Have you ever seen this? Someone is walking down the street with one hand on the dogs leash and the handle of the stroller and the other holding their phone to their ear. As you approach with your dog, what are you thinking? Do you feel confident that they will be able to react if their dog starts to lunge at yours?
Or maybe you are a parent of small children. How do you feel as someone approaches your family texting on their phone while their dog eyes your unsteady toddler warily?
I will admit right now that I am sometimes guilty of paying more attention to my phone than to my dog, whether it’s texting, talking, or checking the baseball scores. However, in a recent push to improve our walking, I am working to become more aware of my own behavior and how it effects my dog. Part of this effort is understanding the role of technology.
I have recently heard several reports about the negative effects of technoference on interpersonal relationships. What is technoference? It’s technology that comes between you and your real-life relationships. It might be that urgent email from your boss late on Friday night, or it might be that urge to check your stock performance during your kid’s soccer game.
In my experience—although I haven’t seen any studies on this (yet)—this phenomenon can be even more pronounced in human-animal relationships. Why? Probably because our pets are talking to us. Our dogs aren’t going to ask us to put that phone away (our cats might just lie down on the keyboard).
What our dogs are going to do is charge after that squirrel we didn’t see because we were texting our friends about our weekend plans. They are going to trip us when they suddenly cross in front of us to get to the fire hydrant we didn’t notice because we were looking at the weather report for the next day. They are going to pull the leash out of our hands to charge towards another dog because we were gesturing along with a phone conversation with a person who couldn’t even see us.
However, when we take the phone out of our hands, and put our attention back on our dogs, something begins to happen. When we watch our dogs, they are more likely to watch us. When we are aware of what is going on, we can anticipate how our dogs will react to things we pass and prepare appropriately. And we can use our attention, words, and rewards to communicate to our dogs that there is a reason for them to pay attention to us.
So today, I’m making a pledge, and I hope you’ll take it too. I pledge that, when I am holding my dog’s leash, except in case of emergency, I will not be using my phone to do something unrelated.