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Be Your Dog's Chaperone

By Alisha Ardiana (she/her)
Owner, Empawthy

Why the heck do we walk our dogs? 

Some people do it to get exercise for their dog. 

Some people are trying to get their steps in.

As a dog walker, I have come to the uneasy conclusion that a walk is a little bit like a prison break. Or perhaps, to use a gentler analogy, it’s like a school field trip - and you’re the chaperone! It is an opportunity for your dog to break out of the four walls of home and have some choice, freedom of movement, mental stimulation, and fun, while staying safe. 

What if you were a chaperone on a school field trip to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco? 

Your job is to keep track of the students, ensure they have a good time, and help them if they are having a problem. Your job is also to prevent them from disrupting the public. And obviously, the public is not expected to come and meet your class. Being a good chaperone means finding that balance between fun and consideration for others. 

I firmly believe ALL people and dogs deserve access to public spaces with anonymity. When we’re out walking our dogs, we’re sharing public space, but I don’t believe that there should be an expectation of interaction with others. 

This is why I love long lines so much! Believe me, I understand the joy of seeing a dog running off leash. There is nothing more beautiful. But the reality is, in many places and for many dogs, off leash is not the safest option. A long line is a fabulous compromise that allows your dog way more choice and freedom than a standard leash, but also keeps them and the public safe. 

A bully breed dog in a teal jacket sniffs the grass. The dog is wearing a long teal leash being held by someone out of the frame.

Hank sniffs to his heart's content on a walk. Photo by Pup and Me Photo of @all.about.hank

I take dogs on city outings. For 30 minutes, my job is to give that dog as much choice and freedom as possible, while keeping them and the public safe. I always use a 10 foot line for walking dogs in San Francisco, and occasionally a 15 foot line for beach outings. I find that 10 feet gives me the perfect balance between freedom and safety. 

a black and white papillon perches on a driftwood log with the shore of a bay behind her.

10 foot long lines are perfect for Civetta - they are lightweight and give lots of freedom for city and beach outings! 

My goal is to always be thinking about how I can provide opportunities for choice. Does your dog want to sniff the side of the building for five minutes? Sure! Sniff a trash can or a bench or follow a scent down a trail? Fantastic! Go for it. Dogs have an absolutely INCREDIBLE olfactory system - so allowing them to sniff is one of the most beneficial things you can you do for them. Read more about the benefits of letting your dog sniff.

Shiba dog on a long leash

@curious.shiba.nori is happy taking a city walk on a long line!

Does your dog want to go left, or go right? Whenever you can, follow their lead. One of my clients loves to rub up against dryer vents. It’s not hurting anyone, and it’s clearly enjoyable for them, so why not?

a large brindle mastiff type dogs rolls in the grass chewing on an old soccer ball, wearing an orange collar and dark orange harness.

Bam Bam loves to roll in the grass and chew up old balls! As long as it's safe, let your dog do what brings them joy. @bam_bam_the_brindle

Does your dog want to interact with you, and play games while you’re out walking? Great - have some games that you can safely play on your walks (I’ll share some ideas in our next blog).

Is your dog telling you that the environment is overwhelming? What kind of support do they need from you? How can you help them? Can you help teach them that moving away from something scary is an option? 

Choice is always considered within the context of safety. Choice does not mean walking through glass or foxtails. Choice does not mean running up on other people or dogs, or going places where dogs are not allowed. It does not mean let your dog go diving into the bushes and come out with a chicken bone. Dogs are scavengers, so we have to be careful. Here in San Francisco, there is a very real risk that your dog could ingest controlled substances or THC if they are allowed to scavenge freely (it happens all the time). We have to be realistic and acknowledge that many places are full of safety issues for dogs. 

On your walks - OBSERVE your dog. Their body language will tell you what they need and want. The beauty of becoming a keen observer of your dog and the environment is that your observation skills will improve over time. You’ll start to recognize the subtleties of body language and behavior. You will get to know your dog better, and be better equipped to keep them safe and meet their needs. 

Most of all - have fun playing chaperone, and enjoy seeing the world through your dog’s eyes!


About the Author:

Alisha Ardiana (she/her) BS, CTBC, CPDT-KA, FDM

Alisha is a private dog trainer based in San Francisco, CA and the owner of Empawthy: Positive Reinforcement for Pets and their People. Her focus is empowering guardians to support and care for their dogs. Her favorite dogs are the ones who need guidance to navigate social situations.