Can you take your dog by surprise when it’s time for a walk?

Nellie and Quinn on a walk Photo: Susannah Kay

Are you able to prepare to take your dog for a walk without him or her knowing what you are up to?  Is your dog ever surprised when you show up with leash in hand?  Why do I ask such seemingly silly questions?  I ask because both of my dogs seem to possess some sort of canine walk-related mental telepathy.  No matter how sly I am- I can distract them with their favorite chew toys, I can grab the leashes while they are barking at the UPS truck, and I can be moving clothes from the washing machine to the dryer.  It doesn’t matter.  They always know when the mere thought of taking them for a walk has crossed my mind. Spell rather than say the word “walk”?  Forget it, my dogs could win spelling bees. Don my sneakers while pretending to go to the bathroom or hide their leashes in the garbage can?  Not a chance! They know exactly what I’m up to!  Do such crazy things go in your household?

Here’s a typical “prewalk” scenario with my two little mutts, Nellie and Quinn.  I’m at the computer, fingers flying with a mug of coffee close at hand and my two adorable pupsters sound asleep at my feet. I take a quick peek out the window, sense it’s getting hot, and silently ponder, “Hmmm, perhaps I should get the dogs out sooner rather than later.” Within a millisecond, Quinn’s chin is resting on my knee. How does he know?  Could he feel the flutter of my eyelashes as I looked out the window? Did he sense that my coffee and/or my ability to write had turned cold? Does my body produce some sort of yet-to-be-discovered “dog walking pheromone”?

With nothing more than Quinn’s chin on my knee, I remain in complete control of the situation.  I can either continue my work by completely avoiding eye contact with my little doe-eyed darling (and I will feel like an inhumane lout for the remainder of the day) or I can meet Quinn’s gaze.  At this point, going eyeball to eyeball with Quinn is an act tantamount to Barbara Woodhouse yodeling “Walkies!!” (She and Julia Child must have been related, don’t you think?).

Quinn begins scrambling to and from the door while Nellie barks orders at me.  Her terrier-speak can be interpreted as,  “Get your shoes on for crying out loud!” “Forget the poop bags!” and “The laundry can wait!” I can slow down all of this hustle bustle with a firm command of “Wait”, but their tremoring muscles and joyous expressions would give one the impression that my two little darlings were about to be turned loose into a field of sedated gophers.  In their happy little worlds, life simply does not get any better!

Admittedly, this anticipatory joy tickles me- otherwise I would do more to “tame the beasts”.  And their uncanny knack for reading my mind truly intrigues me.  What are your thoughts and theories about this? What goes on in your household when your dogs are in their “pre-walk mode?”

Speaking of dog walking, I want you to know about a terrific book that just hit the market.  It is called Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together (New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond Series).  Author, Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board certified veterinary surgeon and a friend and colleague (we veterinarians who like to write have a definite affinity for one another!).  He and coauthor Rebecca Johnson, a human nurse and expert in the field of human weight loss (and she happens to be one heck of a nice person), clearly recognize that many canine health issues are exacerbated by obesity.  Their book successfully inspires better health for dogs and the people who love them.  Their recommendations result in loss of body fat, improved fitness, and enhancement of what we all cherish- the human animal bond.  Dr. Zeltzman says that writing a book on canine weight management was a natural response to his frustration of dealing with so many patients who probably would not have needed his services had they been at an ideal body weight.

Let me hear what you think about Walk a Hound Lose a Pound and I can’t wait to hear if and how you manage to surprise your dog with a walk.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.





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18 Comments on “Can you take your dog by surprise when it’s time for a walk?

  1. This “telepathic” ability of our dogs (and often other animals as well) has intrigued me for a long time. I once became a part of a research study with my now-almost-15yr old BC studying the concept of dogs who know when their owners are coming home. She was uncanny about it! I even found a very interesting book to read on the subject: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home – and other unexplained powers of animals, by Rupert Sheldrake Crown Publishers 1999. I think we as humans are more predictable than we know, but I also think animals that have tight bonds with us (Ruby is my “heart dog”)have an amazing ability to “read us” on a level that has long left our human capabilities (well, some humans still have it!). I have “messed with their brains”, mixing up departure cues/routines/words/etc, and still they seem to know when I am “faking them out”. I am also the one to vaccinate, draw blood on, or give injections to my dogs or cats, and if I have “a tool” (syringe) in my hand (hidden or not!) the dogs know and vacate the area. It’s a good thing I am also “it” for all of my dogs, being the one who feeds, plays with, and does WONderful things with them!

  2. My first golden, Arwen, went to work with me in Berkeley, where I worked as a project writer a block from the Cal campus. Sometimes I’d take my handwritten scribblings (I’m not dating myself, am I?) to the front office to by typed. Sometimes I’d head toward the front empty-handed and continue out the door for a walk. Easy for Arwen, you’re thinking. But often I’d drop off scribblings, then head out. She figured that out quickly, and no matter how much I studied myself to figure out what signal I was giving, I never did observe myself more astutely than she did.

  3. My two hundred pounds of German Shepherds always watch my routine carefully. I think they know the body language of a decision made and acted on. My parrot will rat me out also by saying ‘bye’.

  4. I chuckled all the way through the article. Of course our dogs know our little innuendos. They can read our body language much better than we can read theirs. In fact, I have only had Bart the rescue boxer a bit over 2 months but after 2 weeks he knew when I was ready to go for a walk. Both of my dogs know that we usually go in the morning so I think they rest with one eye open to see when it is “time”. They also look to see if I am putting a camera in the car, as they know that usually means lake time for the 3 of us. They also can “tell time”. We have a clock with bird sounds and they know which bird sound signals lunch and suppertime. Breakfast they handle on their own, as the birds don’t chirp in the dark. Yes, they do get lunch which is really part of their supper rations. I do that because I have had dogs with problems in the past and have discovered that giving a bit of lunch seems to help all my boxers make it through the day better. Dogs ARE smart; we just don’t always realize how intelligent they are.

  5. All it takes here is taking my glasses off! Or picking up my cell phone. LOL!

  6. It is useless. My rotty/sheppard mix keeps one eye half open and one ear half cocked AT ALL TIMES for 3 things:
    1. Any strange approach to our property be it human, animal or…imagined
    2. Cat food left uneaten and cats having vacated the kitchen
    3. Any sign of me putting on my tennis shoes, moving toward the shelf where I keep my keys, or any indication that a leash may be in order for any leash-related activity i.e. dog walk, trip to dog park.

    She also seems to know when one of us will be coming home soon and gets more alert. I attribute some of this to our human condition of schedule habit and to the old psychological testament to “variable reinforcement” – this being more powerful a response garnering tool than actual predictable reinforcement. As such, there are generally times when there might be a pretty good chance I will plan a dog walk – and over the years Ava has come to recognize this. Heck, they are smart – maybe somehow they have us trained. Those focused eyes and little whimpers, bored sighs – maybe we are the ones who respond to them!!!

  7. Easy. think about it: what else do the dogs have to do all day but to become masters of observational skills? I noticed that one of the dogs would get ready wheneverhe saw me applying lipstick. Most dogs notice that we quicken our pace when the goal is going somewhere–be it the ‘fridge or a walk. Of course we must exude hormonal signals which they can read. How else does a dog discern the difference between true fear and a set-up in a bogus “temperament test”? Such smart creatures!

  8. I use to spell, do you want to go for a r-i-d-e in the c-a-r and everyone was at the door in a flash.

    I think it is we give off an odor and then dogs know.

  9. When walking our cocker spaniel, Dutchess, she’d run to follow us
    by the front door, I tried spelling w-a-l-k, to let my husband know, but she knew before I got “w” out. She’d run to her leash.

  10. I can’t. The other day, out of the blue, at no customary time, I decided to take my dog for an unscheduled walk. Even before the idea was fully formulated in my mind, before I even made a move, any move, to prepare, he was next to me quivvering with anticipation. It is uncanny and unnerving. I cannot explain it.

  11. Dr. Kay,
    Must be a universal trait in all dogs. I feel SO guilty when I’m getting ready to go out, the hair, teeth brushing, is all a sign for the girls and Dodger that it IS TIME TO GO then I have to leave them. Breaks my heart but they have a lovely neighbor who comes to visit and give them treats. I never touch their leashes unless it is time to walk; the house errupts!!!!!!!

  12. Actually, my dogs have about an acre fenced which they can enjoy in the nice weather without me. And they have refined their “walk routine” to include a “Is it time for us to sun ourselves in the backyard?” routine any time I happen to walk close to the back door!

    Hope springs eternal! And they are often correct in thinking that they can go out and enjoy the sun and the chipmunks!

  13. My dogs KNOW when a car ride is coming up. For years I’ve tried to figure out how they know since the bouncing begins long before keys, leashes and all are gathered. I know there is something very subtle in my body language but I’ve never been able to figure it out.

  14. Great article! My dogs (4) always seem to know when the thought of going out fleetingly crosses my mind! Never fails, they get all excited, jumping and prancing around, happy dances, huge grins on their silly faces – the littlest one starts her squeaky barking for me to hurry it up, already! I related to every single word in this story! I like the concept of dog walking pheromones – explains a lot!

  15. I love this topic. My dogs have always done the same. One dog knew the difference between 1 baggie and 3. One was a sandwich and three was a walk. Shoes as well. One dog could predict what room I was going to. If I had a meal or snack he would head to the den. If I had a cup of coffee he would race off to the office.

    This is such a good example of positive reinforcement and operant conditioning. Certain behaviors (putting shoes on) and objects (leashes) predict good things. Dogs are so good at putting associations together.

  16. I can’t really surprise my dogs since I always have to grab a poop bag before setting out – amusingly, one of my dogs gets excited when she hears the poop bags just as much as she does when she sees the leash.

    How I surprise them is by taking them for a walk in the woods, packing them up in the car to go home, and stopping at a second trail along the way back. This is not always as much fun for me since one of my dogs really resists the car so getting her in 3 times is a challenge. (Worked, of course, with positive motivation to get her over this, but sometimes all the treats in the world, even the very best ones, are not going to convince a dog that what they really dislike is “good”. )

  17. My dog does the same thing! How funny. The “dog walking pheromone” is a curious idea indeed.

  18. HAHA, Jasmine knows when the thought of contemplating going on the walk begins go consider crossing our mind!

    JD doesn’t have to know, he just gets excited when she does.