How to Increase Your Dog’s Focus on Walks—2 Commands

Julia Thomson is a regular contributor to That Mutt. She maintains the blog Home on 129 Acres where she blogs about country living and DIY renovating.

I am dealing with a case of distracted doggie syndrome. Are you familiar with the symptoms?

1. “I’m sniffing. I’m sniffing. I’m sniffing. Aaaaack, why are you strangling me? The sniffs go this way!”

2. “I’m going to stare fixedly into the distance, just in case there’s something more interesting than you out there.”

3. And the worst. “The sniffs are just too delicious. I’m going to sit here for a little while.”

How to increase your dog's focus
I will admit that my husband and I let this happen. We both work full time, so Baxter spends a lot of time inside and alone. We feel guilty about this, so when we head out for his morning and afternoon walks we pretty much let him call the shots.

While the walks (or more accurately the sniffs) may be enjoyable for Baxter, they’re sometimes not the most enjoyable outings for us. And sniffs aside, these are not the most stimulating or challenging outings for Bax.

Recently, I’ve been trying to put myself more in the driver’s seat. Two of my techniques are a couple new commands.

How to increase your dog’s focus on walks

1. “With me.”

“With me” means, “No, we’re not stopping right now. Keep walking.”

I use it as soon as I see Baxter thinking about veering off course. I have to pay attention to catch him before he chooses his own adventure.

“With me” was relatively easy for him to learn. Even the sound of the command is enough to distract him from the scent and remind him, “Oh right, I’m walking with Julia. I’ll go with her.” It feels like a huge win when he comes back on course with me.

2. “Let’s go.”

“Let’s go” means, “Okay, we stopped to sniff, and it’s been long enough. Now we’re moving on.”

Sometimes I fall back into old habits of letting Baxter call the shots, or I don’t mind a sniff break, or I missed my chance for “with me.” The hardest thing about “let’s go” is I want it to be non-negotiable. Therefore, I say “let’s go” and start walking. If Bax doesn’t come along, he gets dragged a little bit.

Teaching “let’s go” hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as “with me” thanks to Baxter’s independent stubborn side—and our history of letting him sniff as much as he wants—but I still have wins where he starts walking along with me.

How to increase your dog's focus using With Me

I’m seeing progress, and I feel like Bax and I are paying more attention to each other, which is a good thing for both of us. Spending time with Bax walking across our farm is one of my favourite parts of my day. Now, I’m enjoying them even more.

Have you ever dealt with Distracted Doggie Syndrome?

Any tips for keeping your dog focused during a walk?

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How to train your dog to be off leash

Off-leash hiking tips for your dog

How to increase your dog's focus on walks

22 thoughts on “How to Increase Your Dog’s Focus on Walks—2 Commands”

  1. Next time someone sees my 4-month-old puppy dragging me down the street, chasing random leaves kicked up by me I am going to tell them he suffers from DDS. It’s a condition that effects lives, people! But seriously, I love the idea of “with me” as a more casual variant on heel. My usual policy when walking with a dog who keeps stopping to sniff forever is to just keep walking and ignore him, but marking the right behavior is probably better.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh my gosh, Remy is terrible! Haha! He’s already so strong and pulls like crazy and I haven’t even started teaching “heel” or “with me” but I do say Let’s go! when he stops to sniff. Sometimes I run forward a bit so he follows/chases me.

    2. mdebry@msn.com

      I have one dog that just likes to walk…. occational pee but no sniffing. The other is the opposite… loves to sniff, eat grass Pee every other foot…. I am tryin to walk them together now so the frequent sniffer is sniffing a lot less.

  2. Yes! Archer has Distracted Doggie Syndrome too! When I try to regain Archer’s focus I usually use his name or “watch me”. We also use “let’s go” when we start our walks.

  3. If Lexie knows I have treats in my pocket, she’s totally focused on me! It’s just when I forget to pick them up and she knows there are no treats with us that she’ll get distracted and sniff everything. So my suggestion is to pocket some treats when you go on a walk!

  4. I have an adorable 11 month old Jack Russell ( got her 3 months ago) she’s very dominant & aggressive with lots of other dogs & I’m unsure how to deal with it. She’s much better off the lead but I never know when to let her off just in case she starts

    1. So sorry to hear about your struggles. I don’t have personal experience with this, so I can’t offer a lot of advice. I know for us, even though we weren’t dealing with aggression, working with an experienced trainer was incredibly helpful. Especially when you’re dealing with serious issues like aggression and socialization, professional help is often the best approach.

  5. We’re big fans of Let’s Go and Leave It (as in leave that poop or piece of trash alone). However, we still struggle with the beagle’s nose and with the 1-year-old lab mix’s attention span. We work on it on every walk, though! I use Let’s Go for both of the scenarios you describe for With Me and Let’s Go; I figure that in any case, it means that we’re walking.

  6. Sniffing for dogs is catching up with the latest gossip. I think there is a time and place and have constructed our walk so they know when they can and cant ‘read the newspaper’!! (its not 100%, but it has helped me to make progress on our walks. I wait a few seconds when I allow it, and then say ‘come on’, or ‘lets go’. I have done this from day one – I see so many people stop, and they look bored to tears as their dogs sniffs – and the human waits for the dog to move. (to this point, I have nearly seem someone get run down by a car because the dog says, and the owner does.

    Just a point Linsday – as you know its easier to teach from the beginning that to correct later – our GSD pulled like anything – and when he was old enough to go out we always said he must not pull as I have a bad back. Its taken a few years for him to stop, but now he (can be) an angel. It shows he has learned because when he is off lead he is the model pupil (unless he sees a rabbit then he’s gone chasing in a bat of an eye lid)

  7. Emily Stanton

    I agree with Rachael. Clyde loves to sniff but I know it’s a dogs way on catching up with the gossip. It only gets frustrating when he won’t budge from having his nose stuck sniffing, think it’s when he smells a girl. Apart from that he’s ok. I’ve noticed that if I say his name right before a command to “come on” he pays more attention.

  8. Mayang Jacobs

    This is a sure and good way to focus your dog in its daily walks without using a leash. Still you need to be patient, understanding and firm when trying to teach your dog to stop being distracted by things around him.

    Of course, some dogs depending on their breed and temperament may or may not respond favorably with this kind of obedience technique. The more aggressive dog breed types may not be easily restrained by mere words and may need to be restrained forcibly with a lease.
    Still if you can get your dog to obey these two simple commands it will be a good thing.

  9. I like to count to 5. My lil dog is expected to leave the sniffing behind by 5. It works 90% of the time. Then I say “let’s go.” I only do this sometimes bc I can’t always count when she stops. I like to keep moving and during those moments I say “let’s go” but I’ll try “w me” before she’s distracted. I like that suggestion.

  10. LizaJane Johnston

    My puppy is a boxer/plott hound and boy is he ever the hound. He’s now 7 mths and we’ve somehow survived this far. I use let’s go, walk, don’t and often say his name first it kind of grabs his attention. We both seem to be stubborn when it comes to who’s in charge so this is a constant learning/ training experience and we walk up to 6 times a day. I have developed calluses on my finger but he’s also a little better most days. I’m constantly on watch to prevent him stopping. I’m the one getting dragged after “flying” leaves too.

  11. In an earlier post I think not speaking to your dog while walking was talked about. I tried this on walks with my Aussie and I’m very pleased with the results. Now he’s much more attentive to me. We switch routes around town everyday,taking different directions and turns and with no vocal input from me he’s like o boy I better pay attention or I might miss something.Thank you for that.

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