4 Mistakes People Make When Exercising with a Dog
Exercising with a dog is a smart way to get in shape and also get your dog the exercise he needs.
If you’re going out to a park or other public space to exercise with your dog, there are some common etiquette mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: Letting your dog off-leash.
Many states and municipalities have leash laws. And for good reason. Off-leash dogs can be a nuisance, can be dangerous to others, and can damage property or wildlife. If there’s a leash law, OBEY IT. Plain and simple.
It doesn’t matter that you “probably won’t see anyone else” out on the trail. If the law says your dog must be leashed, leash her. Think the trail you’re on is so far out in the boonies that you won’t run into anyone else? That’s usually where other dog owners go to walk or hike with their dogs off-leash.
Even if your dog is super friendly and wouldn’t hurt a fly, it’s still not ok to let your dog off-leash. Remember: not every dog on the trail is as friendly as yours. If your off-leash dog runs up to greet one of those aggressive dogs and gets injured, you’re at fault.
Believe it or not, not everyone loves dogs. Even friendly ones like yours. If your dog is running off-leash and you come upon someone who is frightened, it’s not good enough to yell “She’s friendly!” as your dog bounds up to someone afraid of dogs.
There are some places where dogs are allowed off-leash. Those places also require that your dog is under your voice control. That means that if your dog sees a deer or another dog, you can call them and they’ll come right back to you. Right then, not 20 minutes after you call. Not after they jump on the person up ahead on the trail. Not after they get tired of chasing the deer and come loping back. So if you don’t have that kind of recall on your dog and you’re in one of those off-leash areas, you’ll still want to leash your dog.
Mistake #2: Using a Retractable Leash
Leashes, again. While it is important to have your dog on a leash, the type of leash is also important. Retractable leashes are exactly what they sound like — they are long leashes that automatically recoil into their case that also serves as the handle of the leash. At first glance, they seem perfect — your dog gets some wander room, but you can quickly control how far the leash plays out.
In reality, they are one of the most dangerous inventions of the last 20 years. Google “Flexi-leash injuries” and take a look at the horrible leash burns, cuts, and amputations (yes, amputations) that have resulted from retractable leashes. Both dogs and people risk injury from retractable leashes.
Additionally, retractable leashes contribute to bad leash manners from your dog. Those leashes actually reward your dog for pulling. A retractable leash is always tight. Tension is always on the collar. In order for the dog to move forward, the dog actually has to lean into the collar/leash to move further forward. That extra effort — the pulling — gets the dog exactly what she’s seeking, more distance. So if your dog is a pulling maniac and you walk your dog — even sometimes — on a retractable leash, you’re actually perpetuating the leash pulling.
The only place retractable leashes are appropriate is large, empty areas; places like beaches, meadows, or pastures. If there are trees, shrubs, people, other dogs or animals, don’t use the retractable leash. You’re more likely to get tangled, injure yourself, your dog, or another person when using a retractable leash in any area where there is other stuff. Those hikers on the trail do not want to run into your dog who is 26 feet away from you, covered in mud, and wanting to say hi oh-so-badly. The cross-country runner would rather stay on her feet than trip over the thin, almost invisible flexible leash.
Mistake #3: Allowing your dog to visit any person or dog that you come across.
I’ve heard horror stories about dog fights that happened when two dogs were allowed to meet on-leash. Unless I know you — and your dog really well — there’s a mighty good chance I’m going to keep my dog close to me while we pass on the trail. It’s the occasion dog who enjoys meeting every single dog she comes across. Even if your dog is the friendliest dog on the block, the dog you come up to on the trail may not be. The other dog might be a big scaredy cat. She might be aggressive. She might be anti-social. She might be fine, but her owner’s in the middle of a really good workout and has no plans on wrecking his workout just to let your dog say hi (raising my hand — I don’t wear my running watch and heart rate monitor to be trendy, I’ve got a training plan to stick to!).
Even if I’m out for a recreational hike, there are very few dogs I’m going to let Schooner, the Great Dane meet. Not because HE’S unfriendly. But because I don’t know if the other dog is friendly. The last thing I want is another dog ruining my dog’s fun because “they just have to say hello!” No. No, they don’t. In fact, if you come across me on a trail, I’m going to head way off the trail to let you pass with your dog because I don’t want to find out the hard way that your dog “is a little iffy” around bigger dogs.
From a training perspective, I don’t want my dog thinking he can say hi to every dog that crosses his path. Because in reality, he can’t. We’ve come across lots of dogs who don’t care to be investigated from stem to stern by a huge dog like Schooner. And that’s a-ok. Because Schooner doesn’t need to investigate every dog he comes across. And if set him up to think that he is able to visit with every dog, of course he’s going to expect it in the future.
Instead, I teach Schooner (and all my dogs) that the presence of another dog is the perfect time to check in with me. Checking in with me results in a hearty “Good BOY!” and a small treat.
Mistake #4: Leaving Your Dog’s Poop
PICK UP THE POOP, PEOPLE!
This one seems so obvious to me, but by the piles of poop I see on my local running routes, I guess it’s not as obvious as I thought. Poop bags are easy to carry, they can be free (if you recycle those plastic grocery bags or plastic sleeves your paper is delivered in. Or you can buy fancy schmancy poop bags with spiffy poop bag holders, click here.
Some people try to justify leaving their dog’s poop behind saying “Well, who picks up the deer poop? How about the raccoon poop? Who picks that up?” When’s the last time you heard someone complain about stepping in deer poop? I haven’t ever. But dog poop? Yeah, we’ve all been there and done that. It ain’t fun, is it?
Look, wildlife doesn’t have owners. No one is responsible for picking up after the deer. There aren’t laws that say deer must pick up the poop. There IS a law about dog poop, though. Because dog poop is gross! People who walk their dogs also need to be responsible enough to pick up their dogs’ poop.
Exercise is great for you and for your dog.
Get out there, have fun, stay safe!