Happy news about animals
Who’s in charge at your house? You – or your dog? If you answered in the latter category, you’re not alone.
Maria Ryan, who has been training people on training their dogs for a decade, says the biggest mistake pet owners make involves exercise. Most dogs don’t get enough.
“If more people would walk their dogs more frequently, I don’t think they’d have as many problems,” she says. “A tired dog is a good dog.”
On Thursday, Ryan will host a workshop in St. Petersburg to teach people the ins and outs of dog walking. (Yes, there is a wrong way.) Proceeds benefit the Pinellas Park-based nonprofit, Stop Pet Overpopulation Together, or SPOT.
Just in case you don’t have time to make it, here’s a cheat sheet of her Top 5 recommendations:
1. Make time: “Most people work 10 to 12 hours a day, and they don’t have much time for their pet,” she says. Optimally, you want to walk your dog at least twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening.
2. Start slowly: You don’t need to walk a marathon. Depending on your dog’s size and age, you may want to start with half-block stints and work up. Puppies and small-breed dogs need less exercise than bigger breeds, like Labradors.
Ryan advises taking any dog over age 7 to the vet – to check for arthritis and other conditions – before embarking on a new and better walk schedule.
3. Walk WITH your dog: You shouldn’t need to visit a chiropractor after a walk because your dog pulled your shoulder out of the socket as he tugged you around the block. Pet owners need to teach their dogs to walk with them, not running ahead, stopping to sniff everything in sight. Tools that can help: a Gentle Leader headcollar or Easy Walk harness.
4. Bring in the reinforcements (of the edible variety): “When they are walking next to you, give them a cookie or a piece of hot dog” to reinforce the good behavior, Ryan says.
5. Don’t be mean about it: Don’t use a choke chain or pinch collar to keep your dog in check. Ryan believes in using positive reinforcement. She also thinks retractable leashes are bad because they enable dogs to walk 10 feet ahead.
Many pet owners say such leashes help their dogs explore the terrain. “Of course, your dog can go sniff, but if your dog is out there leading the way and stopping to sniff everything, well, who’s really in charge with the walk?” she says.