We’ve all done it. Our cell phones have become an extension of our bodies — even when we take our precious fur babies for their walks.
Well, folks, it’s soapbox time! You CAN be without your phone for the 30 to 60 minutes it takes to get Fido his potty and exercise time.
We like to think we’re great multitaskers, but the human brain wasn’t designed to do so effectively. When you do more than one thing at a time, ONE of the activities will receive less attention than the other, even when one of those tasks is an autopilot kind of thing.
Now, walking your pup should not be an autopilot activity. There is much going on in the environment that you, as the pet parent, must be on top of while walking the dog. Experts caution that not giving Fido your full attention can lead to confusing and frustrating signals and, at worst, endanger him. You can get hurt, too!
“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.”
Here are a few examples:
- Take the weather into account. Are you aware of how hot the pavement gets during the day, or are you oblivious because you can’t feel it yourself? Your dog sure can! Check the pavement temperature of each surface you cover before your walk. Walk early in the day and on the grass when possible.
- Distracted dog walkers may overlook potential threats: bicyclists, joggers, cars, or unleashed dogs. When you look up from your phone, your pet could be on the brink of an altercation with another dog — or worse. What if a squirrel runs in front of you, and the dog lunges just as a car approaches you?
- Your doggo often finds something very appealing on the ground, and if you’re not paying attention, as quick as a wink, he easily snarfs it up. The disgusting item may seem innocuous but could be dangerous hours later. And if you didn’t see it and it’s toxic, you won’t know what to tell the vet should it be necessary to take him in.
- Remember, too, your dog communicates his feelings in ways that require you to be observant. So, if he needs to stop to go potty or is experiencing any distress and you are on a call or texting, you may not notice and keep pulling him along. This situation happens a lot.
- Walking your fur baby is an excellent opportunity to reinforce cues, which can’t be done successfully while distracted. Use this time to practice the “wait,” “sit,” “stay,” “drop it,” “let’s go,” “side” (which some people use instead of “heel”), and, of course, “no!” cues.
Walks are more than potty breaks, physical exercise, or training reinforcement— they also offer mental benefits. Valli Parthasarathy, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Synergy Veterinary Behavior in Portland, Oregon, says, “Dogs like structure and consistency on their walks. If their owner is marching forward or not paying full attention, the dog could become confused by conflicting signals — for example, being allowed to sniff one bush but jerked away from sniffing another.”
Dogs experience much of the world through their nose and can become frustrated if they’re not allowed some latitude to explore. Parthasarathy continues, “My ideal walk for a dog is one where they have a lot of time to sniff and take in their environment. They have their own doggy priorities. Using the nose is their enrichment. It’s like they’re reading the news.”
So, consider refraining from reading your news on the walk or talking to someone. Enjoy quality time with your beloved four-legged friend. I am confident you both will get much more out of your time together. It is undoubtedly safer for all involved. When you return, your phone will be waiting for you, and your pup will be suitably tired and satisfied. Consider your bonding time together time very well spent indeed.