Walking the Dog - FamilyEducation

Walking the Dog

Learn precautions and get advice on keeping your dog healthy and safe when out for a walk.

What could be simpler or more fun than heading out the door with your dog on a leash? Walking (or jogging or running) is a great way to keep you and your dog in shape. You can walk as far as you both are up to, and you can continue at home or away. As simple as it is to walk the dog, though, a little planning and a few precautions can make your outings more pleasant and a lot safer.

Before you start any exercise program, physical checkups for both of you may be in order. Make sure your dog's nails are trimmed short and that his pads are in good condition. You may want to trim any long hair between his pads to give him better traction and prevent small debris from collecting between the pads and injuring his feet. If your dog is overweight or out of shape, ask your vet about a diet and an appropriate distance to walk in the beginning. Start slowly and build up.


A brachycephalic dog has a broad, short skull. Pugs and Pekinese are brachycephalic. Because the muzzle is shortened, a brachycephalic dog typically has trouble lowering its body temperature by panting and is therefore more prone to heatstroke than other longer-muzzled breeds.

Whoever walks the dog should be able to control the dog. If a child—your own or a visitor—wants to walk your dog, the same rule applies: If the child can't control the dog under all circumstances, don't let him walk the dog without a responsible adult. Anyone taking a dog for an outing should be capable of making reasonable decisions, too, so even if your dog is tiny and your seven-year-old can control him, consider carefully whether turning them loose together is a good idea. Some walking hazards (encounters with stray dogs, for instance) are difficult even for adults to manage.

Always keep your dog on leash in public places. Make sure your dog's collar fits properly so that she can't slip out of it. If she has a tendency to try to slip her collar off, get a martingale-style collar that tightens when the dog pulls against the leash. Check your leash periodically, too, to be sure the bolt for the collar is securely stitched in place and that the leash is in good condition. Keep a firm grip on your leash, but if your dog weighs more than about 10 pounds, I do not recommend slipping the loop over your wrist. A quick leap by a squirrel-happy canine can break your wrist, and if your dog is very big, she could even pull you down. I've seen it happen! Teach children, too, never to slide their hand through the loop, and never ever to slip a leash around their neck or waist.


A little petroleum jelly rubbed into the bottoms of your dog's feet will help prevent ice balls from forming between her pads if you're hiking in snow.

If it's hot out, keep walks short or postpone them until evening. Concrete and blacktop get very hot in the sun and can easily burn your dog's foot pads. In addition, excess heat can cause heatstroke. Dogs can sunburn, too, especially if they have light-colored skin or hair. Avoid areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides or insecticides. If your dog does walk though such a place, wash his feet with warm water and dog shampoo when you get home to prevent absorption or ingestion of toxic chemicals.

If you like to walk before sunrise or after sunset, put a reflective collar or vest on your dog, and wear light colors or a reflective vest yourself.

Cold-weather walking also calls for precautions. Keep the hair between your dog's pads trimmed to prevent accumulation of ice balls. If your community puts salt or other chemicals on sidewalks and streets, always wash your dog's feet with warm water after walks. The chemicals can irritate his feet and can be hazardous if he licks them off.