What Do You Look For When You Walk Your Dog

Sally is a basset hound puppy who likes sitting in a nest.

I’m quite comfortable in my little hole. I can see everything from here.

We only pay attention to a small part of what’s in front of us. For some of us, it’s a very small part.

We focus on what’s important to us and filter out what’s not.

So what are you focusing on when you walk your dog? And what do you filter out?

Things Dogs Find Scary

I’ve spent years of my life scanning the streets ahead and behind for things that would freak my dogs out—mostly other dogs.

Over the nearly two decades I lived with reactive Agatha, Christie, and Shadow I became a champion at spotting dogs in the area.

  • From blocks away I could tell a dog from a child or even a shopping bag.
  • I heard tags jingling from a collar despite nearby sirens, trolleys, and blaring music.
  • Even when the dog was silent and hidden around the corner, my spider senses began to tingle as I instinctively crossed the street.

I saved my dogs and myself from noisy and uncomfortable encounters. But I missed a lot on our walks.

Dog Poop

I remember walking with someone outraged by people who didn’t clean up after their dogs.

She could spot dog poop at twenty paces in high grass.

It was her hobby: poop spotting followed by sputtering, righteous indignation.

But with her eyes always scanning the path for poop, she never noticed anything else.

New Dog Friends

Now that I’m living with a dog who isn’t upset by other dogs, I look for them joyfully.

I still watch carefully for dog body language. Not because Honey will react badly. But because I don’t want to bring her too close to a dog who doesn’t feel comfortable with dogs he doesn’t know.

Now I’m able to notice how well our new neighbor is training her corgis not to bark insanely every time we walk by. I can admire the frisbee-playing border collies who has eyes for nothing but his favorite toy. And I can see the frisky dog down the way who is hoping for an invitation to play with Honey.

Honey the Golden Retriever walks on a Cape May Beach.

No, I’d rather go this way.

Look for Something New with Your Dog

Spring has finally come to the north. It gives me a big incentive to focus on more when I’m walking Honey.

Maybe I can open up my filters a bit to notice more things: cats, flowers, birds, people. Or maybe I’ll see more if I pay attention to what catches Honey’s eye (or nose) on a walk.

Just what (or who) is hiding in the holly bushes two doors down? Why does Honey decide to walk this way and not that way? And how does she always know when the crossing guard with treats in his pocket is on duty without having a watch?

Let Something New In

Even if your dog is fearful or reactive, your brain is powerful enough to see something new on a walk. Maybe you can find something new to look for while keeping your dog safe.

And if you have a happy-go-lucky pup, what’s holding you back? There’s a whole world just waiting for us to see it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look at the world. With my dog.

Your Turn: What are you most likely to be looking for when you’re walking your dog?


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  1. Max's Ma says:

    Great post! I’m lucky that Max I’d so laid back but after our scary incident a while back I’m always on extra alert of bigger pups 😉 the rest of the time I’m just enjoying watching Max’s reactions to things and appreciating wherever we are 😉

  2. I watch other people, and their dogs, to see how they’ll behave. Frequently we cross the street, just to be sure.

    I also keep an eye out for broken blass on the sidewalk. I live in a college town, and that’s one of the counterpoints to the delight.

  3. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    Now that Callie can take slightly longer walks without tiring so easily — and I’ve graduated from my course — I’ve started back to taking Callie and Shadow to the park for their walks. The rainy days suck big time — thank God for treadmills! — but I know my older girls love going to the park for the new smells. I pretty much keep an eye open for other people and their dogs, especially the ones with no control over the dog; but I also try to enjoy the scenery with my girls. Since the surgeon said only 15 minutes at a time for now, I stick as close to that as I can to be sure not to over do Callie’s exercise. I know she wants to go longer, but I don’t want her to suffer the consequences. We go back to the surgeon on June 3rd for x-rays…hopefully we’ll get the okay to slowly get back into all her favorite things, like running around the yard with Shadow, jumping up on the beds, and playing with her younger sisters.

  4. I walk Dakota the Corgi on our own property – long driveway and trails through the woods and fields. I’m on the lookout for anything on the trail that might trip me – a big rock, a root, etc. Dakota is always alert to the possibility of spotting a rabbit or a deer. I would walk her on our street, which is a dead -end and would give us a 30 minute walk, but I’m wary of big loose dogs. It’s the country, and people don’t always keep their dogs in, or the dogs escape their yards. I bought a golf club at Goodwill for self-defense to bring on walks outside our property, but I haven’t taken her out there yet.

  5. Most of our walks involve letting the collies lead the way. We let them stop and sniff, and don’t rush them, because the walk is for them. Too often I see people dragging their dogs along, hurrying through the walks, as they hurry through life. Their dogs don’t enjoy these walks, and the humans miss so much beauty around them because they are focused on the destination, not the journey. With dogs, it’s all about the journey!

  6. I watch for tiny dogs that could (would) be mistaken for squirrels, resulting in a lunging Lab darn near dislocating my shoulder and diving at the tiny dogs in front of their owner, who idly stands by watching. Yes, this has happened. Yes, this has happened on multiple occassions. I also watch for inconsiderate neighbors now. :)

  7. I look for two things…first are training opportunities…anything that Gizmo needs to ignore is a training opportunity I welcome; any time we have to cross a street or let someone go by is a training opportunity…second are obstacles…this is new for us but lots of fun…we’re looking for anything Gizmo can jump or climb on or over or under,etc…adding that extra ‘parkour’/mock agility aspect to our walks

  8. Unfortunately, I’ve been in ‘lookout’ mode and watching for dangers – for both Jack (a bit reactive) and Maggie (very fearful), so my walks aren’t too much fun. We’ve been working a lot with both of them and as they get better in their respective ways I’m hoping we can expand – both where and when we walk and then WHAT I have to watch for!

  9. I am constantly on the look out for food, whether bread left out for birds, or rubbish that contains half a sandwich:-) Mummy watches out for it too, so I have to hope I spot it first so she doesn’t tell me to leave it!

  10. I’m afraid that our dog, Dino, is on the look-out for the same things as Misaki (above) — anything he can eat—whether or not it’s actually edible. He is deaf to “leave it” or “drop it”. Therefore, on walks, I am always scanning ahead for something he might try to chow down on. On one occasion I must of have missed something, resulting in a $2,500 vet bill. Next time, it’s coming out of his allowance.
    P.S.: He doesn’t get an allowance 😉

  11. In our rural area, I spend most of my time watching out for wildlife! I often see foxes off in the distance, and have to reroute the dogs or at least slow down so that they don’t see them. Also, when I’m walking Kobi, I’m always watching him, worrying about whether, at his old age, the walking is bothering him or not. He has a little trouble with his hind legs so I’m constantly making sure they’re still working OK for him!

  12. I watch for skate boards, children and rude dogs; all things that make Nola stressed. I watch for training opportunities, and I want for things to photograph.
    Nola’s Mom

  13. Do we have the same poop spotting friend? :) With three dogs, who are all reactive to something, I am always on the lookout for anything- other dogs (Brychwyn,) squirrels, cats and birds (Huxley) and anything “off” (Wilhelm.) I occasionally spend a moment on walks enjoying the view/flowers/sunshine/rain and I get paid with barking/pulling/craziness…

  14. Most of the time I’m watching the dogs while we walk. Though I keep a sharp eye for other dogs and people, but really I zero in on the dogs and what they are doing, their body language and always wondering what they are smelling. :)

  15. Now that we always walk on the beach, in the sand dunes or in the forest I’m more listening than watching … apart from looking for broken glass at the beach. Humans are so disgusting, people walk barefoot on the beach, it’s not just dangerous for dogs, grrrr. I listen for motorbikes in the dunes and vehicles coming up behind us on the beach. Thankfully my dogs don’t chase them unless the vehicle has a barking dog in it then Frankie will give chase. I do get more opportunity to appreciate and absorb the beauty and smells of our surroundings these days. There’s nothing like getting out of the car and inhaling sea air :)

  16. We definitely have to watch out for other dogs. Pierson is very leash reactive and Maya gets super excited when we see other dogs. Thankfully, there is not much else we have to look out for. We always go around other people, just because we know some people don’t care for other dogs, and I always pick up their poo. For some reason Maya almost always goes poo on her walk, even if I let her out in our backyard beforehand. Have fun on your walks!

  17. I’m looking for other dogs and people. So we can avoid tense and sticky situations. But I do try and notice the beauty around me.