As dog owners, we all love our dogs. Walking our dogs can be one of the most exciting times at the end of a long workday, since we finally get to spend quality time with our pooches — but there’s no denying that dog-walking comes with challenges.
Whether your dog has behavioral challenges, you live in an area with heavy traffic, or you’re concerned about nighttime visibility, you have likely thought about the dangers of dog-walking before. And, as a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to keep your dog safe from these dangers.
It doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate the types of problems that can come up when walking your dog. Solving those problems, however, can be a completely different story. Here’s how to prepare for and handle some of the most common challenges while walking your dog, including what to know about your legal liability in an accident.
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Dog Walking Danger
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to worry about dangers like cars or off-leash dogs while walking our pups. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the reality of dog-walking. Keeping our dogs inside to avoid the danger is not an option, either. As dog owners, the best thing we can do to shelter our dogs is to anticipate potential dangers.
Ignoring or winging the dangers of dog-walking breeds unsafe situations. Instead, educate yourself about the potential dangers you and your pooch could face on the sidewalks. Anticipating and preparing for the dangers of dog-walking will help you do everything you can to keep your beloved pet safe. Here are some of the most common obstacles faced by dogs and their owners on the roads.
Ever seen a dog on a leash lay down — and refuse to budge? That dog is likely dealing with exhaustion, a common consequence of over-working your dog. Dogs who are seniors, are extremely small, are dealing with health problems, or are not used to frequent exercise may be more likely to suffer from exhaustion on a long walk. This risk is elevated if they are improperly hydrated and/or walking in extreme heat.
We all want to ensure that our dogs get enough exercise; dogs who are underworked and bored often get into trouble by chewing, pacing, or barking at the window, among other problematic behaviors. But, just like humans, dogs can also become over-tired. A lethargic dog will show signs of disinterest in normal activities (such as playing or walking), instead opting to laze about the house. Senior dogs, dogs with joint problems, and dogs living in hot temperatures may be more likely to exhibit lethargic behavior.
Sadly, we all know somebody whose precious pup was injured or killed by a reckless driver. According to the Humane Society, cars are the number one killer of animals in the United States. Dealing with a grave injury or losing a pet is devastating — so, understandably, we all want to do everything we can to avoid preventable traffic accidents among our dogs. While we cannot account for all of the dangers on the roads, many of the traffic dangers faced while walking your dog are avoidable.
Because it’s impossible to predict what drivers will do, the best course of action is to prepare for the worst by training your dog to anticipate potential road dangers. Nearly six million automobile accidents happen each year in the United States, and as a loving owner, you do not want your pet to become a part of one. Some dogs may exhibit behavior that puts them at a higher risk of getting into a traffic accident. For example, many dogs chase or bark at cars. If this is your dog, consider taking extra precautions (such as a shorter lead) or getting in touch with a trainer about their behavior.
Ideally, we would all be able to walk our dogs during the daytime, when it’s still sunny and warm. However, working dog owners may have no choice but to take their dogs outside at night. Unfortunately, nighttime walking poses dangers for both dogs and their humans. In the dark, shadowy figures, including you and your dog, are not as visible to cars or other motorists. Visibility becomes a major obstacle to dog-walking safety at night.
As a dog owner, keeping your dog visible and safe should be a top priority, especially if you are planning to walk your dog at night. Black or brown dogs, whose fur blends into the nighttime sky, may need special help staying visible in the dark. Humans should also not forget to neglect their own safety at night. Over the last 10 years, 90% of the increase in pedestrian deaths occurred at night. It’s important to keep your dog visible, but also important to stay visible yourself. Without a responsible owner, your dog cannot stay happy, healthy, and safe!
4. Other Dogs
Encountering other dogs (and sometimes wild animals) is an unavoidable fact of walking your dog. You can do everything you can to avoid other dogs, but interacting with other animals is just part of life. And, even if you work hard to raise a well-behaved dog, you cannot control other owners or their dogs’ behavior. You never know when a dog you encounter on the streets may be temperamental or even violent. Unfortunately, bad pet owner behavior affects every dog involved, including your own.
Understanding dog body language can help you assess potentially dangerous situations on your dog’s behalf. Dogs who bare their teeth, adopt aggressive stances, growl, or pull their ears back may be feeling aggressive. In these situations, owners may try to reassure you that their dogs are friendly. But sadly, even the friendliest dogs are still prone to being frightened or threatened by an unfamiliar pup. Aggression is a dog’s natural response to feeling scared. To prepare for the possibility of a dog fight, know how to prevent an attack and keep your precious pooch safe. Even if you never need to use it, this knowledge could save your dog’s life!
Extreme hot or cold weather can pose a risk to your dog’s health. Much like their owners, dogs can suffer from both heat stroke and hypothermia.
Heat exhaustion, the precursor to heat stroke, is of special concern to dog owners in the summertime, since dogs lack the ability to cool their bodies by sweating (with the exception of the sweat glands in their paw pads). The dangers of heat exhaustion in dogs range from loss of consciousness, to fever, to organ failure and death. Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs include heavy breathing, rapid panting, excessive thirst, and excessive drooling; if you notice these signs in your dog, seek treatment from your veterinarian promptly to prevent serious consequences.
In the wintertime, hypothermia may be a greater concern. A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit; anything below 100 degrees Fahrenheit is considered hypothermia. Long-lasting hypothermia can cause long-term complications, coma, or heart failure. Paleness and shivering are the two earliest signs of low body temperature in dogs. Hypothermia can occur in cold weather, but also when a dog’s fur stays wet for too long, owing to rain, snow, or even swimming. If you notice any signs of low body temperature in your dog, contact your veterinarian immediately for treatment.
6. Your Health
Overall, dog-walking is good for us: studies show that dog owners who walk their pups have a lower risk of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and depression. But, many of the health risks that apply to dogs also apply to their human owners. These include the risks of heat exhaustion and hypothermia in extreme weather conditions, as well as the risk of injury. The risk of injury while dog-walking may be higher among elderly individuals (especially those with arthritis) and people who are not used to exercise. Wearing improper footwear or clothing can also cause accidents, especially when visibility is low.
7. Your Dog’s Health
Dogs, especially senior dogs, can develop health conditions or injuries that interfere with their ability to walk long distances. For example, elderly dogs can get arthritis, just like humans, which may make it more challenging to take them on long walks. Besides eating foreign bodies or getting hit by cars, some of the most common injuries faced by dogs on walks are cruciate ligament ruptures (damage to the ligaments in the knees), torn or broken nails, hairline fractures, and soft tissue injury. If your dog begins limping or holding up one leg, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible for further evaluation. These injuries can be prevented by ensuring your dog is not over-exercised, so don’t push your dog beyond their limits while walking.
Dog Walking Safety Tips
Now, you should have a better understanding of the potential dangers of dog-walking. But, as a dog owner, you also know that walking your dog every day is unavoidable. At the very least, Fido needs to be taken outdoors to use the restroom and exercise two to three times per day. Clearly, avoiding dog-walking is not the answer for keeping your pup happy, healthy, and safe.
So, what is the answer? Safety first, of course! Walking your dog while minimizing the risks requires special attention to their safety, including taking proper precautions to prevent accidents, injuries, and problematic behavior. This means using the proper equipment, preparing appropriately, and having the knowledge needed to set your dog up for safety.
1. Clear yourself and your dog for physical activity.
Doctors recommend having a physical before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have not had one in a while. Certain health problems can make it unsafe for you to participate in particular types of exercise. As a dog owner, you are likely used to walking already — but if you plan to extend the length of your walks, choose more challenging routes, or get a dog to walk if you don’t have one already, you should discuss the benefits and risks with your primary care provider in greater depth.
If your dog is out of shape, you may also consider having them evaluated by a veterinarian before making any changes to their exercise routine. Keeping up with their regular walking routine is normal and expected, but if you want to walk longer distances or choose more challenging routes than usual, consulting with your veterinarian first is the most responsible decision as a pet owner. You should especially talk to your vet if you have a very young or very old dog, who may face more health risks when going for a walk.
2. Choose the right gear for you and your dog.
The right leash goes a long way when it comes to keeping your dog safe on a walk. The ideal dog leash should measure between four and eight feet long and be made of sturdy material, such as leather, cotton, or nylon. Your dog’s collar should be made of the same material and fit snugly (but not too tightly). To ensure your dog’s collar is the right size, you should be able to place two to three fingers beneath the collar with relative ease.
Avoid using chain-link collars. If your dog pulls on their leash, a harness may give you better control of them and help curb this problematic behavior. On nighttime walks, choosing high-visibility clothing and gear will help you and your pet stay safe. Consider wearing a reflective neon vest over your clothes at night. You can get a similar vest for your dog as well, or purchase a reflective collar and leash to use exclusively at nighttime. If you prefer, you can also purchase an LED collar for your dog, instead of one made of reflective material.
3. Stay mindful of proper hydration.
Both you and your dog can get dehydrated on long walks, especially if it is hot outside. You should always carry a water bottle with you, as well as a collapsible bowl for your dog to use. Freezing your water bottle is an extra step, but it can help you and your dog stay cool in the hot sun. And, while it hopefully goes without saying, stick to water: an ice-cold sports drink or beer may taste great to you, but it sure isn’t good for your dog!
4. Protect your dog from extreme weather conditions.
The greatest health risks for your dog depend on the season and the weather. In the summertime, the greatest risk to your dog’s health is heat exhaustion due to high temperatures. You can prevent heat exhaustion by walking your dog outside of peak temperature hours (roughly 12pm to 3pm), by always carrying water with you, and by shortening the length of your walks in hot weather.
In the wintertime, focus on keeping your dog warm and dry. Small dogs or dogs with short fur may need to wear a sweater or jacket to help insulate them in the wintertime. You can also purchase boots to protect their paws from the cold, and from the chemical ice melt used on the streets in the wintertime. If you can, avoid taking your dog outside in the rain or snow, and make sure you dry them off promptly after coming indoors.
5. ALWAYS keep your dog on a leash!
Even the most well-trained dogs have off days. They may be startled, frightened, or simply in a bad mood. When this happens, all of their training can go out the window. Even well-behaved dogs can become aggressive when they are scared. And, when there are so many unpredictable stimuli outdoors, you never know when that may happen.
All of this goes to say that no matter how well-behaved your dog normally is, unexpected things may happen when you are out on a walk. The best way to prepare for this is to keep your dog on a leash. A leash allows you to have control over your dog in unfamiliar situations — and, in many places, is required by law. Should anything happen, the leash will give you the security of knowing that you can prevent your dog from exhibiting aggressive behavior.
Dog Walking Liability
In the unlikely event that your dog does become aggressive while you are out on a walk, you may be liable for their behavior in certain instances. Being “liable” means that a court can hold you legally responsible for what your dog does. Whether or not this is the case depends on the nature of the incident and the local laws where you live.
One of the most common incidents where liability comes into play is if your dog becomes aggressive and bites or attacks another person or animal. You can be held liable for this behavior if you knew your dog had the tendency to exhibit this kind of behavior (and did nothing to correct it), or if the behavior occurred due to carelessness on your part.
In some states, laws may provide for or protect you from additional liability in the event of a dog attack. For example, some states have a “one-bite” rule that states the owner is not liable for the first injury a dog causes. In other states, they may be automatically liable for any damage caused by the dog, even without provocation.
Homeowners and renter’s insurance often cover the liability for dog attacks. Most policies offer between $100,000 and $300,000 in coverage. The owner is responsible for any damage exceeding that amount. However, the best way to know your specific liability is to contact your insurance company to learn more about your policy.