When It's Important for Your Dog Not to Pay Attention to You

Sometimes letting your dog stop and smell the roses (or whatever else is around) is better than insisting on polite leash walking. The Dog Trainer explains when this may be the case.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
2-minute read

As much as manners training – polite leash walking, coming when called, you name it – emphasizes the need for your puppy or dog to learn to pay attention to you, sometimes your dog’s behavioral health can benefit from paying attention to other things. 

There are, of course, the long, sniffy walks that give our dogs so much pleasure and that tire their brains. But here are two other situations you might not have thought of.

First example, courtesy of my friend and colleague Viv Arzoumanian: the puppy who sits down abruptly on a walk. I’ve generally seen this as a sign that the person holding the leash isn’t rewarding the puppy with treats and with her own attention when the puppy walks nicely, but does pay attention when the puppy stops dead.

Often, that’s exactly what’s going on. But, as Viv points out, sometimes a puppy stops, maybe also sits, because she’s curious about something, or a little uncertain. So she’s taking a pause to look, to smell, to hear – to gather information. Remember, a puppy is finding her way in a brand-new world. Unless you realize that you’ve been accidentally training her to stop, it’s a good idea to let her get comfortable and confident at her own pace.

Second example: My dog Juniper has been socially anxious around other dogs from early puppyhood, and his anxiety made him so tense that he’d explode. Over time, he made a lot of progress, and I was happy when he just ignored other dogs. But as he made more progress, something else started to happen: When we passed a dog on the street, Juni would turn, stretch out his neck, and sniff curiously after the dog as it walked away. Along with the sniffing, I started to see more and more appropriate social behavior.

Like a young puppy, Juniper was taking in information about other dogs. Unlike his former self, he was also learning to relax around them. That curious sniffing he started to do was an essential part of the change. Juni is much more comfortable and friendly with dogs now, and both his life and mine are a lot easier. But he needed to take a lot of good looks and sniffs around to get there. As for his formerly perfect leash walking, I don’t miss it.

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).