Dogs & Cats

How to Walk Your Dog -- With Your Baby

Managing a stroller and a canine can be tricky. Our resident trainer shares her top tips.

Babies like to go out in a stroller, and most dogs need the exercise and mental stimulation of a daily walk. But taking both together can be challenging! Here, a few of my tips to make walking your dog with your baby a bit easier.

If your dog doesn’t already know how to walk on a leash without pulling or tangling you up, you need to teach that skill set separately. Leash-walking is challenging for most dogs, since it goes against their instinct to walk at a human’s speed and to not lean into the pressure of a leash. Many articles, books, and videos discuss this topic -- and it’s outside of the scope of this article.

Start Walking Your Dog Without the Baby
When I begin teaching a dog to walk with a stroller, I first practice simple loose-leash walking without the stroller, rewarding the dog generously for walking near me and having some awareness of me. I want the dog to be aware when I stop or change direction.

Next, take your dog out on a walk with an empty stroller. If you’re a new parent, you might have never walked while pushing a stroller; it might take you a few minutes to learn the weight, balance, steering and brakes of the one you have. Big, heavy strollers handle bumps better, resist sudden direction changes or lunges from your dog and have more momentum, but they’re awkward to maneuver and stop. Lighter strollers -- especially “umbrella” strollers -- are easier to maneuver and put in your car for a trip to the park or trail, but they’re more likely to be pulled over by an eager dog.

Decide How to Hold the Leash
When you first take your dog out with a stroller, one of the first things you’ll find is if your dog’s leash is held in one hand, that hand will likely affect the stroller’s steering. A few strollers are designed to be pushed and steered with one hand, but most aren’t.

One smart option is to use a hands-free waist leash -- that is, a leash that attaches to a belt system around your waist. This leaves both hands free for steering (or fussing over the baby, or drinking water or answering your cell phone). And if your dog does pull, it’s at your center of gravity, making both the stroller and the person pushing the stroller more stable.

One important point: Do not tie the dog’s leash to the stroller. If you come across a taunting squirrel, a running cat or an off-leash dog, it could mean big trouble. Similarly, don’t allow older babies or toddlers to the hold the leash.

Dog, Meet Stroller
You might find that your dog is nervous about the big, rattling, wheeled thing that’s joining you. Signs include shying away from the stroller, turning the head away, “whale eye” (when the whites of your dog’s eyes show), and an uncomfortably closed mouth.

If you see any of these indications, you might want to start by having another person push the stroller. He or she should walk ahead of you -- far enough that the dog again appears comfortable. You can do the counter-conditioning “Look at that” trick, during which you mark and reward the dog generously for looking calmly at the scary stroller. Gradually decrease the distance between the stroller and your dog for as long as your dog seems comfortable, until you, your dog and the stroller-pusher are walking side by side. At that point, if your dog looks relaxed (has a happy open mouth and normal tail carriage), try pushing the stroller while holding the leash at the same time.

Try a Shorter Leash or a Harness
If you use a typical 6-foot leash, you might find that your dog can pass back and forth in front of the stroller to switch positions and “check his pee-mail” on either side. However, this brings the leash scything over the top of the stroller, possibly over the baby’s head. Similarly, a long leash can get caught in the stroller’s wheels or axles or interfere with the brake system if it’s dangling too close with a well-heeling dog. I recommend a shorter leash -- never an extendable, flexi-type leash.

If you haven’t accomplished the teaching of loose-leash walking by the time your baby is ready for the stroller, try using a front-clip harness (e.g., the Freedom, Easy Walk, or Walk Your Dog With Love harness). These tend to reduce pulling and give you more control over your dog, although sometimes the effect is temporary (which at least gives you time to establish new habits through training). In extreme cases, I sometimes recommend a head halter for your dog, although you often need to go through a careful desensitization process before the dog is comfortable wearing it.

Teach Your Dog Movement Commands
This is also an opportune time to teach your dog a few movement commands, like “Slow down” (or “Easy”), “Hurry up” (or “Let’s go” or “Come on”), “Left turn,” “Right turn,” and “Stop” (or “Whoa”). This helps your dog predict what you’re doing, without having to rely on a jerk from the leash.

For a parent, successful multitasking can be a wonderful feeling! Walking with a dog and a stroller can result in a baby who is happily sleeping or enjoying the scenery, a dog and a parent getting out for exercise, and bonding time for the three of you!

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/MCCAIG

 

 



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