Dog Walking 101


Patricia McKinney knows a thing or two about walking a dog.  As owner and operator of Portland Mutt Strut since 2009, McKinney oversees a team of dog walkers who take dogs from Troutdale to Lake Oswego and all points in between for healthful strolls and other care.  The Portland-based company is a favorite with Spot readers, who voted it Top Dog in the Pet Sitter category in 2011 and 2012.

McKinney recently shared tips and tricks that can make the daily walk a pleasant experience for both the walking dog and the dog walker.

#1 – The Right Tools

“The right tools will make the walk easier for both you and your dog,” says McKinney.  There are lots of different kinds of leashes, collars and harnesses, so it doesn’t hurt to experiment.   Walkers at Portland Mutt Strut rely heavily on the front-clipping Easy Walk Harness, which clips at the chest vs. behind the head.  The design prevents pulling, which can be a safety issue for both parties.  They’ve also had success with The Canny Collar, designed to nudge a dog’s nose down if it starts pulling.  “We’re always on top of what’s out there as far as technology,” says McKinney, “because pulling is probably the main complaint I have from people.”

And about those retractable leashes?  McKinney says they can have their place, with certain dogs.  “If you have a youngster, that’s going to be a nightmare,” she says.  A dog prone to bolting at cats, other dogs or cars can turn a leisurely walk into a nightmare if they get stretched out on a 30-foot lead.  McKinney recommends a regular nylon leash for dogs in training, while retractable leashes can be fine for dogs who are older, smaller, or well-behaved and easily controlled.  Which leads to #2.

#2 – A Good Command

An attentive dog makes for a safe and comfortable walk.  Teaching commands such as sitting and looking at you at intersections increases both safety and the bond you share.  McKinney suggests training dogs to sit, wait and look at you in a calm space at home first so the commands translate easily in the bustle of the great outdoors. 

#3 - Pay Attention

“I can’t tell you how  many times I see people texting or talking on the phone while walking their dog, and the dog is off doing who knows what and they have no idea,” says McKinney.  Dogs can be sneaky and quick.  “It’s not simply a leisurely walk,” says McKinney.  “You have to pay attention to what the dog may be doing, what things they may pick up off the ground,” citing examples such as trash, bones and even the cringe-inducing “kitty roca.”  She also points out that this is a shared time.  “Give yourself and your dog this half-hour of the day and you’ll find it’s a really pleasurable experience . . . very much a bonding experience.”

  Roland takes a breather during his walk.  Photo courtesy of Portland Mutt Strut

Roland takes a breather during his walk.  Photo courtesy of Portland Mutt Strut

#4 – Praise Her Well

“Praise is always fun for them and fun for you,” McKinney says.  “Like the expression, praise them when you catch them doing something right.  Always try to catch them doing something right,” all through the walk.  “Finish on a positive note regardless of how the walk went,” says McKinney.  “Have them always know that ‘This walk is going to be fun and I need to listen to Mom or Dad, and whatever happens out there, I’m still going to be loved.”

#5 – A Good Match

Perhaps you are considering getting a dog for the first time, or adding a new member to your pack.  Of the many factors to consider, energy level and walking comfort top the list.  “It’s about finding the right match for you,” McKinney says.  “Make sure you get a dog that matches your lifestyle.  If you get a dog that’s totally rambunctious, one that needs to run two hours a day and you’re a couch potato, you’re going to have trouble on your walk.”

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Need a dog walker?

With the wealth of dog walkers available these days, how to choose?  As with most professional services, a little homework can help find the best fit for you and your dog.  Following are tips to help:

  • ·         Ask for recommendations from dog-loving acquaintances
  • ·         Request and use professional references.  Dog walkers routinely have access to your unoccupied home . . . and of course your most precious treasure is in his or her hands!
  • ·         Request professional experience.  “I love dogs” doesn’t cut it.  Obtain their professional history, credentials and references.
  • ·         Consider the experience you want for your best friend:  a quick pit stop?  Half-hour jaunt?  An hour at the dog park?  Service options, rates, and levels of expertise vary widely.
  • ·         If you desire solo outings (not group walks) for your pooch, make sure that’s what he/she will be getting.
  • ·         Know your dog walker’s position on discipline.  If your dog is prone to lunging, bolting, or any behavior that might challenge a “non-parental” companion, ask how the walker responds.  If she doesn’t have an answer or her methods aren’t what you desire, keep looking.
  • ·         Ask about emergency protocols.  For the pro’s it’s standard to have a plan.
  • ·         Will you receive notes and reports back?  Frequently provided, notes from the dog walker can signal if your dog “seemed off,” note improvements in behavior, and also help affirm the value of adding a dog walker to the family routine.
  • ·         Ask if the dog walker is well-versed in dog park etiquette.
  • ·         Ask if your dog will ever be transported by car.  If so, will there be other dogs in the car?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and pay attention to the questions asked of you.  A prospective dog walker who seeks details about your pet’s behavior, regular schedule, and health issues is interested in more than just their fee.  Most importantly, trust your instincts.  If someone doesn’t feel right, or if your dog doesn’t seem keen, keep looking.  This person will be an important new friend in your pet’s life — choose well!