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What’s Going on at the Other End of the Leash?

It’s kind of a pet peeve for me, but when I see someone walking their dog on a leash and…

It’s kind of a pet peeve for me, but when I see someone walking their dog on a leash and not paying a bit of attention to them, it really bothers me. I am sure you have seen it too. Some people are so busy texting, scanning social media, talking on the phone, or chatting with neighbors that they have no idea what their dogs are doing at the other end of the leash. And have you seen those poor pups that are trying to potty but cannot get their owner’s attention to stop walking for just a minute? That’s just sad, I think.

We should give our full attention to our dogs when we have them outside on a walk. Why? Because there are all kinds of bad things that our dogs could get into, or that could happen to them when we are not focused on them and what they are doing. Let’s talk about some of those things…

There is bad stuff everywhere!

People drop everything and/or throw anything out the car window: Food, cigarettes, medicines, candy, chewing gum… There could be dead, decaying vermin by the road, broken glass, snakes… the list goes on! And our dogs walk through it all, sometimes picking it up with their mouths, especially if it smells gross, right? There are some dogs that pick up everything on walks! Many of these things can hurt our dogs or make them sick. Little scavengers… They don’t know any better. It is our job to keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t get hurt.

After a few days of road repaving in our neighborhood, my dog, Jesse, was unusually curious about a patch of grass near our house. One day while we passed through, he snatched a chicken bone from the grass and was halfway to the house before I realized he was clutching something in his jaws. The patch of grass that Jesse was interested in was where the construction workers would sit and have their lunch. Apparently, they had chicken wings for lunch! Had I not seen the small bone in Jesse’s mouth, he could have really been hurt. As we all know, dogs can’t eat chicken bones. Chicken bones can splinter and damage anything from the mouth on through the digestive system, and that is if the dog doesn’t choke on them first.

Ants and dogs

Anthills and red ants, particularly, can really set your dog on fire. Dogs can walk through an anthill or unknowingly stand on a colony of red ants while they are in the grass doing their business. Ants will quickly crawl onto your dog’s feet and up their legs, or even worse, on their tender noses and over the face. Even black ants can bite. Black ants can be a mere nuisance to a dog, or, if your dog is sensitive or allergic to them, cause a reaction. Some dogs have an anaphylactic response to ant bites, putting them in respiratory distress.

“Fire ants”, a type of red ant, are aggressive and potentially deadly for a pet. Fire ants live in 15 states within the United States, Virginia included. They can also be found in popular vacation destinations like North and South Carolina and Florida. Fire ants are particularly active during the summer months and early fall.

Hidden holes or drains

There was an incident in Minneapolis where a Labrador retriever’s two front legs fell into a storm grate while out walking. The poor dog suffered a complete fracture across both her ulna and radius bones. Metal plates had to be screwed into the bones to aid in healing. She couldn’t walk for two months. Needless to say, it was very painful for her. Isn’t that awful?

There are drainage grates on the sidewalk, on the road, and even in grassy areas. Holes, maybe dug by other animals, can also be a booby-trap for a dog’s legs or paws. We need to keep an eye out for these kinds of things when walking the dog. A dog running through an area could plunge their leg(s) into any type of opening small enough for limbs, but not big enough to be readily noticed. Their desire to keep running – even when trapped -could make their limbs snap – just like what happened to the pup in Minnesota.

Pesticides and dogs

Be aware that any public area of grass may have been recently sprayed with pesticides. Unfortunately, grass or weeds freshly treated by pesticides or insecticides are not often marked. In fact, many states do not require the posting of notification that an area has been treated with pesticides. Believe it or not, Virginia is one of those states. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services states that “…there are no pesticide notification requirements in either the Pesticide Control Act or the various regulations promulgated under the Virginia Pesticide Control act…”. So, if we are out walking our dog in a public area or park that has been recently treated by pesticides, our dog could be exposed.

The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is committed to “protecting human health and the environment for all people”, but does not specifically address the health of pets when exposed to pesticides. Their regulations regarding pesticides have more to do with proper labeling, registration, handling, safe storage, distribution, and disposal of the substance itself. However, common sense tells us it’s not something our dogs should be exposed to. Inherently, pesticides have the capacity to harm living things, right? If a dog rolls in grass that has been treated or ingests the poison, either by licking its paws or inhaling a fresh spray, they could become very sick. This is why it is important to monitor our dogs while on a walk to identify any symptoms of exposure to pesticides.

Standing water

Water is just water – to a dog. Whether it’s in their bowl, a river or lake, or in a standing puddle in the road, most dogs are not all that picky about where they drink. That innocent-looking puddle in the road could be contaminated with all kinds of nasty stuff: Blue-green algae, leptospira bacteria, pesticides from run-off, antifreeze, or giardia. Symptoms from your dog having been exposed or having consumed contaminated water can be as simple as an upset stomach, or as severe as death. We need to be aware of where our dogs are walking and what they are doing at all times. We cannot know that if we are not paying attention. We want to avoid our dogs drinking dirty water.

Identifying dog health warning signs 

I admit I might be a little obsessive about my dog, but my guess is that if you’re reading this, you are too. So, at the risk of being gross, I have to say that we need to be attentive to what is “coming out” of our dogs when they do their business – not just so we can pick it up for disposal – but we should do a quick visual examination of their fecal matter and urine. Both are good indicators of a dog’s health. I mean, we don’t have to dissect it, but rather be aware of its consistency and color. Is it firm – not runny – an indication that something could be upsetting their digestion system? Maybe they’re not getting enough water and it is too hard. Is there anything strange about it? Is it an odd color? Also, is their urine a good color or is it cloudy? Could there be blood in it? Do they act like it hurts when they pee? These could be signs of a bladder infection. How would we know any of this if we are not paying attention?

Some ideas to make walks more interesting

Walking is a special time for our dogs. To us, it can be a chore, but to them, it’s one of the best times of the day. Instead of texting friends or talking on the phone, why not spend some quality time with your pup? It can benefit both of you while reinforcing your bond with one another.

After your dog has had adequate time to sniff everything and work out the excitement of the outing, walking is a great time to work on their obedience skills. It will increase their engagement with you and teach them to listen despite all the distractions around them. And it’s fun for them! Here are some ideas:

• Try some simple obedience drills. Nothing complicated, maybe heel/sit combos to get them to focus on you.
• Play games, like the red light/green light game that Holiday Barn Pet Resorts’ Professional Dog Trainer, Hunter, demonstrated in this video.
• Here is a fun exercise to help a dog pay attention to your lead: Stop walking, back up a few steps and then call your dog to you. Follow that up with some quick turns. As they follow your lead, be sure to lavish them with praise (and treats)!

Final thoughts

I am sure we could come up with even more reasons to pay attention to what is going on at the other end of the leash, but I think the message is clear. It is important to give our dogs our full attention while we are out with them on their walk. Walking is a happy time for them. They’re out exploring the world with you- their best friend. Let’s make it a point to put everything else aside and concentrate on them. They’re worth it.

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