Walking Safely Isn’t A No-Brainer

I marvel at the many dog walkers I see wearing headphones or talking on the phone, dogs attached to belt loops, while crossing even the busiest intersections. I’m safety obsessed, probably due to my vast, and sometimes unfortunate, experience in all facets of animal care. I’ve rushed badly injured dogs into vet clinics, sobbing owners in tow, and assisted the vets as they fruitlessly attempted to save fading lives. Seeing the results of auto injuries and dog fights day after day as a veterinary technician was more than I could bear, because an animal in pain is sheer torture for me. You can explain injuries to at least adult humans, but animals have only to fear the worst.

(This walker is sort-of famous all over Chelsea/The Flatiron/The Village because he always has 10 to 15 dogs with him, and they miraculously stay exactly where he places them in the pack. He clearly uses some kind of Jedi mind control).

As a dog walker, I’ve heard horror stories of dogs escaping from collars and taking off across 7th Avenue at rush-hour, and I’ve helped other walkers retrieve escapees more than once. In absorbing my environment for the last five years, I’ve concluded that my level of attentiveness is abnormal, but it’s the reason I’ve never even had a close call, safety-wise. I’ve been told by more than a few graduate psych professors that I was both a high self-monitor and a highly sensitive person (the latter of which is actually an acronymized trait, apparently), meaning, I process sensory data, especially that which relates to and affects me and my dogs directly, much more deeply and thoroughly than most people. It’s as exhausting as it sounds, but it adds up to my hearing, seeing and even feeling every possible danger before it becomes dangerous. For example, I cross every intersection with my dogs’ noses pulled well behind my knees, just in case a bicycle delivery person decides to zoom past stopped cars and run his red light. That exact scenario took place a few weeks ago, and had I not instructed Summer to heel as we crossed 7th Avenue and 26th Street, the bicyclist’s tire would have met Summer’s head instead of my right Timberland (which, consequently, was sturdy enough to knock him over and keep my foot unscathed). If I’d had headphones on, or had been chatting on the phone while holding her leash loosey-goosey, it could have been a very, VERY bad day.

Another aspect of walking safety that many people take for granted is equipment reliability. Most accidents occur because collars are too loose or harnesses are ill-fitted. Putting an Easy-Walk harness on backwards can allow dogs to compress their shoulder blades and slip out easily, while Puppia harnesses have been completely outlawed by many dog walking companies due to their high escapability (I know a Schipperke who was startled by a child and simply backed out of hers, running right into a cab’s front tire and…phew!…living to bark about it). Before trusting your dog’s collar or harness and leash on the mean streets, make a safety checklist.

Collar or Harness Fit – Does your dog’s collar stay as tight as it should (you should be able to get only two fingers between it and your dog’s neck, especially if you have a breed with a small head-to-neck circumference ratio), or does the fabric allow it to slide loose? Decorative collars often focus less on security than aesthetic appeal, so I steer clear of shiny, un-ribbed fabrics, spiffy though they may be. If you choose a harness, read the instructions thoroughly, and ask a trainer (NOT a vet, they are not experts in equipment safety and routinely give wrong advice, in my experience) or consult a video how-to if you’re not absolutely certain you’re using it correctly. I always supplement harnesses with a noose-style safety leash, because construction that prevents pulling most effectively does not always prevent escape. Remember, panicked dogs often back up rather than running forward, and many harnesses can turn your dog into a little Houdini by not accounting for this.

Leash Compatibility – Yet another consideration is how your dog’s leash attaches to his collar or harness. If the metal rings on a harness are too large to fit inside the leash’s hook without creating resistance as it moves, the hook can be popped open, freeing your dog. Likewise, even the sturdiest leash hooks can be made moot by other details, like release tabs that are too large. I discovered recently that Jackson’s new leash, which I immediately applauded his parents for buying since it looks impenetrable, was faulty when combined with his tiny harness. When he lunged for a squirrel in Madison Square Park, the leash clasp suddenly released from one of the harness rings, scaring me half to death and prompting me to buy an additional safety leash. I took the video below to demonstrate how it happens, just in case we should ever need to seek legal recourse with the leash’s maker. You can see here why twisting, turning and generally manhandling your leash and collar/harness combo is essential to knowing it will stick…because even the most well-trained dog is going to throw you a curve occasionally in this unpredictable metropolis.

The way I see it, with my Spidey senses, New York City is an accident waiting to happen. It’s a doomsday mentality, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t mean my dogs and I don’t have fun…in fact, I would say we have even MORE fun knowing we’ll always make it home safely.

6 thoughts on “Walking Safely Isn’t A No-Brainer

  1. Marcela says:

    Excellent, excellent post:) I wish more people were like you. Yes, like you:) The most dogs I’d walked at one time is 4, but even though I do carry my cell phone with me, I do tell pet parents and my girlfriend that if they call I will not pick up the phone until we are all safely home. Odenton, MD is nothing like NYC. I lived in Queens, NY a couple of years ago, and I know that busy is an understatement to describe NY, therefore wearing headphones, talking on the phone, etc., is just a sure way of inviting disaster. Even when my only walking partner is Alex, my dog, I do not wear headphones, I do not answer the phone, and I am hyper vigilante about my surroundings because so many things could happen. My biggest worry in this area happens to be dogs that get out of their backyards, but traffic is really low and I am glad. I also avoid going for a walk when I know is “rush hours”. Anybody in charge of somebody else’s dog or their own should be more careful and caring and pay attention to what they are doing rather than being distracted. Also, I always double check collars and leashes. Excellent post:) Keeping it coming.

  2. Glimmer says:

    Where I live, it’s not safe for me to be anywhere but stuck to my mom’s side. There are many many cars and trucks that could hurt me and because I’m still a puppy and I tend to try to pull away when I see other humans (I can’t help it. I just love people!), mom keeps me on a very short leash. I don’t always like it, but I know that when she tugs at my leash to get me real close to her it’s because she is protecting me from cars and trucks moving very fast. I’ve seen lots of other dogs wandering around with their humans, and lots of times I’ve seen “almost” accidents happen because those humans aren’t paying attention like my mom does. I’m a lucky puppy, I guess, and your dogs are lucky to have you, too.

  3. dogleadermysteries says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and how to walk dogs safely. I am not a dog walker, but a dog lover and parent. I will look into the issue of backing up and escaping from a harness. Never saw or heard about that. Keep on posting.

  4. playbows says:

    Reblogged this on Pawprints and commented:

    I walked into the building where most of my clients reside a little over an hour ago and was met with a shocked look on the face of Carmen, the lovely daytime concierge. She told me a dog had just run into the building with NO HUMAN IN TOW and entered an elevator, presumably in an attempt to ride up to his apartment. The building’s management team scrambled to figure out who the dog belonged to after securing him in an office and sending an intranet alert, and the owner came forward quickly. Then the poor dog walker wobbled into the lobby, sobbing and hysterical. She was unconsolable, because despite the fact that the dog was ok, she will surely lose her job.
    This situation is precisely the reason I verge on having OCD about equipment safety. It’s the reason I pester my clients about having harnesses that I approve for security and quality. Because A) every dog walks differently with a stranger than with his or her owner (this also makes a case for hiring a consistent dog walker rather than a service that will send different people…a bond is invaluable in times of emergency and can decide whether your dog bolts or stays put and waits to have a leash re-attached), and B) it’s better to make your dog tolerate the feeling of a strap against its skin than to see it escape and…nightmare of nightmares…get struck by a car. It’s moments like these that prove my control freakishness is justified (ok, about this, but maybe not so much about my husband’s loafers being in the middle of the floor, I could probably relax a bit there).

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