Walking Your Dog Safely

Walking your dog around the streets of Manhattan is one of the perks of being a New York City dog owner. NYC dogs love the sights, sounds and smells which accompany them on their New York dog walks - Manhattan is like an amusement park for dogs and it's written across their faces! But a busy city like New York also comes with its fair share of hazards that NYC dog walkers should be acutely aware of.

Here we present some NYC dog walking advice and tips which apply to year round dog walking as well as the special problems and issues that the seasons of summer and winter bring with their excessive heat and biting cold. There is no reason why your NYC dog shouldn't stay safe, comfortable and happy all year round with a little thought and common sense.

boston terrier puppy on leash

City Dog Walking

  • Never be tempted to unleash your dog on the street
  • You'd be surprised at how many people do this in New York City. As well as being illegal here, we also think it's just a bad idea. No matter how well you know your dog there is no telling how they might react to sudden noises or situations and the last thing you want is for them to charge into the road. Additionally, unleashed dogs can be seen as a threat by leashed dogs, and you should also think about people who have dog phobias and for whom the sight of an unleashed dog approaching them is terrifying - even if it's a chihuahua!

  • Avoid retractable leashes
  • These are very popular and great in certain environments but we don't recommend them for use on New York City streets. Firstly, it has been known for the locking mechanism to fail on retractables - never a good thing. Secondly, the extra security which comes from wrapping a leash two or three times around the hand isn't possible. Thirdly, since it is advisable to keep dogs on a relatively short leash in the city (4ft or less is fine, less than 6ft is the law), the extra length these leashes give you is pointless for NYC dog walking.

  • Scan for sidewalk snacks!
  • Take great care to keep your dog from eating things on New York sidewalks. Chicken bones can splinter in the intestines. Everything else carries with it a risk of upset stomach or worse. Get used to scanning the sidewalk in front of you as you walk - this becomes second nature with practice. If your dog is a pathological sidewalk diner then consider using a collar instead of a harness since it's easier to move their mouths away from garbage should they lunge quickly.

  • Scan for glass and other sharp objects
  • Broken glass is a regular sight on the streets of New York City - not good for dogs who have no idea how sharp it is. However it's not too much of a problem as long as you get into the habit of scanning the sidewalk ahead and maneuvering your pooch out of the way of anything which looks dangerous to paws. If you suspect that your dog stepped on glass then stop and check all paws immediately as small pieces can become lodged and cause infections.

  • Massage the spine for a calming effect
  • If your dog becomes over-excited in public, you can try a gentle massaging action down either side of their spine. This has a calming effect on a lot of dogs and helps them re-center.

  • Always check that other dogs are friendly
  • Even though your dog may be the friendliest pooch in the world, never assume that other dogs are. You'll meet a lot of other dogs on the streets of Manhattan and most of the time they'll get along with yours just fine. But it's always good practice to ask the owner "is your dog friendly?" before allowing yours to say hello.

  • Keep leashes short when crossing roads
  • When crossing New York City roads with your dog insist on good behavior. Be very careful of cars making turns and keep your dog well clear of any moving wheels. When waiting at an intersection to cross, be strict about staying on the sidewalk and get into the habit of asking your dog to sit if possible.

  • Be careful of lampposts and scaffold!
  • Never let your dog spray lampposts - they are very poorly maintained in New York and some come with a risk of electrocution. It can and does happen! It's also best to keep them away from sidewalk sheds and scaffold as these have been known to carry stray current from faulty overhead lighting.

  • Be careful around elevators
  • When entering or leaving an elevator with your dog, always make sure they're right by your side and never allow them to run in front or behind you on a long leash. The last thing you want to happen is have an elevator door close on the leash with you and your dog on opposite sides!

Walking Your Dog In Summer

  • Always carry water with you on extended walks
  • If you're going to be walking for more than 15 minutes then think about dehydration and carry cold water with you, ideally in a flask. Most pet stores stock collapsible water bowls which fit easily into bags or large pockets, although dogs will quite happily drink out of your hand when they're thirsty.

  • Go easy on very hot days
  • This applies to all dogs but especially older dogs, dogs with long or thick fur and all dogs with snub noses such as pugs, bulldogs and Boston terriers. If the temperature is over 85 degrees, humid, or both, then think about walking at a slower speed and covering half the distance you normally would. Never run with dogs in extreme heat and watch for signs of overheating such as excessive panting, drooling and visible weakness. Carry a water spray to cool your dog, or ask someone who's hosing the sidewalk to give them a quick shower!

  • Stay in the shade
  • Always stick to the shaded side of the street whenever you can, even if it means changing your usual route. In Manhattan, you'll find that the sun's position means that uptown/downtown dog walking routes offer more shade in the mornings and early evenings, while crosstown routes offer shade in the middle part of the day.

  • Avoid hot asphalt and metal
  • Never let your NYC dog stand or sit for too long on hot asphalt in the sun. It overheats dogs very quickly and can also burn their paws. The same goes for any metal on the sidewalk or road, including manhole covers, grates and metal plates. A wax covering like Musher's can protect paws from hot surfaces so consider using one.

  • Clip coats for the summer
  • Dogs with long or thick fur benefit from a shorter, cooler summer haircut. It is a commonly held urban myth that long hair "protects dogs from heat" - absolutely false! Long haired dogs should be clipped down to about an inch for hot weather, but never so short that skin is visible since a dog's skin is very susceptible to sunburn.

Walking Your Dog In Winter

  • Buy a good quality jacket
  • All but the largest, hardiest of NYC dogs need jackets or sweaters in the height of the New York City winter, but this especially applies to smaller dogs and dogs with short hair. A good quality insulated, waterproof and windproof jacket can keep your dog's temperature at a comfortable and acceptable level on frigid days. Buying a warm sweater in addition to a waterproof outer shell is a good idea since you can add or remove layers depending on the weather. Make sure they're a good fit!

  • Use dog boots
  • As well as offering more defense from the wet and cold, good quality dog boots are useful for NYC streets because ice and snow mean salted sidewalks. The chemical salts used to melt snow and ice can be irritating to some dogs and they will often attempt to lick the chemicals from between their pads. Again, make sure they're a good fit, easy to walk in and attach securely. There is nothing worse than dog boots that come off repeatedly during a walk.

  • Avoid electrified surfaces!
  • Incredibly, New York City's utility company Con Edison cannot yet guarantee that manhole covers, grates and other metal surfaces will not carry stray current during the winter. The salt used to melt snow and ice corrodes old, neglected wires and sometimes leaves them bare. In a few (thankfully rare) cases NYC dogs have been electrified in the winter, and back in 2004 a dog walker in Manhattan was killed while walking her dogs after she fell on an electrified grate. If your dog suddenly yelps or screams when walking along the sidewalk then move them away immediately - there could be an electrified surface underneath. Small stray currents can even jump across non-metallic surfaces when there is melted snow mixed with salt. It goes without saying that you should avoid all metal surfaces in the winter, but since this is not always possible then it's a good idea to buy rubber-soled boots for your NYC dog. If you discover stray current anywhere then report it to Con Edison immediately.

  • Wear shoes or boots with a good grip
  • It probably goes without saying but you yourself should always wear appropriate footwear when walking your NYC dog in conditions of ice or snow. It's so easy to lose your balance and fall if your dog pulls or lurches suddenly!

  • Keep your dog out of snow drifts
  • Snow excites most dogs. To some, there is nothing more irresistible than the sight of a six foot snow drift on the edge of the sidewalk. It's also a lot of fun to see your dog dive into such a drift and leap around with joyous abandon...however, it's worth thinking about what could possibly lie underneath. Drifts sometimes form overnight completely covering trash and other discarded objects - which could include such things as broken mirrors and old electronic appliances with sharp edges. Ouch!

  • Shorten walks in extreme conditions
  • When the temperature drops below zero and the wind chill factor sets in, don't keep your dog out for too long - even if you think the weather is bearable yourself. Dogs are smaller than us and even those with thick coats can be severely affected by long periods in frigid weather. Ears are particularly prone to frostbite. Extremely cold air can damage the lungs of people so it can certainly damage the smaller lungs of dogs, too. Your dog will likely tell you when it's too cold to walk or time to go back inside - listen to them! It probably means it's too cold for you, too...limit walks on such days to a basic toilet trip, and initiate some extra play indoors for the exercise.