Why Does My Dog Look Back At Me On Walks?

Do you have a dog that seems to be looking at you a lot whilst out on a walk?

Then try not to worry as there are plenty of reasons why your dog might be doing this.

Most probably your dog is trying to communicate with you and read on to find out what they might be trying to tell you and why….

3 reasons why your dog looks back on walks

In my experience, there are three main reasons why a dog might be looking back at you whilst you are walking: reassurance, routine and expecting to be told off. 

Let’s take a look at reassurance first.

It could be that if the place that you are walking is new, then your dog is looking at you for reassurance.

They don’t know the route that you want to take and so they are waiting for a call to “heel”- that they need to come back to you because you are going on a different route.

They are excited about going to a new place and rush off ahead of you to explore but they don’t want to stray too far- and they want to keep checkin in with you by getting eye contact. 

Another example of reassurance could be if your dog meets another unfamiliar dog on a walk and they might just need a verbal cue from you that everything is OK.

My youngest dog is like this. She isn’t the most confident dog when she meets other dogs and she will frequently look at me if she sees a dog heading towards us.

And I daresay there are numerous other examples of how a dog needs to look at us for reassurance as we are out and about. 

The second reason that your dog looks back at you on a walk is because of a routine.

At this point on this walk you normally speak to your dog. 

This could be a command to “wait” if you are approaching a road, for instance.

Or it could be a command of “go on then” if you are approaching a river or stream and they are desperate for a swim. 

What interests me is whether you realise that at this point you normally interact with your dog.

Or if, like me, sometimes on your dog walk your mind is elsewhere and you can’t think for the life of you why your dog is staring at you.

You have forgotten what you usually do but your dog hasn’t!

The last reason that your dog might look at you whilst you are on a walk is that they have just done something naughty and they are looking at you because they are checking to see if they have been caught in the act.

Another example from my own experience is that we walk across a field with horses on most days on our walk and so sometimes my dogs take the opportunity of snacking on a bit of horse poo!

Now if I am walking towards where they are snacking, after they have finished they will raise their head and look at me as if to say “Did you watch me? Are you going to tell me off?”

And frequently I wasn’t aware that they were eating horse poop, until one of my dogs was looking at me from a stooped position!

After looking at why our dogs sometimes look back at us whilst out on a walk. It is now time to move on and try and work out why some dogs walk in front of us on walks.

Why is eye contact important between an owner and their dog?

Eye contact is incredibly important when it comes to communication and understanding for most mammals. 

This is true no matter whether it is between two people, a person and a dog, or two dogs. 

But for the purposes of this article we will stick to eye contact between an owner and their dog!

Oxytocin or the “love hormone”,  is the hormone which gives us a natural high when we are in the early stages of a romantic relationship or when we are gazing into the eyes of a precious newborn son or daughter.

And it increases the longer an owner and their dog stare into each other’s eyes!

Eye contact between humans and dogs isn’t just about getting those warm and fuzzy feelings, it’s importance goes way beyond that.

This study by the University of Helsinki demonstrated that the ability of your dog to read your facial expressions isn’t just about love- it is about survival.

Two photos were shown side by side. One photo was a “happy” man, the other an “angry” man.

Most dogs spent far longer gazing at the photos of angry men- because they understood the expression to be a threat and so needed to monitor it more closely. 

Why else do dogs stare at their owners?

Many dogs stare at their owners or a close family member because they are waiting for something to happen.

For some kind of interaction.

Staring is your dog’s “standby” position. 

Much like your TV is just waiting to react to a response from the remote control and will respond immediately to it, many dogs are just desperate for the next interaction. 

Whether that be a command of “dinner” or for you to pick up a lead for a walk.

And this constant state of readiness can be put down to two things.

Firstly, dogs have been living with humans for the past forty thousand years.

Secondly, most dog breeds were developed to perform some kind of function, whether that be to herd sheep, guard livestock or hunt game.

Many of these working roles depended on a massive amount of contact between a dog and its owner. 

So how does all of this new knowledge help us understand our dog whilst we are out and about on our walks?

Four reasons why some dogs walk in front of us

When we think about why our dogs might walk in front of us, there are a huge range of reasons for this.

And what do we mean by in front of us? 

Are we talking about dogs who off the lead like to walk two or five metres in front of us? 

Or dogs who are walking directly in front of us, almost getting tangled in our legs.

But first, I want to state the obvious.

For most breeds of dogs, the pace that people walk at is slower than their natural pace. 

And so, it is natural for these dogs to be ahead of us.

There are exceptions- senior dogs plod along at a snail-like pace and many toy breeds struggle to keep up with us because they are so small and their legs are so short! 

[1] Lack of training 

Dogs that tend to be way out in front of their owners as they are walking, just don’t know anything different because they haven’t been trained. 

Be honest, as dog owners we come across these dogs all the time. 

These dogs also have very poor recall skills and their owners tend to have their eyes glued to their phone and not keeping tabs on their dogs!

[2] Familiarity

The first reason that a dog might be walking in front of us off a lead is that they are very familiar with the route, familiar with the expectations of their owner on this walk and this is just what they do!

And for much of the route they walk ahead of their owner. 

[3] Protection 

Dogs that have a very strong protective instinct within them, might walk in front of you for parts of the walk if they detect a threat. 

It might be another person or dog but something has startled their “spider sensors” and they move out ahead of you to guard against a threat coming towards you.

Certain breeds have a very disposition for protection- such as German Shepherds or Dobermans.

But a dog of any breed could behave like this, especially if they are highly strung.

I have seen Border Collies and Jack Russels behave in this way. 

[4] Lack of attention

Firstly let me deal with those dogs who walk in front of their owners but are so close to them that the owners are in danger of tripping over.

Partly, I think that this can be put down to a lack of training but I think that these dogs are so starved of attention that they walk like this in order to be told off because they aren’t getting attention in any other way. 

Which leads us very nicely onto the closely related question of why some dogs walk behind us…

Three reasons why some dogs walk behind us

There are three main reasons that dogs might walk behind us instead of in front of us or beside us.

[1] Can’t keep up

Our first reason is one that I mentioned earlier.

Some dogs walk behind us because they cannot walk as fast as we do.

For most dogs this isn’t the case but it is for dogs who are very old and for dogs who are very small it is a real issue.

I have a 14 year old Golden Retriever who walks at about a quarter of the speed that she once used to walk.

She still loves to walk but it takes her forever!

[2] Training

The second reason is that these dogs have been trained by their owners to walk behind them.

Perhaps a little strange because the classic “heel” position for a dog is beside us not behind us.

[3] Fear

In the last section I wrote about dogs who are very protective, sometimes taking an “offensive” position in front of their owners if they detect an oncoming threat.

Some dogs are just so scared that they walk behind their owner, using them as a sort of shield.

Most frequently, It could be for these dogs that they have been attacked whilst out on a walk and so they need that level of protection.