Get The Most Out Of Every Outing During ‘walk Your Dog’ Month
The satisfaction gained from responsible pet parenting is among the great joys of life. Feeding, watering, exercising, and looking after the health of dogs and cats is enormously rewarding, and with January being Walk Your Dog Month the timing couldn’t be better for exploring how to get the best outcome from every outing.
With a little planning, some training (especially for new pet parents) and a good idea of what to expect, the daily walk with your dog can be a special time you’ll both look forward to.
“Humans caring for dogs has an astonishingly long history, with big benefits for both sides. There are good reasons why we say dogs are a person’s best friend,” says Michelle Le Long, COO of pet insurance specialist PD Insurance.
“A key part of dog parenting is ensuring their daily exercise, which many see as motivation for regularly stretching their own legs too. But it isn’t always as simple as setting off around the block; particular pointers make for a predictably successful outing every time.”
Canine behaviour and training expert Maria Alomajan, who heads Canine by Nature, says the heart of a successful dog walk is making yourself the centre of your dog’s attention.
“When you’re out with your dog, you’re competing with a whole world of distractions. Make it easy to choose you. Be interesting and reinforcing.”
She also advises using a ‘high-value reinforcer’ – a treat, saying, “My puppy loves salmon. He only gets salmon for recall. Whenever we go out, I take a separate stash of dried salmon.”
Training your dog
Before venturing out, basic training for your pup is highly advisable, particularly for new pet parents. Your dog should be familiar with wearing a collar, comfortable with being on a leash, and preferably capable of understanding basic commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘heel’. Attending dog training classes beforehand is worthwhile too, where they’ll also socialise with other dogs and people, becoming more familiar with the encounters likely when you’re out and about.
“Practice, practice, practice,” is Alomajan’s advice, and not just when on walkies. “Start training at home, use recall games – Google will help you here - and then slowly move into the outside world. Set realistic timelines for teaching your dog how amazing you are.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself, or your pooch, either. “If you’re frustrated, it’s likely your dog is too and it’s time to head home,” says Alomajan.
Equip yourself (and your dog!)
On the topic of ‘know before you go’, Alomajan points to the Department of Conservation (DOC) ‘Lead the Way’ campaign, which helps dog owners equip themselves with the knowledge of where to go and what to do around wildlife.
Getting ‘Wildlife Wise’ is easy; read the Dogs on Beaches guide, complete a short quiz, and you qualify for buying a colour coded ‘Lead the Way’ leash that alerts others to your pup’s temperament: red for stay away, orange for exercise caution, yellow for a type of disability or other vulnerability, and green for ‘go ahead and give me a pat if my owner says yes’.
Lead the Way empowers pet parents while reducing pressure on vulnerable native coastal species; it also helps keep everyone within the rules as a considerate and safe pet parent.
Other essential equipment, beyond a Lead the Way (or any other) lead, includes the reinforcer treats and a doggie-doo bag. Don’t forget the latter – embarrassment can result if you do!
Know before you go
There’s nothing quite like the joy of a dog boisterously tackling the waves or sprinting across the golden sand. But before hitting the local beach, do your research. Some beaches are dog friendly; others aren’t. Some allow ‘off the lead’, others insist on restraints.
“There is usually good reason for any restrictions,” says Alomajan. “Dogs are man’s best friend, but often the opposite for native New Zealand bird and marine mammal species, including kiwi and other endangered species.”
Many trails and walking paths have restrictions, too; be aware of where you and pooch can tread. Check online with DOC and read the signs posted at beaches and other public areas, then you’ll avoid unpleasantness for you, your pet and any other people and animals around.
Smartphones and other distractions? A final thought
When walking your dog, make it all about them and you, stresses Alomajan. “Be present and engaged. Situational awareness is important not only for enjoying time with your pet, but also in terms of knowing who and what is in the environment and how your dog may respond. This equips you to react effectively if something does go awry, rather than when it’s too late.”
The world remains a dangerous place for man and beast alike. Should a good walk end badly, PD Insurance’s cost-effective pet insurance takes care of treatment costs. “Every pet parent should at least consider cover that provides easy access to quality medical care and greatly reduces the worry about finances,” Le Long concludes.