I was driving around town the other day going from training lessons, dog walks, and pet sitting jobs. While passing through different neighborhoods, I was happy to see how many people were out on walks with their dogs, enjoying the beautiful weather. Anyone that has spent any time talking to me about training or dog behavior knows I value the importance of a good, structured walk. Sometimes convincing people to find the time to take their dogs for a stroll can be a challenge, so I was pleased to see people taking advantage of the sunshine. Then I noticed something… Almost everyone was “disconnected” from their dog. I’d say about 80% of people were staring down at their cell phones while walking! I saw a dog sniffing and zig-zagging wildly while one owner held the end of a leash and was looking at his phone (Facebooking?). I saw another dog with a prong collar pulling at the end of a 20 foot retractable leash while the owner was glued to her phone (texting?). I also saw a couple walking without a dog, but the husband wouldn’t put down his phone (Instagraming?). Another woman in a hurry was walking her Papillon who didn’t want to walk, so she stopped and began to hover over the dog and reprimand it. And trust me, there were more of these “disconnected” sightings. What does all this tell me? That people aren’t appreciating the small things as much anymore. I use my phone often and browse the internet all the time, but when I go for a walk (with or without dogs), my phone is in my pocket and my head is up taking in the scenery.
We have a choice when we walk our dogs: We can be holding our dogs back while they are tethered to the other end of the leash, or we can be their leaders – walking alongside them, and actually being with them. Anyone that has a dog knows what I’m talking about when I say our dogs look to us for guidance. A bored dog might stare at you while you sit on the couch, a nervous dog might check in on you to see how you are responding to something that puts him on edge, or an excited dog might try to demand your attention. The reason they do this is because they look to us for that guidance (leadership!). We can stay occupied all day long working, watching TV, scrolling through the internet, socializing with other people, reading a book, etc. Our dogs just wait for us. The very least we can do is be WITH them on the walk. No phones, no worrying about the stress in our lives… Just taking 30-45 minutes to clear our heads and walk alongside our dogs is the best therapy anyone can ask for – and it’s free! So next time you’re out with your dog, make a point of letting them know you are paying attention to them and enjoying the environment. You may see that by changing your perception on the walk, that your dog improves his behavior on the leash and on the overall walk because he knows you are now walking with him.