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In both the comics and the show, Michonne first appears with two walkers that she essentially keeps as pets.

Michonne and her pets

The comics sort of half-explain this - as per the wiki:

She notices walkers don't attack one another and hacks off the arms and lower jaws of Mike and Terry. She chains them up by their necks to use them as escorts for an escape that was successful.

In S01E02 - Guts, we see that even if they still sort of smell like Walkers, the Walkers can smell/detect the living and will attack.

In S03E11 - I Ain't a Judas,

We see Andrea effectively making a new "pet" so that she can use to deter the Walkers that she comes across on her trip to the prison. Along the trip, she is shown to come within close range of Walkers, but they give her space when she points the "pets" in the right direction.

Why would the Walkers not just attempt to go around the "pets"? What about them creates an effective protective barrier?

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From my memory, the Walker guts in season one seemed to be almost totally effective until it started raining heavily and they were washed off; I'd have to watch it again to double check though and I can't do that right now. –  Anthony Grist Feb 27 '13 at 9:26
    
I think the series are a little inconsistent on this topic. In one of the first episodes of season 2 we see the group hiding on the highway underneath some cars while a large herd of zombies passes by. Indicating that the zombies where not able to smell the live humans. –  user11859 Feb 27 '13 at 9:27
    
To continue on my last comment, it could be that the zombies use sight as their primary indicator and only if they have visual on a possible target that they start smelling to verify what that target is. This is speculation ofcourse. –  user11859 Feb 27 '13 at 9:39
    
@MichielT That makes the idea of the pets even less logical as the pets do nothing to obscure the live humans from view. –  phantom42 Feb 27 '13 at 11:59
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@AnthonyGrist right - as soon as the smell started to wash off, the walkers were able to identify the live humans. michonne and andrea don't cover themselves in the scent - they just use the pets - and that's my point. they're not covered by the smell, they've just got a pet walker a few feet in front of them. their own normal smell is otherwise unmasked. –  phantom42 Feb 27 '13 at 12:01
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1 Answer

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The walkers show a rudimentary form of pack behavior, in that one walker spotting prey will frequently alert other walkers in the area to the prey's presence.

There have been a couple of scenes, for example, where there were walkers wandering aimlessly in an area, and a human got close enough for one walker to recognize them, at which point all of the walkers seemed to start noticing them.

Thus, the important camouflage benefit from the "tame" walkers is their lack of reaction.

If I recall correctly, Michonne even explains this in the comics, stating that after awhile, her two pets realized they couldn't bite her, so they stopped trying to attack her. They were an effective disguise because other walkers in the area saw that they weren't attacking, so didn't think there was any reason to suspect Michonne was human.

In the episode where they covered themselves in the walker organs to hide their scent, some of the walkers acted as if they were "suspicious", sniffing them and then ignoring them. This suggests they identify prey by a combination of scent, sound and sight, but that at least the visual and olfactory senses are of limited effectiveness, even relatively close-up.

The visual cues they look for probably include flight responses as a primary indicator. If it's running, it's prey.If it's making odd sounds, it's probably prey, and should be checked closer. If it smells like human, it probably is prey, but if it smells like human and walker, it could just be a walker that ate recently.

In short, the pets work because they mask the scent, and give other walkers in the area reason to think there is no prey around, through lack of visual cues (i.e. the pets, who are clearly walkers, aren't attacking, and the figure leading the pets isn't behaving like prey).

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