Written by Josephine Lategan
Walkies is a wonderful time. Whether you stroll or gallop, whether it’s one pooch or an entire pack, whether it’s along the road or a mountain, the safer you are, the more fun you’ll have. Here are a few safety tips to help keep everyone happy and whole. Avoid accidents and attacks by thinking ahead.
Plan your route. Give preference to ones with mobile and data reception and estimate how long you might take. Then share it with someone who cares and stick to the programme. If you’re late for any reason, they can call or message to check if you’re okay, gather a search party if you don’t respond, or alert your vet or the authorities if there’s been an accident or injury. Charge your phone and enable your phone’s location sharing beforehand. You may even want to carry a fully juiced portable charger for longer walks.
TIP: You can share your live location with a WhatsApp contact for up to an hour at a time. If there’s reception, it will track you as you move and show you on the recipient’s map app. Very handy!
Walk where you can see before and behind you easily. Walk with others for safety. Keep your eyes open for strangers acting oddly, especially in isolated areas. Keep your distance if you feel uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to run if you feel the need.
Use the best shoes for the walk. Your feet are your way home, and you want shoes that can handle the terrain in any weather. Think: non-slip, shock-absorbing (if you’re running), waterproof or water-resistant, quick-drying, ventilated but not exposed, and consider shin guards if there’s a risk of a snake attack.
Same goes for your clothes. Whether it’s hot or cold, sunny or rainy, you’ll need proper gear to handle the weather. Use lightweight items that are easy to carry. Think: hats, scarves, hoodie, raincoat, etc. A thermal, long-sleeved top is useful for regulating body temperature in heat and cold and wearing one may limit sunburn on the arms and torso. Consider a running pouch that can hold the essentials (including some sunscreen and biodegradable wet wipes?) or a purpose-made backpack.
TIP: If your phone isn’t waterproof, keep a suitably sized Ziploc bag on you in case it rains or if you’re running over puddles.
Pepper spray can ward off would-be attackers, often without even having to dispense the burning spray. Make sure you get one with a safety catch, know how to use it in an emergency (some need to be shaken first and you must never use it if you’re downwind), that it hasn’t run flat (some do if there are long gaps between uses) and keep it in your hand in case.
TIP: Ask a locksmith to drill a hole in the non-safety part of the top of the spray can and attach it to your keys with a carabiner (easy on, easy off) or to a wrist band.
Wear bright colours, reflective materials and a light to be seen day and night. If you find you are lost, stay right where you are unless you are in immediate danger. It is much easier to find someone who is stationary than someone who is moving around.
It’s common decency to always ask permission to approach other animals and people first. Their pets may be nervous, aggressive, or even dangerous. They may not have one of these handy leashes, but even if they do, you want their blessing before you approach them and nose around.
Be prepared for poop. Dogs get excited on walks and this can stimulate bowel movements. It’s important to pick up your pooch’s poop to save other humans the discomfort and to disrupt wildlife less. Compostable poop bags are widely available, and it helps if you have a section in a bag that is separate to keep it until you can find an appropriate spot to dispense of it safely.
The right leash in the right place? There are a variety of leashes available to help you get the most out of your time outdoors together. Depending on your dog’s demeanour, strength and impulses, you could use anything from a simple loop leash to a serious harness-with-handle leash.
Help your dog remain visible by using a leash/harness with reflective elements. To make sure your dog is visible by day when reflective materials work poorly, attach a small LED light to his or her collar and switch it on for the duration of the walk. LEDs use very little power and are inexpensive.
Know the rules of the park and of the road. Are you allowed to walk on this private farmland? Does the park allow dogs at all? A dog-friendly park may allow dogs to go off-leash. If your dog is responsive to your voice, obeys your commands when excited or frightened, and peaceful with other animals and people, it could be a great experience. But be careful if your dog scares easily, if the park has no fence or is near a busy road. If she’s still getting off-leash ready, the dog walk is a great opportunity to train.
“Retractable leashes are made to give dogs a little extra freedom and privacy when on potty walks, but aren’t the best restraint for exercising,” warns VCA Hospitals. “Wrap the leash around your palm so it doesn’t slip out of your hand.”
Dogs should always be leashed if you’re walking on the pavement or across a road.
Too hot to trot? Your dog may run around without shoes, but their paw pads are still very sensitive. “Avoid extremely hot concrete, asphalt or sandy beaches that can burn tender footpads,” advises VCA again. “Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the walking surface is too hot for you to place your hand or bare foot on it for 10 seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog to walk on ‘bare pawed’.” You might invest in a pair of dog booties for extremely hot or cold surfaces. After the walk, check paws and legs for cuts, lumps, bruising, and burns.
TIP: Carry a long stick. It can steady you on outdoor walks and is also useful for warding off snakes. Many snakes are shy and would rather get away from you than attack, so you can use the stick to rustle the grass you’re about to walk through. The sound is enough to scare such snakes away. Bear in mind that some snakes are confident and will square up against you if confronted. Puff Adders, for example, are territorial and unlikely to move. They will defend their territory if challenged and their venomous bites can be fatal to small dogs and very dangerous to larger dogs and humans.
Get a medical before. Check your and your dog’s physical state with a trusted medical professional. This way you won’t accidentally overdo exercise or let your hound overdo it. Remember this includes a tendency towards injury from running too much or on unsuitable terrain.
Watch for health warning signs during walks. For dogs, that’s unusually intense and prolonged panting, shivering, tiredness, or limping. For you, it might be pain in the chest, limbs, difficulty breathing, weakness, or an old or existing injury that flares up again. Rest if necessary and abort if concerned.
Shorten walk time in extreme weather. Or postpone the walk entirely to be safe.
Water is essential. Take enough for both of you to drink and offer your hound regularly.
Snacks are tops. They help reduce the chances of dehydration if taken with adequate water, and the right foods will also give you energy. You might prefer dried nuts and fruit, pooch might enjoy high-nutrient doggie treats. Eat a little at a time, especially if you’re walking fast, far, or running.
Start slow and end slow. This allows heart rates to adjust and muscles to warm up and cool down to limit the chances of discomfort or injury.
Take frequent breaks. This is especially important if you get lost, as you may become fatigued, stressed and even dehydrated.
Joint decisions. Is the terrain likely to be hard on your knees or your older dog’s hips? Shin splints don’t necessarily hurt during a run, and dogs generally voice their pain only if it’s extreme. Rocky terrain or very compacted soil can take a toll on both your limbs. Consider softer ground or slow down.
Use ID. Keep a form of identification on you in case of medical emergency. There’s always a chance you may lose each other, so it helps if your dog also has a dog tag on the collar or a microchip.
If you walked somewhere lush, check both yourself and your hound for ticks afterwards and consider the window period for biliary (your vet can advise and our pet cover will make it more affordable).
Okay, so you’re good to go! But wait. What safety habits do you practise to preserve your and pooch’s body and soul? Share your tips and tricks on our Facebook pet page here to help others.
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