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The Age-Old Question: "Who's Walking Who?"

I get a lot of witty comments from passer-bys who think they are being funny when they see me walking dogs, whether my own or my clients'.

My favorites:

"Looks like you got your hands full there!"

"Are you running a dog parade?"

"Are they all yours, or did you just pick up a few friends?"

"Do you offer a 'dogs for rent' service?"

"Are you training for a dog-walking marathon?"

"I hope they're paying you by the mile!"

and, of course...

"Who's walking who?!"

These comments usually stem from a lighthearted place and reflect the humorous observations that people make when they see someone walking multiple dogs, so I get it! I appreciate the humor, gets old. Just like when a waiter or waitress asks if they can get you anything else and you reply with "Just a stack of twenties!" (sorry dad, I love you).

While intended to elicit a chuckle, this seemingly innocent phrase perpetuates a misconception about the dynamics of dog walking. The notion that dogs should always walk obediently by our sides, responding to every command with unwavering precision, can lead to unnecessary stress and frustration for both you and your four-legged friend. Are we letting our dogs be in charge? In charge of what? Our hopes, dreams, or finances (that one I'd be okay with)?

Let me try to unravel the complexities of the human-dog relationship during walks and shedding light on a more balanced and empathetic approach to enjoying your time together. What really is the true essence of harmonious walks that reflect the unique bond you share with your canine companion?

To be or not to be the dominant "Alpha"

"Who's walking who?" implies that the dog should be solely focused on following the human's lead, adhering to strict heel positions. However, this approach might lead to frustration for both parties, causing the walk to become a chore rather than a joyful bonding experience.

A prevailing notion suggests that when a dog walks ahead of its owner, whether during walks or through doorways, it assumes control. This idea has led to advice encouraging dog owners to assert dominance and establish themselves as the "alpha" in the relationship.

Unfortunately, this perspective often fosters an adversarial dynamic between owner and dog, falsely portraying the dog as an entity striving for control over the home and its owner's life. Such misguided beliefs can harm the owner-dog relationship, potentially giving rise to fear, anxiety, or even aggressive behaviors in the dog, as pointed out by The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Contrary to this dominance-based approach, some proponents of the "dog whisperer" philosophy argue that maintaining a position in front while walking is essential to assert control and maintain the role of the pack leader. However, I beg to differ. When I take my own dogs and my clients' dogs for a walk (unless otherwise requested), I view it simply as that—a walk with the dogs, the perfect companions. Allowing them to pause and sniff doesn't equate to relinquishing control; it's merely permitting them to engage their senses. Why must every interaction with our dogs be perceived as a battle for dominance and control?

This perspective fails to acknowledge the innate curiosity and sensory exploration that make walks an enriching experience for your dog.

A study published in the journal "Animal Cognition" by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz and colleagues emphasizes that dogs interpret the world predominantly through their sense of smell. This means that during walks, their inclination to explore and follow their noses isn't just a whim but a fundamental aspect of their perception of their environment. Therefore, expecting dogs to forfeit these sensory explorations runs counter to their natural inclinations and could potentially lead to frustration or diminished mental stimulation.

Walk with Understanding and Empathy

Embracing a more empathetic approach to walking involves recognizing that dogs view the world through their senses. They're drawn to scents, sounds, and sights that capture their attention, guiding them along a sensory adventure. As responsible pet parents, our role isn't to command our dogs to walk robotically by our sides, but rather to cultivate an environment where they can safely explore while also practicing necessary leash manners.

Balancing Leash Manners and Freedom

The key to a successful walk lies in striking a balance between structure and freedom. Training your dog to walk on a loose leash enables them to explore their surroundings while adhering to some basic rules. Rewarding positive behaviors and using positive reinforcement techniques can make the walk a collaborative effort between you and your dog.

A Journey of Exploration and Connection

Let's redefine the essence of dog walks as a journey of exploration and connection. Embrace the idea that your dog isn't merely a follower but a companion eager to experience the world alongside you. Allow moments for your dog to sniff, investigate, and interact with their environment, strengthening your bond and nurturing their well-being.

dog walking, dog walker

As you lace up your shoes and venture out, remember that you're embarking on a shared journey of exploration, where you and your faithful companion traverse the world side by side, enriching each other's lives with every step taken.


Happy Walking!


Heather, Pack Leader

Top Header Photo by FLOUFFY on Unsplash


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