Dogs naturally move in sync with their humans

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Here's more evidence that dogs and people are made for walking together.

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If you enjoy walking your dog, you may have noticed that it makes you feel more in sync with your best four-legged friend. It's no illusion. Chances are, your dog is powerfully tuned in to your movements when you walk together. In fact, a new study suggests that even dogs who know you less well, such as a friend's dog you take for an occasional walk, may be more attuned to your every move than you realize.

Why dogs make such great walking buddies

Past research had shown that, when dogs are in the vicinity of their owner, they tend to synchronize their movements with that person’s activity — walking when their owner walks, matching their owner’s pace, and standing still when their owner does the same. Perhaps that should come as no surprise, because the dogs and their owners already shared a close bond.

But the new study, published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, looked at shelter dogs that didn’t have this kind of preexisting relationship with the people around them. The dogs were allowed to roam around an enclosure with a human caregiver nearby. Although the shelter dogs didn’t have a strong attachment to the caregiver, they still synced up their activity, albeit to a lesser extent than what’s typically seen in pet dogs and their owners.

According to the study authors, this activity synchrony may have an evolutionary basis. They posit that evolution may have favored dogs that followed human nomads from place to place or human hunters during hunting trips.

Sure, that's interesting. But the researchers, led by canine behavior researcher Charlotte Duranton, Ph.D., believe their findings also have practical implications. They recommend that caregivers at pet shelters walk and work with the dogs as much as possible, which gives the dogs ample opportunity to practice synchronizing their behavior with humans. They say this skill may help the dogs get adopted — and, once adopted, get in step with their new family.

About the author

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer.

Key references

Duranton, C., Bedossa, T., & Gaunet, F. (2018). Pet dogs synchronize their walking pace with that of their owners in open outdoor areas. Animal Cognition, 21(2), 219-226. doi:10.1007/s10071-017-1155-x

Duranton, C., Bedossa, T., & Gaunet, F. (2019). When walking in an outside area, shelter dogs (Canis familiaris) synchronize activity with their caregivers but do not remain as close to them as do pet dogs. Journal of Comparative Psychology. doi:10.1037/com0000171