The Dangers of Distracted Dog Walking

The Dangers of Distracted Dog Walking

When you’re walking your dog, it’s easy to be tempted toward the usual distractions: texting, returning phone calls, or maybe even catching up on your favorite podcast. Your dear dog sniffs the same fire hydrant day after day, why not use your dog’s walk to get a few things done? 

But, there are dangers associated with distracted dog walking. If we’re not paying attention to our dog or our surroundings, things can go awry.

Here are my top three dangers of distracted dog walking:

(1) Risk of injury or illness to you or your dog.

One bright April morning, I was walking my dog, Miles, in Philadelphia. I was looking at my camera as we strolled down 16th street. Before I knew what was happening, Miles snatched a half-eaten piece of pizza off the ground and ate it. I came out of my camera trance just as the crust disappeared into his mouth. I groaned and kicked myself for not paying attention. Miles quickly started pawing at his face and crying. The pizza had ants all over it. The ants were now crawling all through Miles’ beard and whiskers! I picked ants out of his beard while he cried, and the ones I couldn’t pick off and flick away crawled up my arm. Miles’ stomach was upset for the rest of the day. The ants crawling through his beard was a scene I’ll never forget. While we got lucky that Miles ingested ant-covered pizza instead of something more dangerous, I should have been paying better attention.

A re-enactment of the infamous pizza incident, sans ants.

A re-enactment of the infamous pizza incident, sans ants.

Even if you’re paying attention, the force of your dog lunging after a squirrel or toward an interesting smell can cause injury to you or your dog. But, if you’re caught off-guard, there’s a risk that these injuries will be worse.

(2) Failing to notice if your dog is getting upset. 

If your dog gets worried about things in their environment, knowing what upsets them is a good first step in helping your dog feel better. For example, let’s say your dog gets upset at bicyclists riding by and responds by barking and lunging. Being on the lookout for bicyclists is your responsibility on your dog’s walk. A training plan might require you to move away from bicyclists as they ride past and feed your dog delicious snacks to help your dog learn that bicyclists predict good stuff for them. If you’re not paying attention, there’s a risk of not noticing that your dog is worrying until it’s too late. And, if bicyclists ride by while you’re not paying attention, you will have missed a valuable training opportunity.

(3) Not noticing when your dog gets something right. 

It’s really easy for us to focus on our dog’s undesirable behavior. But, our dogs get stuff right, too! And it’s up to us to notice when they get stuff right and reinforce it. Here are a few examples of things your dog might get right on a walk: looking at you when you call your dog’s name, walking on a loose leash, peeing on the mailbox instead of your prized roses, waiting at the curb, moving with you as you change directions, and looking up at you without being prompted. If we don’t reinforce the things our dogs get right, our dogs might be less motivated to continue doing those things in the future.

In the video below, Thelma is doing something really smart and amazing, and I don’t even notice because I’m texting:

The video is a light-hearted way to illustrate my point. Yes, I trained Thelma to do leg weaves while I’m walking and texting. Isn’t she funny?

It’s hard to pay attention, with all of the demands on our attention and time. But, one of the great things about having a dog is that they often get us outside, and they prompt us to stop and take a moment to notice our surroundings. It’s your dog’s walk to enjoy, and I encourage you to enjoy walks with them and attending to them and your environment together.

And, on your next walk, I challenge you to notice (and reinforce!) three things that your dog gets right. And don’t worry, I reinforced Thelma for her spectacular leg weaves!

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