I’ve been walking two to three dogs every day since April 2021. One of my goals is to give them the most fun and freedom possible within the constraints of walking on leash in a suburban neighborhood. I have a post in the works about the ways I work on these goals. But in the meantime, I’m sharing this fun contrast in the behavior of three dogs.
I minimize the control I put on walks with the dogs. They are on leash, but I give them all the freedom I safely can. I have very few “rules.” There are many paths through the streets of my quiet neighborhood, and they get to choose. I live at the end of a T intersection, so even at the beginning, there are three directions to go. I don’t have a rule forbidding backtracking, which makes for walks that are foreign to a goal-oriented human. One of my dogs (Lewis) sometimes takes “walks” that don’t even go anywhere and seem chaotic to this human. We often spend a lot of time with him doing power sniffing in my front yard in the flowerbeds. That’s his choice, so that’s fine.
A friend recently asked me what rules I do have. Keep in mind we walk in the suburbs, and the dogs are on six-foot leashes. I said 1) a dog can’t go over six feet into someone’s yard; 2) no staying out in the middle of the street for too long; 3) If there is a car parked on the street, we walk around it on the outside (the street side) together rather than walking in someone’s yard; and 4) the dog needs to follow my lead when I have to intervene, say, if a car is coming or we need to avoid something.
But I forgot one rule. The fifth rule is no stalking: no turning to follow other walkers at a close distance after they pass us. The funny thing is that all three of the dogs I walk with want to stalk, but for three different reasons.
Clara is curious. Even though she was formerly feral, and her human social circle is four persons big, she is curious about people. Just not in an affiliative or sociable way. She’s interested in the same way she might be attracted to an inanimate object with a novel smell. Plus people move, so that makes them more interesting! But not as…people.
When we were playing catch-up socialization at the shopping mall when she was young, she got comfortable enough that she wanted to follow passersby so she could get a good whiff. You can see it in the video at the above link. I let her do it sometimes in that locale, since stalking was less obvious with lots of people milling around. But if you are walking on a suburban street and someone passes you, they will notice if you instantly turn around and follow them. So I don’t let her do it immediately, although if she still wants to when they are a socially acceptable distance away, I let her follow or at least watch.
Lewis is often aroused on his walks. He is reactive, but in an excited Tarzan manner. People and dogs thrill him. He might give off a bark or two when he sees a person, but if they beckon, he will be all over them. Literally all over them if I don’t intervene. We don’t interact with most people we see. There are three whom we stop and say hello to. But for those others who move on—nothing would make him happier than to follow them, see what they’re up to, and catch up and jump on them.
Choo Choo is my friend and partner’s chihuahua mix. She had a rough start in life and has many fears. Over several years, she has learned to go for walks. She enjoys it and has become very courageous about new things and exploring on a microscale. Her behavior is an interesting mixture. When she sees people, she appears quite calm about them (except she hackles up). But as soon as they pass, she wants to follow and (possibly) catch up to them. Her philosophy is that the best defense is surveillance, and her experience is that coming up from behind is the safest. Since most people don’t enjoy being stalked by a small, intense dog, I don’t allow this! But we do stop and watch.
The Function of Following
I think it’s interesting that all three dogs want to follow the walkers who go by, but for completely different reasons:
- Clara: non-affiliative curiosity
- Lewis: reactive sociability
- Choo Choo: fear
Their behaviors look different, too. Clara’s is calm and neutral; she is interested but not passionately so. You may see her sniffing the air. Lewis is excited and may strain to catch up. He might let out a yip or two. Choo Choo is hackled up and also intent on moving forward, but for the opposite reason.
If the people going by had wanted to interact, they would have stopped. So in all cases, I prevent the behavior. Unfortunately, it’s socially unacceptable. But if I were trying to modify it by training, I would need to know the function.
For Clara, there is no way to improve the situation with training at this point. Even though she will walk up to a stranger and accept a cookie, she does it as a trained behavior. She is polite and cooperative, but doesn’t want to be friends. So letting her trail people to sniff them can’t end well. Either they will be weirded out, or they may turn around to be friendly, and she’d rather not interact. In most situations, you can’t say to a stranger, “Hey, could you stand still with your hands to your sides and look at that lamppost while my dog sniffs you?” So I manage her behavior. The best I can do with passing people is let her turn around and sniff as they leave (but not follow them) and try to provide her with other interesting things to sniff and investigate.
For Lewis, we are working on his excitement, but not methodically. As he makes more friends, perhaps he won’t want to stalk people so much. With his existing friends, we practice not losing his mind (four on the floor and no jumping or pawing). And when people who aren’t his buddies (yet) pass us by, he gets to watch and sniff (but not follow) like Clara.
For Choo Choo, we are working gradually on her fear. We do ad hoc counterconditioning when we are unavoidably close to people, and that has made her much more comfortable over time. She is also very decisive about turning away from anything she doesn’t like the looks or sound of. But I think it will always be important for her to monitor people we have passed, and she won’t want to stop tailing them. She doesn’t get to do the tailing, but as with the other dogs, we at least turn around and watch the people leave.
The Popularity of Stalking
I’ve learned that plenty of other dogs want to follow passersby!
If you walk your dogs on leash, do they want to stalk people or dogs who have passed? What do you observe as the function? Do you ever let them?
Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson
10 thoughts on “No Stalking while Walking!”
I don’t walk Finnian on leash out in public since we have our own personal dog park (five acres), but I do “walk” him off leash on our property.
We’ve had workmen here a few times lately. He wants to meet them and sniff them. And find out if they have anything he can eat! Once he’s done sniffing and not found any food, he moves on. However, if he finds anything edible, and, considering he has pica and will eat everything even remotely edible, he might not move on. That’s why he wears a muzzle.
This morning workmen are digging a trench for the solar panels and Finnian found orange peels. Without the muzzle, I’m sure he’d have eaten those in a second! It took a bit of effort to get him off the orange peels. It’s a good thing I carry chicken with me!
I definitely need to try walks with fewer rules for my 13 month old dog! Maybe it’ll help with their reactivity to learn they can watch whoever and whatever they want from a polite distance. I’d love to know more about how you teach/reinforce your dogs this
My dog is are on the reactive sociability side of this for the most part. They really want to run over and be friends with all dogs. They ignore some humans, slightly but casually interested in others, and some they are really focused on but I haven’t figured out why exactly. I think they’re interested but worried for the most part. Mostly it is hard on me because they’re a 70lb Malamute so I’d love for us to get to a point of standing relatively quietly to watch rather than trying to run at full speed towards everything lol
My dog is more like Clara. Stetson is interested in people and tolerates being pet if he MUST, but it’s more because I request him to do so than due to any friendly interest. Unfortunately for him, he’s handsome and smallish (40 pounds) so people want to come up and coo over him. He thinks of himself as more of a CIA agent and I am his President, and it’s awkwardly embarrassing for him to be thought of as cute. As part of his “job”, he does want to investigate every person and dog, but I think it’s more of a canine pat-down than any desire to be friends. 🙂
I have similar “rules’ on my walks with my two year old dog. She is friendly with people and dogs, however when she spots either one on a walk she will stop dead in her tracks and lay down until they pass by. She started this behavior at around six months.
I have 2 dogs, both love people Sophie unconditionally, Zeke, well he came with some baggage.
I think he was abused or at least neglected, absolutely neglected! He came to our rescue with both ears scabbed n bloody Around the edges from flybites. He bit the first 2 fosters for taking toys away from him.
From his history I held him on tight leash when we walked in as I didn’t know his reaction to cats. My female cat was raised by Sophie and walked up kissing him on the nose. Okkk no problem there!
I found while loving he was very fearful of unexpected noise or touches. He loves people but if touched a CertaIn way he yelps, has bitten me but outside just backs away after the yelp. He wants to be the one approaching then things are better. He’s more fearful of men, but sometimes fine. They both like approaching people to say hi. Usually I let them after seeing if people smile.
I’ve worked with many dogs like your Choo Choo, and have a few clients like that now. Every single one who went on to learn the social skills related to meeting people completely changed that behavior. I have never seen any dog stalking a person for some surveillance philosophy. Any who were that concerned would simply walk the other way. I suggest it’s only if they really-really want to meet people, but lack the skills and are scared of doing so.
My dog, Macy, occasionally does a behavior that resembles what you are talking about, however, I never associated it with stalking. We also live in the suburbs and have many friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood after nearly 10 years of walking these streets and sidewalks. Macy’s version is primarily limited to other dogs who have passed us going the opposite direction. Socially, she is dog-tolerant, but not overly interested in directly meeting other dogs on leash or off leash. Sometimes when we pass a person walking a dog in the opposite direction, she wants to swing out behind them and “sniff their wake.” At least that is how I interpret what I observe. She doesn’t seem to want to follow, just position herself to drink in what she can from the wake of scent left in their passing. The narrative I have assembled about this is that she is gathering information without the social pressure of direct meetings which require encroachments of physical space and the tendency for things to become awkward. What an interesting and thought-provoking post! Thank you as always Eileen.
Hi! I know I replied to this but I guess I didn’t press send. Sorry! I love the expression, “sniff their wake.” That’s exactly what Clara is interested in. I agree with your narrative; it’s just a little stronger for Clara, for whom there is nothing positive about meeting people.
Thanks for the comment!
Oh my gosh. My dog Enzo (pittie mix) was adopted at 5 months old. I’ll spare you the years of detail, but he is currently 12 years old. He was like Clara, constantly wanted to follow people and sniff them. How weird and scary is that to a stranger? I attributed it to gathering information to access whether or not he was safe? I would stop, allow him to air sniff, then we moved on. My JRT, who loves everyone could care less. He’s friendly and is more interested in his outings than people. However, other dogs are different and something we are diligently working on.
They are so fascinating, aren’t they! Thanks for the comment!
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