Karen B. London
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Cell Phone Use During Walks
Is this a problem?

He didn’t notice that his dog had picked up a plastic bag during their walk together. The dog began to gag slightly and a little kid on a skateboard said, “Is he supposed to eat that?” Only then did the man, who was talking on his cell phone, look down at his dog, and react quickly, pulling the bag, and the food inside it, out of his dog’s mouth. It could have been a very bad situation, but turned into just a little blip in the day’s walk.

Rarely do our dogs get into potentially dangerous situations while out on leash walks with us, so this was exceptional. It sure made me think, though. Does it make a difference to our dogs if we walk them while we talk on our cell phones or not? I think it does, because it prevents us from being truly present throughout the walk.

Sure, part of the value of the walk for the dog is the exercise and also being outside sniffing and otherwise having their lives enriched with stimulation beyond what’s available at home. Yet, the social aspect of the walk, attending to the same things and each other—experiencing it together—is lost if one member is lost in cell phone land.

I think there is great value in walking our dogs without talking on our cell phones, but I’m not a purist about it. I think it’s better to walk your dog while you talk on your cell phone than to skip the walk and make the call from home. I’ve certainly walked dogs while I took care of things by phone. Sometimes it’s because I really need to make a call before business hours end, but I want to take a walk before it gets dark. Other times it’s because my day is so busy all around that I multi-task every chance I get. I work hard to make sure my life is not always like that, but it still happens sometimes.

What do you think about walking your dog while talking on your cell phone? Does it make a difference to you or to your dog?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by AegeanBreeze | October 29 2012 |

I think if you're on your cell phone, you're not engaging with your dog. Just like children, I think they need our full attention sometimes and a walk is the perfect time. If you can't stay off your cell phone for the 1/2 hour to 45 minutes that a walk takes, I feel sorry for you. I'm, obviously, not one of those people that has my phone permanentely attached to my face...

Submitted by DMO | November 1 2012 |

Yes, it makes a difference. Dogs relate and communicate with energy. If we aren't there, in the moment they have nothing, no one to connect with. How can your dog connect, relate, respect or trust a human that isnt there in the moment. Dogs set wonderful examples by taking in and living in the moment. We should follow their example.

Submitted by Sadie McBee | November 1 2012 |

I view my walks with my dog as bonding time. If I were chatting on the phone, I wouldn't be transmitting an engaged presence down the leash, which I believe she'd interpret as disinterest and push her into attention-seeking mischievous behavior. That time with my dog is her time, *our* time--no one else's. (I do carry my phone on walks so I can take her picture though.)

Submitted by Jen | November 1 2012 |

Not a good idea to chat on a cell phone, but more importantly, those folks are missing out on one of the best relationship-building activity possible (partly due to the frequency of walks! I hope!), which in turn makes training easier and behavior better. My full response: http://dogthusiast.com/2012/11/01/talking-to-your-dog-on-walks/

Submitted by Audrey Hendler | November 1 2012 |

Probably depends on the dog, but my last labrador retriever would refuse to walk when I was on the phone. It was like he was saying, " when you are through being rude we will continue our time together." This happened every time. There is no doubt that he both knew and cared.

Submitted by Abby | November 1 2012 |

I notice if I'm walking—and talking—with a friend, my dog disengages from me (as I obviously have from her) and is more apt to do something she normally wouldn't. Cell phones promote the same disengagement. Luckily, my walking buddies are dog people, so we are constantly watching the dogs despite the fact we're talking to each other.

Submitted by Barbara Cahenzl... | November 1 2012 |

Walking your dog is a special time for him/her. It's a time that the two of you can be together often without interruption.
You talk, your dog listens. Your dog talks, you listen. A time to bond, really get to know each other & develop a special rythym in which only the two of you participate... In which only you two exist. Doesn't that sound heaven-sent?

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