - generally if will reconsider.
- You're not safe in the dark. We have been ambushed by rollerbladers running their dogs off leash, a coyote, and even cats at all hours of the night, and we live in a pretty domesticated area. In certain areas there are real nocturnal dangers (mountain lion, peccaries, raccoons etc or messy, stinky problems like skunks). Learn to trust your dog - if he/she alerts to something (tail wagging wildly, ears forward), even if you can't see anything they're probably onto something.
- My dogs always seem to remember the site of an unpleasant encounter. I have learned they tend to drag me to that point, arriving all puffed up and ready to set the record straight. I tend to, at least temporarily, avoid places where we have had unpleasant encounters.
More wisdom for the road
- Teach your dog to SIT and wait for the appropriate and unique command before crossing any street (I use the command "CRISS CROSS"). This may help save your dog's life if he/she should ever get loose and prevent him/her from crossing a street without the appropriate, unique command.
- Teach your dog to sit while you pick up after him/her, otherwise it's easy to be pulled off balance.
- In volatile situations, when a dog becomes very frustrated, they can transfer that frustration to the closest thing even to their beloved housemates.
If we're being menaced by another dog I have seen Molly growl at Scamp, who Molly adores. I know dogs who have been know to attack housemates
in similar situations. To be safe, when you are in a volatile situation walking two Kerries single-handedly, take care to not only keep them
a distance from the offending object of excitement, and also a safe distance from each other. It helps greatly if you have long arms!
If you and a friend are walking your dogs together, when approaching a possible volatile situation (dog barking behind fence, unmannerly dog being walked on leash, off leash/unescorted dog) always be sure to keep a safe distance between your dog and your friend's dog - for the same reason.
- Take extra care when rounding a corner (either outdoors or in an unfamiliar building), or other large object which impairs visibility (hedge, shrub, tree), not only can there be a car exiting a driveway, but there can just as easily be an unescorted dog. This was made abundantly clear to me at my last visit to UC Davis. The vet, who knows Molly and her history, was walking her into the lobby to return her to me, and turned the corner tightly, walking Molly right into the path of a Cocker Spaniel seated with its owner. There was lots of noise and fuss and everyone's blood pressure went up - but even the Cocker's mom said Molly had a very gentle mouth!
- Don't think a "short cut" will save you time. If I'm in a hurry and try a short cut, all the dogs put on their brakes and turn to look at me as if I've gone mad. If I turn down a new street - every blade of grass all the way along needs to be marked - so it saves no time in the end.
Puppies - Starting out
- Take your vet's warning about isolation during the immunization period seriously. Young puppies are susceptible to disease which they contract from germs left behind by other animals. Do not walk young puppies in public until they have completed their full immunization and/or you have approval from your veterinarian.
- You can begin to accustom young pups to a collar and leash manners by mock walking in your home or your secure and clean yard until they are ready for the great beyond.
When you return home
- Always remove the slip collar or prong collar once you get home. It is not safe to keep either on an unattended dog.
- Be sure your dog's ID is ALWAYS on, even in the home.