When we take our dog out for a walk, we all want a relaxing experience where our dog does their duty, explores a few scents, gets their back and belly rubbed, enjoys the well-deserved sunshine we in Chicago wait year-round for, then goes home satisfied. And for the walkers here at Windy City Paws, that’s not an uncommon day for the dogs we care for. However, we do live in a city where we come across unexpected and, let’s say, less than ideal things come our way that we’d rather avoid. We encounter these things all the time during our walks, and we’ve found strategies for how to get past them and continue giving our dogs the walking experience they deserve. We’ll bring up some of the most common things we come across and give our take on how we best avoid them.
Public Dog Bowls: Water and Treats
You’ve probably seen these outside a number of businesses or banks in the city: dog bowls of water and treats left in front of their door for passersby, perhaps as a way to draw business or to just be neighborly. Yet with those good intentions acknowledged, allowing your dog to drink or eat from these is still not a great idea.
Think of it this way: imagine a business that left out a communal glass of water from which all of its customers could drink. I’m guessing you’d be hesitant to take a sip. These dog bowls may be left out with the best intentions, but they tend to be neglected and catch all kinds of undesirable debris, including fragments of potentially harmful plants or other things that drift along city sidewalks. You also don’t know the dogs who may have drank from it previously, like with our hypothetical communal glass. All in all, it’s better to steer around these bowls. If you’re concerned about your dog being hydrated enough on your walk, bring a water bottle and small portable bowl with you.
As for the dog treats these same businesses leave out, they tend to be generic baked treats that may not be suitable for all dogs – but your dog probably won’t be thinking about that as they decide to snatch up some free food. Eating these may not severely harm them in most instances, but it’s better to avoid letting them eat unfamiliar foods that may cause a bad reaction, especially if they’ve been left outside. Windy City Paws walkers avoid these freebies and make sure to bring along only treats that have been approved by the pet owners.
Much of what we mentioned about public water bowls also applies to avoiding random water sources where dogs like to drink, yet for a plethora of additional reasons. Puddles on the ground or in the gutter can be home to harmful bacteria, disease-transmitting mosquitos, or pesticides washed from treated lawns — and next to pesticides, think about how pets like to water those lawns! So the same solution as with public water bowls applies here: best to prevent your pet from drinking out of random sources of water by bringing your own water bottle to quench your dog’s thirst.
An oldie, but never a goodie, stumbling on dog poop. We like to give our dogs their time’s worth on their walks. So imagine our distress when our dogs or we accidentally step in a plop of stray poop, and we have to waste precious minutes cleaning it off. But the personal inconvenience isn’t the only reason to avoid stray dog poop.
Leftover dog poop isn’t just a nuisance; it’s a real health risk to your pet and others. You can read more in our article on West Nile and other diseases in dogs, but in brief, dog poop can contain diseases that have been shed through the dog’s gut, and they can spread to other dogs who interact with it. In summary, stray poop is unsightly, it attracts vermin, it’s hazardous to dogs and humans, and not to mention it’s a real pain to have to dig out from between your shoe treads or pup’s toes. It’s for all these reasons why WCP walkers are required to have plastic bags on hand at all times and pick up their dog’s poop during every service.
Poop Covered Over with Snow, Grass, etc.
We get it: sometimes you remember you needed to refill your bag dispenser right as your dog has finished doing their business. What do you do? You could search for a spare bag, ask a passerby, make a mental note for when you return, get creative with what’s nearby, or go as far as to drop a pin in your map app for when you come back shortly. These are all strategies we’ve used to make sure we do our doggie doo-doo diligence.
…But if you’d prefer to do none of these things, you could just kick some leaves, rocks, dirt, or snow over the mess and call it a day. But like chewing gum stuck under a school desk, the problem hasn’t really gone away and is going to deliver a messy surprise for the next person who stumbles on it. Through sun, rain, or snow, we make sure to always dispose of dog poop!
This one is so much more common than you’d think. For some reason, there is just so much broken glass littered around Chicago, especially in areas with a highly active bar culture like Wrigleyville or the Loop. Coming across smashed handles of liquor on the sidewalks, in the grass, or just stepping off the sidewalk turns an everyday walk into a sequence from Die Hard. When Windy City Paws walkers come across it, we of course double-back for a new route, or, if there’s no other way and we’re able, we carry the pup across. Since glass tends to gather in street gutters, we check for its tell-tale gleam when stepping near the edge of a sidewalk. Avoiding this common hazard is another reason why walkers are advised against leading dogs through back alleyways whenever possible.
Negotiating rock salt during the winter is one of the realities of dog-walking in the city. As we’ve noted in our winter gear article, rock salt can be very painful for dogs if they walk across it bare-pawed. So we make sure to get them some boots or paw wax before taking them outside to protect their paws. We try to avoid this as much as possible during walks, especially when the snow melts and there’s still a thick layer of salt on the ground.
Bread for Pigeons
To go on a brief tangent, every official source on animal health notes how people need to stop feeding bread to birds. And yet when going through a park, there will often be someone scattering handfuls of crumbled bread to a gathering of birds that would embarrass a Beatles concert. Bread has no nutritional value for birds. It fills up their stomach with useless calories that they can’t metabolize in order to survive, and because bread is artificially filling they stop eating other, better food. Like with dogs, just because they will eat something doesn’t mean you should feed it to them.
Then there’s the sudden pull on a walker’s leash when their dog spots a scattering of free glutenous goodies on the ground. Bread isn’t toxic for dogs, but as it is with birds, dogs get no nutritional value from bread besides a ton of empty carbohydrates. So with how much bread ends up getting scattered on the ground for birds, that’s a ton of empty, bad food!
Our dogs don’t really understand why their walkers won’t let them have free food. A discarded chicken bone? Delicious! A spilled McDonald’s burger, complete with tomato and lettuce and beef patty? A real feast. So why is my walker so worried about me eating off the ground? If we could talk, we’d explain to them how eating food made for humans, chewed on by humans, and discarded on the sidewalk by humans is not exactly found in raw, kibble-based, or hybrid diets. To help dissuade dogs from picking up stray food, WCP walkers keep their pup’s favorite treats and/or favorite toys on hand to reward them for resisting temptation!
Bars or Restaurants with Outdoor Seating
Walkers tend to avoid outdoor seating areas since these places can be filled with potential stressors for our dogs. Speaking from personal experience, one of my former dogs lived in an apartment building whose entrance was right in front of a restaurant’s outdoor patio. Since my pup wasn’t a fan of the dogs who often sat in these patio areas, negotiating to get in and out could be tricky!
Dogs who lounge in these outdoor seating areas tend to be out of sight and mind from their owners and are leashed (if at all) in such a way that the owner struggles to reach them if they need to. More than once, a dog sitting on a patio has become distressed and reactive after seeing a WCP walker go by, and their owner was distracted and slow to gain control of their pet. So if we can help it, we tend to go across the street if at all possible when we see a busy outdoor seating area.
While walking dogs off-leash continues to be illegal in Chicago, people will still continue to do it, so it’s something we have to be ready for when dog-walking in the city. We avoid other dogs while walking our client’s dog(s) as a general rule, and this goes double for off-leash dogs whose owners are rarely at the ready to intervene if something unwanted should happen. If you see an off-leash dog coming toward you or approaching from behind, it’s best to cross the street if possible or find a nook to pause in while they pass you by. Leave the off-leash socializing for the dog beach or other parks you can find in this article!
On more than one occasion during our walks, we pass by a total stranger who feels compelled to reach out for our dog without as much as a “Hello!” or “May I?” This is less something we can avoid as much as something to be aware of during our walks outside. Dogs are famously friendly, but not all dogs enjoy having an unfamiliar hand reach spontaneously for their head. They can easily interpret this action as aggressive, especially if they have existing anxiety around strangers.
So when we see someone reach for our pet without our say so, we try to block their path if possible or calmly address the behavior before it happens. Strangers are not entitled to touch your pet, no matter how sweet your dog is! WCP walkers are strongly advised against allowing strangers to interact with their pup while out on walks to prevent unwanted interactions, and we have our methods for gently dissuading people from interacting with them– “they’re in training” is one particularly effective strategy!
Windy City Paws is a Fear Free Chicago dog walker and pet-sitter committed to providing helpful information to Chicago dog owners through its blog. Nathaniel Fishburn is a freelance writer, animal-snuggling enthusiast, and former walker for WCP.