Safety Tips for Navigating Urban (City) Walks with Your Dog

Published: 03/08/2021
Once upon a time not all that long ago, there was a common belief that dogs weren’t suited to city living. The thinking was that pooches needed room to move and lots of outdoor space, so they were best suited to life in the country or in the suburbs.

Of course, we now know that many dog breeds make wonderful companions for life in a big-city apartment. In fact, many dogs can easily adapt to city living and make wonderful housemates from their puppy years right through to old age.

But one important consideration for every pet parent living in the city is making sure your pooch gets enough exercise. Unfortunately, walking a dog in the city comes with a number of potential hazards attached, so keep reading for our simple safety tops on city walks with your dog.

Health check

First things first: it’s worth making sure your dog is fully fit before you start. Book them in for a check-up with your vet to find out whether they’re in “pawfect” health or whether there are any medical issues you’ll need to manage when exercising your pup. This is also a good chance to make sure your pet is up to date with their vaccinations and parasite control.

Teach your dog the road rules and key social skills

If you’re going to take your dog on city walks, they’re going to need to learn how to stay safe around the road. That means not only getting used to the sight and sound of traffic, but also understanding how to cross the road safely.

Teach your pooch to stop at the curb and wait for your OK before stepping out onto the road. Reward them for the correct behavior, and over time, they’ll come to learn the importance of caution when crossing the road.

Your pup will also need to be leash trained, and will need to understand proper doggy etiquette — for example, staying calm when meeting strangers and new dogs. Only once your dog has a good grasp of the basics will you be ready to hit the city streets.

Start slowly

Some dogs adapt to walking on busy city streets without any problems. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all dogs, as some can find the sheer volume of sights, smells, sounds, people, and traffic completely overwhelming.

That’s why it’s important to desensitize your pup to the sensory assault of a city walk slowly. Start socializing them as soon as it’s safe to do so, and be sure to begin their urban walking experiences on quieter streets. Once they get used to it, you’ll be able to take them along those busier, louder streets.

Some dogs will simply always be a little sensitive, so timing their walks to avoid busy periods and choosing routes that avoid crowded streets is important.

Always use a leash

Chances are that if you live in a big city, local laws require you to keep your dog on a leash whenever they’re outside. Leashing your dog is not only essential for their safety — it ensures that you can keep them away from busy roads but also for the safety and comfort of others.

There may also be a limit to the maximum leash length allowed (commonly 6 feet) in your area, so be sure to keep your dog leashed and by your side at all times.

Say no to retractable leashes

Retractable leashes seem to be quite popular on city streets, but they’re not recommended for a couple of reasons. When you’re walking down a busy city street, you want to keep your dog right by your side to keep them away from any hazards and stop them getting tangled up with other pedestrians. With a retractable leash, that’s simply not possible.

Retractable leashes also reward your dog for pulling, which will only serve to encourage this unwanted behavior. As a result, it’s best to avoid using a retractable leash whenever you can.

Take some treats

A ready supply of your pup’s favorite treats is essential for any urban dog walk. When your dog knows you’ve got treats, this will help keep their attention firmly focused on you. 

You’ll be able to use treats to encourage the right behavior from your dog, such as walking politely by your side and not trying to rush up at strangers. Even better, this means you can also give your pooch a tasty treat just for being a good boy or girl.

Manage interactions

You can potentially meet all sorts of people (and animals) when walking your dog in the city, so it's important to communicate clearly with other people and pet parents. If your dog sees another pup being walked that they'd like to say hello to, ask the other dog's human if it's OK first. That way you'll hopefully avoid any potentially tense situations with dogs who don't like greeting other pups when they're on a leash.

Use reflective gear

Walking around the city at night is dangerous. To protect yourself, your dog, and other pedestrians, it might be worth investing in some reflective walking gear. And we’re not just talking about high-vis clothing for you either — there’s an impressive range of reflective dog leashes and harnesses available to help you and your pup stand out at night, and they can be a great safety tool for those after-dark walks. 

A headlamp for yourself, and even lighted collars and other accessories for dogs, can also help.

Watch out for trash

City sidewalks aren’t always as glamorous in real life as they appear in the movies. They can be dirty, messy, and downright gross, and some of the garbage that accumulates in the gutter can seem very appealing to our canine companions. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for anything that your dog might fancy as their next snack. If they indulge in a bit of alfresco dining and eat the wrong thing, your next destination could be an emergency trip to the vet!

Weather worries

Depending on where you live and what time of year you walk, the weather can wreak havoc with your doggy exercise plans. Hot city sidewalks can damage paws and heat stroke can become a problem, while the winter months can see icy streets and freezing conditions put your pup at risk of a range of health issues. Know the conditions in your city, how quickly they can turn, and how they can affect your dog.

It’s also essential that you dress accordingly. For example, a warm jacket and a special pair of booties could help your pup stay warm and comfortable in winter.

Bring poop bags

OK, so this isn’t so much a safety tip as it is a reminder to be a responsible pet parent. No matter where you are, when you go out in public with your dog you must pick up after them — it’s as simple as that. 

So make sure you always have a good supply of bags handy. And remember to take more than one just to make sure you don’t get caught short if your pup needs to answer nature's call more than once. 

Monitor your dog

Finally, whenever you’re out and about with your dog, keep a close eye on them at all times to make sure they’re not under too much strain. If they show any signs of slowing down or struggling, stop and take a breather. The last thing you want to do is push your dog too hard, so don’t be afraid to ease up and give your dog a chance to stop and smell the roses.