Monday, March 21, 2011

Dog walking is serious business - are children up for the task?

         flickr photo courtesy of A Gude

I saw a blog over the weekend that caught my attention, and for good reason: A town in Virginia is proposing a law that would require only competent, responsible adults to walk dogs.
The article spawned a lot of controversy, and I think that the notion of creating a law is an interesting one.

Frequently in my travels with dog walking, I am presented with an all-too-common situation where my charge and I encounter another dog accompanied an apt human on the other end of the leash. Many people are mindful about the dog in their possession: Are they calm, and able to pass by another dog without issue, or does being faced with the prospect of passing another dog on the sidewalk pose a problem?

Most people who are aware that their dog isn't so good at dealing with others will usually move to the side or in some cases or change their course. I've done it myself - usually with a nod or a verbal confirmation. Walking in downtown areas or on tight trails is cause for an extra amount of awareness and care when you've got a dog alongside of you.

While I rarely encounter an issue that's too dicey, there is one scenario that I find to be deeply troubling.

Thursday, I was walking a large dog who was quite docile.The weather was exquisite, and that prompted a lot of people to get out and walk their dogs, resulting in a lot more foot traffic than we usually encounter. I was thrilled to see so many people out and about with their pets, but what troubled me was the number of children who were walking dogs while unattended by adults.

Now, before you get all up in arms, I think it's great - necessary even - that kids are exposed to the responsibility of walking a dog on a leash, learning how to control a dog safely and understanding the gravity of the task.

That day, I encountered an alarming number of children who were clearly too small and physically unable to control the dog in their possession - and/or trying to multi-task. In the latter case, I witnessed two children on three-wheeled scooters, trying to manage their dogs on leashes, all the while the dogs and their leashes were getting tangled around the scooters and the children's legs.

It's frightening to watch a child, 8 to 10 years of age, heading in your direction, with both hands tightly, furiously clutching the leash, on the cusp of literally being dragged down the street by an enormous dog who has no leash manners - another scene that availed itself that day.

Those instances are examples of why I posit that supervision should take place until a child is able to handle the responsibility on their own - meaning that they can handle it physically, emotionally and intellectually.

It's a lot of responsibility being on the other end of the leash. A lot can happen, and in many cases, much of it isn't within your control - but how you react to a situation is.

Can a child handle that responsibility? What are your thoughts? Please, take the poll and leave your comments below.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for and a professional pet sitter and dog walker. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures around Washtenaw County on Twitter. She welcomes your contact via email.

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