Fleetwood and Cookie in the hostas

Awareness Walks

Awareness walks … or Fleetwood gets a Fence.

My young English Shepherd, Fleetwood, is a sociable fellow, and as soon as he was tall enough to clear my four-foot fence he began vaulting over it to visit neighbors and their dogs.

The good news?
The dogs whom he visited quite liked him.

The bad news?
The neighbors were not always similarly charmed.

Obviously it’s not okay for our dogs to help themselves to our neighbors’ yards, or for them to greet people or dogs who haven’t invited them to do so. As impressed as I was with his athleticism I immediately reached out to a local fence company to install a 6 foot fence!

There was a 6 week lead time between signing the contract and having the fence put in, so for 6 weeks Fleet needed to be walked on a lead in my small yard.

I love taking my dogs to local farms to run in fenced paddocks, or to explore while on long lines, but despite taking occasional neighborhood walks, I hadn’t leash-walked a dog in my yard in decades. Little did I know what a wonderful experience it would become!

Grumbling initially at the inconvenience, I was soon won over by Fleet’s obvious delight in the wonders of the yard, and began looking forward to walking together, to experiencing the yard from his very different perspective. My familiar trees, bushes, and weeds began to take on new life as I realized we were going on “Awareness Walks”.

I had first heard the concept of Awareness Walking from Leslie McDevitt, trainer and author of the Control Unleashed book series. An Awareness Walk is a walk in which you and your dog share a leash or longer line, and also share the responsibility for guiding the walk. Each walking partner lets the other know what he or she is interested in exploring, with one first taking the lead, and then the other. We set aside human thoughts of walking side-by-side on a short leash, and meander instead, with a long loose line between us.

Conversations from an Awareness Walk at a farm

He: “I’d really like to go smell where the geese have been!”

Me: “The geese? Really?”

He: “Yes! It’s only a tiny bit of muck between here and there.”

Me (having been smart enough to wear my rubber shoes): “Sure.”

…and after having slogged for many yards through swampy muck…

Me: “Those flowers are so pretty. Let’s get closer!”

He: (looking at them with nose twitching) “Sure! I think I might like them too.”

We often follow his nose and my eyes, each leading with their strongest sense, and each exercising their other senses to learn from their awareness companion.

Things learned during Awareness Walks in my yard

    • Hydrangea bushes smell best from below
    • At certain spots in the yard one needs to pause ve-e-ry still to listen to voices from unseen magical creatures.
    • There is room to squeeze between the magnolia tree and the fence
    • It’s best to be ready to run like the wind when you get to that special place.
    • Sometimes if a dog’s not looking, a person might hide until you find her.

The most important thing learned during our awareness walks, both in the yard and at farms, though, is the joy of walking with the other. These shared respectful moments create a deeper connection with our dogs, as we learn to follow one another’s lead in a meaningful way.

Try it!

As I discovered, you don’t need a big space to share an Awareness Walk with your canine best friend. A modest yard or quiet park will do. Grab a 6-foot or longer lead and explore the outdoors together. Here are some things that have made our walks extra fun:

    • Take your time! An Awareness Walk is about being here rather than getting from here to there.
    • Get down on your hands and knees if you can, and look around from your dog’s point of view!
    • Don’t pull. When we’re walking with dear human friends we don’t yank one another around. Rather we ask them with our voice, or a gentle pressure on their hand or elbow, to move with us. Practice the same gentle touch with your dog.
    • Chat with your dog as you would with a human friend. He might not know what your words mean, but he will understand the sound of connection.
    • Take your time. (Oh, did I say that already? 😉)

We’d love to hear about your Awareness Walks! Join us on the Joyful Dog Facebook and Instagram pages to share your photos and experiences.




Learning to walk with a loose or gentle leash can be challenging. We get that. With this in mind Joyful Dog trainers Marnie Montgomery and Susan Sanderson lead online specialty classes in leash walking through Your Dog’s Friend.

    • Love the Leash: End the Tug of War!
      Exercises and games to strengthen the basics of leash handling help you build responsiveness on leash.
    • Relationship Walking
      Patterns, games, freework, and canine parkour basics spice up your walks and enhance your relationship with your canine buddy.

What the well-dressed dog wears on a walk

We recently wrote a blog on gear for comfortable leash walking.

    • Joyful Dog’s Favorite Gear
      Harnesses and leads that contribute to comfort and communication, and our two favorite collar companies (‘cuz our dogs look so good wearing their stuff)

Joyful Dog has written a number of blogs on cooperative leash walking, and we’d love for you to read them for more information.