A walk with your dog is one of the great pleasures in life, but whether it’s a quick stroll round the block or a longer hike, make sure you take these 10 things with you.
1. Your attention!
Always carry a mobile in case you need it for emergencies, but either switch it off or set it to silent/vibrate, and definitely leave earpods and headphones at home. Going for a walk is about sharing quality time with your dog and bonding with him, not for checking emails, social media, or drowning out your surroundings with music. They can also be dangerous distractions, diverting your attention away from your dog, and making both of you easy targets for thieves and attackers.
2. Fixed length lead
Although there may be plenty of opportunities for free-running ‘zoomies’ while out on a walk, there will also be places where you should keep your dog on a lead, either because common sense dictates it for safety, or because of legal requirements. A 6ft lead will enable you to leave a little slack in it so it’s comfortable for both of you, and allows your dog room to lower his head and sniff if he wants to. The weight and width of the lead should be appropriate to your dog; carrying a spare can be handy in case of breakages, loss, or in case you meet a lost dog and need to safely and securely keep hold of him!
In places where you need to keep your dog on a lead, but want to allow him a little more freedom of movement, or when practising recall training before letting him off-lead, a long line is ideal. Only ever attach it to a harness, and before using it on a walk take the time at home to learn how to handle and use it.
A combined bottle/dish from which you can offer your dog a drink is safer than puddles, ponds, and rivers! It’s not just a warm-weather necessity, but an all-year-round essential; even when it’s cold in winter, your dog may become thirsty from scampering around.
4. A toy
A favourite toy can be used as a training reward, or to have brief games, making your walk a more enriching and fun experience for both of you. Leave the ball launcher at home though — shorter, gentler throws by hand or even rolling the ball, or dropping it, and then getting your dog to search for it, can be just as satisfying, but will be less likely to injure joints, muscles, and cartilage or lead to over-arousal. Never use a stick as a convenient toy substitute; chasing after them, or even just carrying them, can lead to injuries ranging from mild to life-threatening.
5. Collar and ID
Collars can be fashion accessories that say something about you and your dog; equally they can be safety accessories, carrying warnings not to feed, explaining that your dog is nervous, or helping increase his visibility in poor light. Although microchipping is compulsory, by law your dog has to wear a collar with ID when in public places. ID details must be up-to-date, legible, and include your name, house number or name, and postcode. Further information is optional, but your mobile number is an obvious addition — if you become separated it’s likely to lead to a speedier return if someone finds him.
Make sure you also carry personal ID, setting up ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers on your phone; have these on a card carried on your person too, in case the information can’t be accessed on your mobile. A pet ICE card with details of who to contact to take care of your dog in the event of an emergency can be carried even when you don’t have your pet with you. Should anything happen to you and you’re unable to speak, it will ensure someone knows you have a dog home alone.
Many owners are increasingly using harnesses; there are many different designs, but avoid anything that tightens. Try several to find the most comfortable fit for your dog and one which doesn’t restrict his shoulder movement. Don’t forget that even if the harness has ID, your dog will still need to wear a collar with ID to walk within the letter of the law.
7. Poo bags
Picking up after your dog on paths, pavements, and in parks is very much a social, as much as a health, no-brainer, but it’s just as important to do so when out in the countryside. Dog fouling on agricultural land can have a major impact on the quality and safety of crops and the health of livestock. Dog poo also contains nutrients that can damage the ecology of vulnerable habitats, threatening wild plants, lichens, and fungi, and increasing water pollution.
8. Poo carrier
If there are no designated dog waste bins nearby, filled poo bags can be disposed of in general waste bins. If you can’t find either, having a container to carry your dog’s poo in until you do locate one will leave both hands free and avoid any unpleasant accidents from bags stashed in a pocket splitting. The best ones will also contain the smell!
Although your dog may do super-fast sits and recalls at home or in class, you need to practise everything in a wide variety of places before it will stick in all circumstances. Having a few brief training sessions while out on a walk can be the perfect opportunity to do this, and can be a fun way of interacting with your dog. Have a variety of tasty treats broken into tiny pieces and ready to hand, so you can reward him according to the difficulty of what you have asked him to do. Save the really good treats for the more challenging stuff, or for when he has done something easier really brilliantly. You can also make it into a game, tossing a few treats along the ground for him to chase after and find. A treat pouch will be a good investment — and it will save your pockets from getting holes chewed in them should you forget and leave a few goodies inside. If using wet food, silicon pouches are ideal, easy to wash and dry after use.
10. Pocket first aid kid
The point about accidents is that they can happen anywhere at any time, so be prepared, even on the shortest of walks. You can buy small pocket first aid kits, or make up your own, and there’s no reason why it can’t double up as a dog/ human kit you can share.
Walking is good for both of you!
Studies show that on average UK dog owners walk around 21 miles a week. As well as walking 22 minutes a day more than non-owners, they usually walk more briskly and are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines. As well as the more obvious benefits for dogs, a 2021 study revealed that regular exercise can help reduce the likelihood of canine dementia developing.