You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

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

By Lorrie Shaw


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 dogs aren'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 old, 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 played out 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 his or her own — meaning that heor she 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.


Lorrie Shaw

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 : 12:31 a.m.

I'm so glad to see all of interaction with regard to this topic, so thank you! All valid facets of this issue, really, and there's a lot to consider. I have clients who are big, gentle dogs, some, not so much. Others, like one terrier-mix who is about 40 lbs and is very strong would easily overpower most children. Clearly, all dogs and situations are different, but one things for sure - all kids need to be schooled on how to walk a dog safely before the head out the door, for everyone's sake. Thanks again, everyone.


Tue, Mar 22, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

Another factor is who is the alpha? At my house, our dogs have always listened to me in 95% of the situations described. But my husband and children, less so. I'm the one who trained the dogs and who is clearly "in charge of the pack" from the dogs perspective. We tried to have our son be trainer with our last dog, but he was still too small at 10 to handle when the retriever puppy got full size. However, once each son was strong enough, they were allowed to walk the dog and knew the expectations. Regulating this type of thing probably creates more problems than helps--when it's education that's needed. Most people think my dog is extremely well behaved and trained, but I know a few who don't think so. So who to believe?


Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 11:53 p.m.

Mixed feelings about this column. On the one hand, we don't seem to allow kids to do anything we did as children - walk to school; play pick-up kickball/baseball at the local school without adult supervision; play in the woods with other kids; walk to the store to buy somethings; walk a dog, etc. On the other hand, not all dogs are controllable by a child. I would vote for letting children walk dogs that are under 20 pounds if the child weights 60+ pounds. Presumably the child has walked the dog with supervision and understands situations that might arise - runners, bikers, and uncontrolled dogs. What did mom/dad do in the iffy situations? What should the child do? Otherwise, we are raising a bunch of children that might not be able to walk to class alone in college because they won't have the resourcefulness to figure out anything.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

A lot depends on the kid but a lot depends on the dog too. I have two dogs. One is a very large but amazingly gentle dog with impeccable leash manners. She is a shelter dog that someone obviously trained well. I would let any child old enough to walk around the block without supervision take her out with them. My other dog, although much smaller, was trained by me. Her leash manners are only so-so and she while she is pretty good when I walk her, I wouldn't trust her to be good with even the most responsible child.


Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

This discussion is also valid for some adults who can not physically restrain their dog. Appropriate breed selection for your housing situation is critical, but it is as important to find a breed that you can train and handle in public situations. I see too many children AND adults unable to restrain their dogs, relying too much on the idea that the dog will come when called. Sorry, but given the choice between a jumping rabbit, plump squirrel or moped-riding human (as in the earlier comment), very few, if any, dogs will always listen to their owner. They are animals, and must be understood as such. The fact that they are 'angels' at home (as I have heard owners exclaim in the face of this type of behavior) we can never predict their behavior in all circumstances.


Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

noone of any age should walk a dog they cant out-pull if it gets rambunctious.

Atticus F.

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 : 7:54 p.m.

Last year while riding my moped through a neighborhood, I was almost killed by some sort of 150lb Mastiff-pitbull mix. There was a 8 or 9 year old girl walking the dog on a leash when I heard the girl screaming for the dog to stop. It was at that point that I turned around and saw this beast chasing after me in full stride (imagine a greyhound in full stride), gaining on me quickly. If I hadn't gave my moped full trottle and ran through a stop sign, I would hate to think what might have happened to me. Very scary. Children need some sort of supervision when taking on this responsibility.