Experts say that you shouldn’t be distracted or on your phone while walking your dog

My girl and I are about to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, and by “girl” I mean my 20+ lb chihuahua-dachshund bundle of love. I remember every detail of how we met to this day: I was on my way home from seeing a re-release of Dirty Dancing at the movies and my local pet store was having an adoption day. All the cuties were frollicking in pens on the front lawn–of course I had to stop! Was I looking to adopt a pup just then, having recently packed up my entire life to move cross-country back in with my parents after having a pre-midlife crisis that led to a deep depression and gaining back the substantial amount of weight I’d lost? No, it hadn’t been at the top of the list, but it was probably the best decision I made that year. We looked each other in the eyes and made a pact: I rescue you, you rescue me. Cut to 10 years later and we’re not living with my parents, I’ve dragged her back cross-country to be a New Yorker and we’ve mutually agreed not to discuss the stray white hairs we notice in each other. We also both keep up to date on news, and were intrigued when we saw this CNN reporting on best practices when on a walk:

The equivalent of distracted driving: Animal behaviorists say that at best, dog walkers who aren’t paying full attention can confuse dogs or frustrate by giving them conflicting signals. And at worst, they can endanger the dog’s safety–and their own as well. “It’s kind of like the dog-walking equivalent of distracted driving,” says Leslie Sinn, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in Ashburn, Virginia. “You’re not paying attention to the signs that your dog is uncomfortable… and if you’re missing all those clues because your head is elsewhere, that’s a problem.”

Only a small percentage of people can multitask effectively: CNN spoke to a handful of animal behaviorists who say they routinely see people walking dogs in their neighborhoods who are on their phones or pushing strollers and appear to be largely ignoring their pets. This can pose a safety problem for several reasons, dog experts say. Research has shown that only a small percentage of people can multitask effectively. Distracted dog walkers may not notice potential threats: bicyclists, joggers, cars or unleashed dogs, experts say. By the time a person looks up from their phone, their pet could be in an altercation with another dog–or worse.

My girl is totally guilty of this: Also, dogs are notorious for eating stuff that’s bad for them, experts say. “If you aren’t paying attention, dogs can pick up and eat things QUICKLY–chicken bones, cigarette butts, dead/poisoned rats, etc.,” says Amy L. Pike, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist in Fairfax, Virginia. “If you didn’t see it, you won’t know to take them into the vet. Or if you do take them in because they are sick, you won’t know what they ingested, which helps your vet treat them.”

You may miss your dog ‘speaking’ to you: Someone buried in their phone also may not notice when their dog becomes agitated or shows signs of fatigue or an injury. “Your dog ‘speaks’ primarily with their non-verbal body language,” Pike says. “If you aren’t paying enough attention to what they are ‘saying,’ you won’t know how your dog feels.

[From CNN]

So… most of this reporting seems like common sense? I’ll be honest and say that I’m usually listening to music or talking on the phone when we’re out on a walk–but I use airpods so my hands are free and I’m not looking at my phone. The most multitasking I attempt is holding a drink and holding the leash at the same time (but not with the same hand). I used to refill her poop bags in the dispenser while on our walks, but I had to stop after I lost hold of a roll and watched it completely unfurl in the street.

Out of all the issues the veterinary behaviorists mentioned, the biggest problem I have with my girl is her relentless pursuit of scraps of food to scarf up. I attribute it to her being a rescue and still holding onto the fear of not having any food–even though she’s been living the life of Riley for a decade now. So even while I’m listening to tunes or catching up with someone (probably my mother), our walks are peppered with my (lovingly) harping at my girl: “No eating! Drop that! I told you we eat at home!” and then she gives me the side-eye so I have to respond with “It doesn’t have to be this way, young lady!” and then she huffs and sets off on the hunt again. Yeah, I’m not worried that we’re missing each other’s signals on our walks.

Photos credit Bundo Kim and Alina Belogolov on Unsplash and Viktoria B and Samson Katt on Pexels

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

30 Responses to “Experts say that you shouldn’t be distracted or on your phone while walking your dog”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Fuzzy Crocodile says:

    I read An Immense World by Ed Yong that spoke about dog’s sensory experience through smell … and now I try not to rush my dog when he’s investigate smells around the neighborhood.

    Good info. Be present with your dog.

  2. manda says:

    my dog absolutely HATED my phone. Would look away when I tried to take a picture, would walk away when I tried to multitask with the phone (or anything else) while playing with her. She knew her worth

  3. Katherine says:

    My friend’s dog is not a rescue and it insists on trying to eat everything in its path… and succeeding at times even though I am always fully engaged with the walk, no distractions. I’m so glad I stayed with my friend for a while and got a real taste of having a dog – now I know for sure I’m not cut out to be a dog mom, even though I adore them and have always wanted one badly. I don’t know how people do it.

    • HelloDolly! says:

      …Dogs can be so different though! My husband, son, and I rescued Benny recently, a mystery poodle mix who is 1-2 years old, and he is SO different than my mom’s (the family) rescue dog, Lily, who is a mystery shaggy dachsund. Lily is feisty and trys to talk to us–literally she barks or does these half bark things to get us to play or pay attention to her, whereas Benny is a quiet dog. Benny is super motivated to chew, whereas Lily could care less. Lily likes cuddles, but Benny LIVES FOR IT. He will literally launch himself into our arms ANYTIME we get onto a couch–paws on our chest. Benny is also super food motivated, much more so than Lily. Granted, maybe Benny needs more time to decompress as a rescue and has more trauma perhaps, but Benny still really reminded me how dogs can have such different personalities!

  4. HamsterJam says:

    It isn’t a walk, it is an all-you-can-grab buffet

  5. Amy T says:

    I just read this headline to my dog, and she perked up her ears and paid very close attention to what I was saying.

  6. Mei says:

    Just here to say I loved learning about the time you spend with your beautiful pooch, it made me smile! Have a good day everyone 🙂

  7. ML says:

    Great article, Kismet! Thanks for sharing your fur baby with us. And the adorable dog photos you attached.
    It’s clear that if you wouldn’t walk down the street looking at your phone with a toddler walking by your side, you shouldn’t do it with your pet. Part of love is quality time and attention.

  8. StellainNH says:

    I take my three little dogs for short walks four times a day, mainly because we live in a rural area and letting them out would be dinner time for some predators. My neighbors must think I’m wacked because I am always talking with them about the noises we hear, birds and of course the bunnies they want to chase. I don’t see walks as exercise for myself, but a sensory activity for them.

    • HoofRat says:

      When moved from a city-centre apartment to a rural area with our little rescue terrier cross, we were relieved that there wouldn’t be as much garbage for her to pick up (she has incredible jaw strength when you try to pry a chicken bone from her mouth). What we didn’t realize is that she has a Napoleon complex, to the point she will chase a full-grown moose if we let her, so she stays on leash now in most areas and gets all the time she needs for sniffing. She was fine off-leash in our backyard until yesterday, when she attempted to chase an entire skunk family that was passing through. So we absolutely pay attention whenever we have her outside.

  9. HeyKay says:

    I agree with this, keep your eyes on your dog and surroundings, no phone.
    Dogs rule!

  10. salmonpuff says:

    I see people walking dogs and talking on the phone all the time, and I don’t know how they do it! Maybe it’s because I have a Great Pyrenees and a beagle that I’m walking at the same time, but just getting them to complete a walk without incident takes my whole focus! Either the Pyr is lunging at a cat or trying to tempt another walker into petting her, or the beagle is getting into some scrape or another thanks to his nose…whew! Plus, having an hour phone-free is such a gift for me.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I live near a major river with a lovely riverside parkway & walkway, so I see lots of people out & about every day. I see lots of young families with leashed dogs & kids in buggies & dashing toddlers , and I honestly don’t see who you’d leave behind on the family outing. I know when I was a kid our family dog would have been so hurt to have been left behind when we went out somewhere.

    • Christine says:

      I have an image in my head of Great Pyrenees and beagle buddies that is cracking me up. That would make a great premise for a children’s book.

  11. Surly Gale says:

    I once has someone on their phone walk right between my leashed dog and I. I had my back to them so didn’t see them coming and they walked right between my dog and me. Had to drop the leash so someone wasn’t hurt. I was really angry w/that person. Now, I say loudly: Look UP when someone walks towards me on their phone.
    I’ve witnessed so many incidents of a person on their phone missing their dog’s signals. Earlier this week a woman w/a medium sized dog, walking along, missed the fact her dog focused on a squirrel across the street. Dog took off, traffic screeched, her phone fell and I hope broke (sorry, not sorry) and she had the gall to curse out her dog. As I gathered up her luckily unhurt dog for her, the driver opened his door, stood up and told her she was a fool. I agreed when I returned her dog to her. If/when I see her again, if she’s on her phone, I will be livid. Because she should know better now. Anyone putting their own needs (actually, wants) above their dog’s doesn’t deserve them.
    Now, for the best news ever. My beloved JoLee passed a year ago this month. I’ve been open to the universe .. “good home looking for forever dog” and tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. she’s moving in! She’s about a year old, from Mexico. I’ve met her twice, once at their home and they brought her here for a house check and stuff. I’m pulling out JoLee’s kennel and bedding that I’ve had in storage and getting the house ready for a one year old pup. Some things are meant to be. She came into my life so organically I know it’s meant to be. Happy happy!

  12. Lizzie says:

    This is true about walking in general. My last job banned looking at phones while waking on the parking lot. I don’t know how well anyone can multi-task, we all do to some extent, but one of those tasks should not be looking at your phone. Phones need to be single task.

  13. Dara says:

    The poo bag struggle is real. I found a nifty little gadget called Pack a Poo. It’s a small plastic case with a clip you can attach to a leash, or a belt loop and it keeps the rolls contained. It even has a nifty mechanism that retracts the roll back into the case if you ever pull too many out. My only quibble is you can’t really tell how many you have left and I’ve gone on two bag walks with only one bag and that is never fun.

  14. MaryContrary says:

    Mom of 2 dogs here: I can walk my older lab while on the phone or listening to a podcast. When I walk my Great Dane rescue I am 100% paying attention to him and our surroundings;)

  15. Ravensdaughter says:

    I never understand people who are on their phones or otherwise plugged in when walking their dogs.I think of that as quality time for me to bond with my dog, and also to walk meditatively so that I can release the worries of the day.
    With my Jack Russell (my current fur baby is a chihuahua mix) I had to be paying attention because he was aggressive. Another reason not to tune out on your walk.

  16. QuiteContrary says:

    Yeah, I can’t take my eyes off the task at hand when I’m walking my beautiful rescue lab. I need to scan the horizon for other dogs, because my poor baby was bitten at a dog park and now is reactive … plus, she’s a lab and so she’ll eat anything she finds.

    I love to watch her take in the smells on our walks. It feels like I’m giving her a gift every time. And she deserves it, because — I’m sorry to inform my fellow dog-owning celebitches — she’s the best dog in the whole world.

    • BeanieBean says:

      🙂 I’m sure you have the best dog in the world! While I’m not a dog owner (too lazy), I do enjoy my daily walks along the river because I get to see everybody else’s dogs. I love the young ones that gambol about, the older ones that are a bit slow, others that will smell every last blade of grass they encounter, the ones that want to come up & say hi, the ones who are so proud of the sticks they found, etc., etc. Take care of your precious companions, stay off the phone!

      • QuiteContrary says:

        Thanks, BeanieBean! As you point out, dogs provide endless entertainment — who needs to be on the phone?

  17. LupeBS says:

    Thanks @kismet for this article. I love the gossip on this site, I love my rescue dog even more. He was a California mutt, flown up to a rescue in Montana, where we drove to get him and now he’s come with me all the way down under to Australia. (His visa was 10x worse than mine!) But he is a real family member.

    I love this and I will read it to him today when he wakes up, like @Amy T <3

  18. Bee says:

    I have a friend with TWO chiweenies, and boy do they like to bark. They are very cute though!

    I love all animals (and have had dogs) but am definitely more of a cat person at this point. My noisiest cat (a bengal) is a lot quieter than those two. Plus she poops in a box so I don’t have to walk her. Dogs are great but really have a lot of needs.

    I totally get the part about locking eyes and just knowing. That is so sweet.

  19. Dani says:

    The whole point is to be present, in the moment, on your dog walk. To be in tune with your dog and not distracted. It amazes me that this is something so basically common sense that it needs a national paper to write about. This is one the key features of having a dog! If you don’t want to enjoy walks with your dog (and are physically capable of doing so), don’t get a dog.

  20. Lolalola says:

    Because of this post, I left my phone in my bag as I walked my puppy today & it was lovely! He chased a butterfly and it was so damn cute I almost burst into tears. Thanks for reminding me about all I was missing.