7 Ways To Exercise a Reactive Dog Mentally and Physically

7 Ways To Exercise a Reactive Dog Mentally and Physically

To exercise a reactive dog and those struggling with behaviour issues is crucial. But how do you exercise a reactive dog when it’s hard enough to walk one?

Exercising a dog doesn’t have to feel like a chore, below are several fun ways to mentally and physically exercise a dog both in and out of the house. Discover the importance and benefits of regular and consistent exercise below…

exercise a reactive dog

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Benefits of exercise

  • Health benefits

The health benefits alone should be reason to give your dog plenty of exercise. Whether your dog is reactive or not they will gain advantages with a good exercise routine :

  • Low blood pressure
  • Stronger heart
  • Better joints
  • More energy
  • Self confidence
  • Less chance of obesity

These will make sure your dog stays hearty and healthy and as young as possible!

  • Behaviour benefits

Believe it or not, a lot of bad behaviour stems from the issue of lack of exercise. Without exercise both mental and physical, a dog gets bored. A bored dog with a lot of energy stored needs to find ways to release this; barking, chewing furniture, running riot, digging, whining etc.

If you have a dog that may have behaviour problems, even as simple as pulling on the leaah, then they could benefit from some more exercise. Less energy leads to a calm state of mind, a calm state of mind allows the dog to process all information about the situation properly and make less mistakes, basically if you exercise a reactive dog, you are more likely setting them up for success. This can be through obedience, shaping behaviour or even in areas like leash reactivity in dogs.

leash reactivity in dogs guide

  • Creating a calm state of mind

If you exercise a reactive dog constantly and consistently every day, from the start to the end of the day, you will get a very calm dog.

Creating a calm state of mind as a default setting for your dog requires your dog to not be filled with energy. With a lack of exercise your dog will always be at a level of unrest where they might seem “happy” but they will make mistakes and seem like they are “all over the place”.

I believe in dogs having a default setting of calm and I think as the owner we should be able to create excitement and then quickly be able to settle the dog when we are done. This can be done through exercise, you can start at any point, build up excitement, get the heart pumping and then stop, put the dog in a sit of place command until they’ve cooled off.

Once your dog understands “chilling out”, you can give the behaviour a command and work on it to quickly get your dog to stop what he is doing and chill out.

  • Easy to add to your daily routine

It doesn’t take much to exercise a reactive dog, you don’t even need that much space. Below you will find a variety of different ways to exercise a reactive dog, a few which you can do inside with a little to know equipment. Some of these are so easy you can just start them up when you have a quick 5 minutes. Unlike for us, when we think of exercise we think of painful and uncomfortable exercise but when it comes to exercise for dogs, we can make it so much more fun and it can easily slip into our day.

  • Creates and strengthens the bond with your dog

If you’re reading this then chances are you have a pretty good relationship with your dog, but exercise can make it better. Even for those who feel that your dog is stubborn or doesn’t listen, spend some time exercising and training them and just enjoy spending time with them and watch how that bond grows!

Why exercise a reactive dog?

So why is it important to exercise a reactive dog in particular? Common behaviour problems on the leash such as pulling and lunging etc can all be solved with a bit of exercise (or at least reduced).

Proper exercise before a walk will reduce the overall energy of the dog, this leads to more calm behaviour on the actual walk.

Dogs can store energy for times when they need it, such as fight or flight moments, moments of reactivity. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise then they call on this reserve of energy when they encounter a trigger. I’m not saying that a fully exercised dog won’t react, I’m just saying an exercised and calm dog can think more clear than one on edge.

Try to raise the breathing for a good 15-20 minutes when you play with your dog. It doesn’t have to be anything too intense, just get them moving!

Make multiple short slots in your day to play with your dog, just because they are reactive doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! This helps keep energy low through the day.

Once you have finished a play session it is always important to calm your dog down after. If you are going on a walk after these sessions make sure your dog is calm before leaving the houses. If your dog leaves the house with that excited and hyper mindset after play, they will find it harder to focus outside and you will end up with a completely distracted dog. Get your dog to wait while you put your shoes on and don’t leave until they are calm.

Ideas for physical exercise

  • Stair running

If you have a set of stairs then this is a great way to burn a bit of energy either at random points in the day or even before and after a walk.

All you have to do for this exercise is as follows…

  1. Stand at the top of the stairs with your dog by your side (your dog might feel more comfortable starting from the bottom and running up the stairs instead of down)
  2. Take a treat and lure your dog and throw it to the bottom of the stairs (your dog should follow)
  3. Once they’ve got the treat, call them back up the stairs
  4. Praise and repeat

I love doing this before a walk as it’s drains some energy before going out, giving me the advantage of calm dog walking.

calm dog walking

  • Tug of war

This will never be an outdated method to not only burn energy but to also have fun with your dog.

You can incorporate some basic obedience and impulse control skills such as sitting and waiting patiently and even more advanced skills before rewarding with a game of tug.

All you need is a good sturdy tug toy that gives you enough space to avoid any accidental biting/mouthing (set your dog up for success).

  • Fetch

There’s nothing more easier than rolling a ball down the hallway and letting your dog chase it. You can use tennis balls but sometimes maybe a lighter toy that can’t break anything is a better option.

You may need to teach a “retrieve” command or “bring”, Jasper loves to play fetch but sometimes he doesn’t bring the ball or just runs away.

Mental Exercise

  • Chew Toys

The use of chew toys can mentally stimulate a dog and give them something to do. There are many different products that offer dog chew toys. First determine what kind of chewer your dog is, Jasper is a power chewer, he’ll literally destroy most toys immediately. For this reason our number one recommendation is the use of a Nylabone. These strong “bonelike” toys are made of nylon and encourage your dog to chew and bite while also maintaining the teeth too.

They can provide short to long bursts of preoccupation depending on the dog (you can get different flavours to boost the want of the toy).

  • Scent work

Do you have a dog that constantly wants to stop and “smell the roses”? You can reduce this while also exercising your dog mentally and instinctually.

Dogs have 300 million receptors in their nose and love to smell, imagine what one sniff brings in! Dogs should be allowed to sniff and explore but only when given permission. That’s why I love scent work as a method to exercise a reactive dog, you give your dog a command word and you can control the actions out in public!

Here’s how to get started…

  1. Start with some treats, sit your dog in front of you and let him sniff the treat
  2. Place it somewhere your dog can see
  3. Give a command word such as “find it” or “lost” “sniff”
  4. Praise and recall your dog
  5. Repeat and put in a slightly harder area (still let your dog see but put it behind something)

As you continue make it slightly harder; use tables, chairs, speakers and then move to putting your dog outside the room (when you do this put the treats back in easier spots until your dog gets comfortable with this transition).

When out in public find a nice grassy area, get your dog to sit and then throw a treat in the grass somewhere and give your chosen command. Slowly phase out the treat and just give the word for your dog to enjoy a good sniff!

  • Feeding time

A great way to exercise a reactive dog mentally is through food. A lot of dogs are used to getting the food given (and some even have bowls out all day), either way making feeding time slightly harder will reward your dog vastly. Here are a few great options that I’ve used with Jasper to keep mealtimes interesting!

Feeding toys

This is a great way to make feeding time more fun and stimulating for the dog. Instead of easily being able to eat out of a bowl give them a challenge. Using feeders such as those in the Kong toy range give the dog more of a reward by fulfilling instinctual needs. You can fill it as you wish and even freeze it for a longer lasting challenge.

Dogs that get bored and bark and undergo other behaviour issues such as digging in the yard or chewing furniture can benefit from this kind of stimulation. Giving the toy at times of bordem will entertain the dog and help avoid these unwanted behaviours.

Teaching impulse control

I believe in rewarding a calm state of mind and what better way to have a calm dog than around food. Now this might be difficult to start with as your dog doesn’t normally have to wait for food but once mastered feeding time will be smooth!

  1. Get your dog to sit in front of you
  2. Either stand with the food bowl or go toward the floor depending how excited your dog is (if your dog jumps for his bowl start standing for now)
  3. Wait until your dog is calm and looks towards you
  4. When they take a glance, mark and lower the food bowl
  5. Repeat until at ground level
  6. Reward by releasing your dog

This teaches that being calm and looking at you,  leads to food and it also shows you as a leader, it shows that you provide the food.

Once your dog is comfortable at this point you can move onto the next level and give the behaviour a command, “focus” or “look at me”. At this level keep lowering the bowl for eye contact but once broken you pause until eye contact is given. Eye contact is a great technique that you can use when out in public to help a reactive dog find calm simply by ignoring the distraction at hand and looking at you.

reactive dog find calm

If your dog really struggles them start off simple, wait for a calm sit and reward with the food. You don’t want to make feeding time stressful for them at all.

  • Obedience

Obedience and agility not only exercise a reactive dog but give your dog a job, giving them self confidence too.

I try to teach Jasper a new trick every other week and spread a few 5-20 minute training sessions throughout the day. This not only strengthens the bond by giving us something to do together but it helps burn energy through the day.

If you haven’t yet, check out the previous two posts that are part of this free mini-series:

5 Tips For Walking A Reactive Dog Pt.2

5 Tips For Walking A Reactive Dog Pt.2

Life can be frustrating when walking a reactive dog, frustrating and embarrassing. One minute you’re having a lovely walk with your dog enjoying the scenery, and the next you are yanking the leash of your dog as they lunge and bark at another dog across the road. Yes it can be embarrassing and frustrating and it can cause you to take precautions such as walking your dog later when no one is around but it doesn’t have to be like that. Changing a dog’s perspective on things that trigger them can be a long and tough process but it can be done!

Whether you are already working on the issue with your dog or if you are looking for a starting point, here are 5 tips that really helped me and Jasper when it came to leash reactivity in dogs.

If you haven’t already, check out part one for my 3 mistakes to avoid when walking a reactive dog

tips for walking a reactive dog

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Figure out the triggers and reactivity distance

The first step in my opinion when it comes to overcoming leash reactivity in dogs is to figure out exactly what the triggers are. You want to map them out and figure out the level of intensity. If your dog has a trigger of kids you might find that he can walk past quiet kids without a problem, but when you throw in a crying kid, or one running then chances of a reaction become greater (running children can trigger the predatory instinct in dogs).

Once you have a scale of your dogs triggers you can start figuring out the reactivity distance. Going back to the example of kids, if you see a kid walking calmly you know that you shouldn’t have much of a problem when it comes to distance, some dogs may even be able to walk past calmly. When you see a screaming kid or one running you need to figure out how “close” you can have your dog  to the trigger without them reacting.

When you are armed with both the triggers and the reactivity distance, you can start to figure out the sweet spot where you can start helping your dog overcome and desensitize to their triggers.


Avoid other dogs when not working on desensitization

I recommend having certain days where you work on desensitising your dog (for me my day offs worked the best as I had time for set backs on walks). On these days you will want to work with your dog on decreasing that reactivity distance without a reaction. Areas such as car parks and outside a dog park are great starting spots if you want to desensitise against dogs.

Whatever the trigger, find out where you can create controlled real life situation. If there is a dog park near you then stand at some distance away (even a few streets down if you have to), what you are trying to do is catch the trickles of dogs heading to and from the park. Find a safe place to stand and work with your dog to avoid a reaction, when you are confident move closer (you can use the actual dog park for this example, stand outside and work with your dog towards the goal of that fence). Create a positive association and reward when the behaviour is acceptable, this will help change the mindset.

(You can read more on counter conditioning in dogs below…)

counter conditioning in dogs 8 tips

When you aren’t working on leash reactivity problems I recommend avoiding dogs altogether if you can (unless they are at a good distance). The reason for this is that when your dog reacts, their body fills with cortisol and this can take up to 72 hours to leave the system, meaning your dog can be on edge for the next few days. You may pass a dog and for the rest of the walk your dog will  be on high alert. Swap your route up to avoid the dog park or skate park or school and just have a nice stroll with your dog.

If you do happen to come into contact with an trigger (sometimes we don’t see them or we see them last minute) then doing some leash training for dogs will help when you need to make swift maneuvers to get out of dodge such as a U-turn, creating space from the trigger.

If you haven’t got one already, I recommend getting yourself a treat bag that you can wrap over your shoulder or on your waist when walking a reactive dog. This will allow for quicker delivery of treats to your dog letting them know exactly what they are doing right. Avoid stumbling round your pockets for a treat as your dog slowly forgets why you are rewarding them.

Keep your cool when walking a reactive dog

When it comes to leash reactivity, a lot of owners lose the “leader status” from their dog, this is because they yank the leash and shout and command things that the dog doesn’t really understand. A leader is meant to lead by example, not trying to force it upon people. Unfortunately this is where many owners go wrong, they can’t keep their cool and not only does the dog sense this but they also become more agitated expecting a reaction for you if something goes wrong! So now here you both are walking on thin ice, trying not to set each other off but instead working each other up even more.

When walking a reactive dog just breathe, you are in control of the situation, at the start of the road you would just drag your dog past the trigger and shout and yank the leash….now you want to create distance and create a positive association with that trigger and if you can’t, move away. You can learn some leash skills to help you make a quick getaway and keep your dog engaged and focused on you at the same time.

If you do find yourself to really be struggling then chances are you will need the help of a professional. Dogs don’t really grow from this issue without the help of someone teaching them what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to triggers and you don’t want to end up with a dog that becomes a burden not only to you, but to those around you too.

I started my journey early on this year and I am still working through some kinks that are there but I assure you, once you know what you’re doing, the penny will drop!

Give the correct exercise

Exercise is crucial when it comes to any behavioural problem. Dogs have stores of energy to use which come in useful when they have a fight or flight experience, unfortunately that isn’t useful for us. An unexercised dog can lead to problems such as digging, chewing, barking, nipping heels, whining and even reactivity problems. When they encounter a trigger they have all this stored energy that they can tap into and push them into action.

If you struggle walking a reactive dog, how on earth do you exercise a reactive dog? I’ve talked to a few owners who end up walking the graveyard shift when no one is around but dogs need both mental and physical stimulation to ensure that their basic needs are met.

Some great ways to burn energy I recommend are stair running (sending your dog up and down the stairs for a treat), obedience work, using a stuffed Kong for mental stimulation, tug of war, scent work (can easily be done indoors) etc. These are great for burning  reserves of energy after a walk or even using them before a walk to burn some energy and create calm dog walking.

I mix a lot of obedience and tug of war into our morning and evening walks, not to mention playing around in the day leading to a calmer dog that is easier to control on walks.

calm dog walking

Understand body language when walking a reactive dog (or any dog in general)

The final tip to walking a reactive dog is to understand the body language that your dog gives when you are walking. Small things such as a twitch in the ear or the slight stiffening or a tail can let you know how your dog is feeling. If you are walking down the street and your dog hears a skateboard, the ears might prick up and they might start to tense and stiffen, all signs of a coming reaction. If you don’t react quickly and break this chain of thought then it will result in an outburst.

You need to be able to pick up on these signals, take the time to watch your dog as your walk, what makes him happy, distracted, curious, nervous etc. Watch the body language because this can be very effective when you are trying to figure out how a situation is going, if you want to pass by another dog but your dog isn’t ready for it they’ll give you these small signals to create distance before they do it themselves.

Understanding body language can also help figure out what your dog is thinking. Is the tail wagging? Then you have no problem…..if the tail is straight up and stiff, something isn’t right!

Watch your dog and learn a bit more about body language and leash reactive warning signs.

leash reactive warning signs of dogs

3 Mistakes To Avoid When Walking a Reactive Dog Pt.1

When walking a reactive dog, having to deal with a dog that pulls and stops and barks and lunges while on the leash everyday can become a tiring and strenuous daily “chore”. If you aren’t seeing improvement when walking a reactive dog you may be making one of the following easy mistakes that is actually slowing down your progress.

walking a reactive dog

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What To Avoid When Walking A Reactive Dog…

Letting your dog dictate the walk

Many people don’t feel in control of their walks, from the moment they leave the door, the dog is in a world of its own and you feel like you only serve as a “steering wheel”. It’s a common issue, a lot of the time this slight problem is constantly overlooked until it becomes a bigger issue, however this doesn’t have to be the norm.

You need to teach your dog how to walk properly on the leash. You can tug on the leash and shout at your dog all you want but if you haven’t thoroughly taught the behaviour then they will see you less of a leader. If your dog pulls on the leash for example, you teach them you stop, if they want to get where they want to go they walk politely with you. You can’t just expect them to know through leash corrections.

Create a structured walk, one where you have toilet breaks and times to run around and be a dog, this helps your dog understand that not only you are in control but that there is a time for things. This leadership shows that if they behave nice and calmly on the leash they can get what they want, the key to a good walk is helping a reactive dog find calm.

helping a reactive dog find calm

When I walk Jasper he gets an elimination break at the start and end of the walk, we don’t stop for a toilet break during. This creates routine and structure and a place where he knows it’s time to go. The rest of the walk is split into “work” and “play” sessions, we walk for 5 minutes calmly and then he gets a chance to sniff and run and explore for 5 minutes. He’s allowed to sniff around and I don’t expect him to walk in one spot, but things like stopping to sniff in a “work session” or pulling too far from the leash aren’t allowed. Once again this creates structure, lets your dog understand there is a time to play and a time to behave and you provide these things.

By taking on these responsibilities when walking a reactive dog, you appear as more of a leader and your dog will slowly start to trust you and let you take the reigns on the walk.

Repeatedly yanking on the leash

The next step is repeatedly yanking on the leash, in my opinion if you tried a correction the first time and it didn’t work, that’s unfortunately your mistake (and it’s an easy one to make), anything after this is going to be bad timing.

A leash correction should be issued when you start noticing unwanted behaviour approach in your dog, so if a dog was running with the owner for example, as soon as you notice a reaction coming from your dog you give the correction. This is a quick tug that isn’t meant to harm your dog but bring a second of focus where you give an alternative behaviour e.g. Sit. When timed wrong like during a reaction, the energy is at a full 100% and there is no getting through at that point.

Repeatedly giving corrections for things like walking ahead or not paying attention can cause a lot of frustration in a dog especially when they haven’t been taught the technique you want properly, so the walk becomes a constant tug of war between the two of you, both as frustrated as each other. If you can’t time it correctly or give multiple corrections your dog starts to get confused at what they’re doing wrong throughout the walk, this is why you need to help them pinpoint the issue, so it’s easier to encourage calm dog walking.

Teaching what you expect from your dog is crucial, when you start only correcting for unwanted behaviours when walking a reactive dog, your dog will be able to pin point that he is doing something wrong at that moment. Work with your dog and teach the correct technique for walking on the leash (if your dog walks ahead just stop and get them back into the right position), or teach a focus/look at me command so you have their full attention when a trigger is approaching in the distance or if they have great obedience teach an unbreakable sit for when a trigger has to pass by.

leash training for dogs

I’m sure I hate giving corrections as much as the next person but they must be given at appropriate times and with appropriate force if needed, remember you are only trying to get the attention of your dog. Only give as much force as the situation requires. 

Not engaging with your dog on walks

I know many people when walking a reactive dog, will try to get from point A to B quickly. They will charge through the walk, rush a toilet break and get back to the safety of the house. So off they go with their heads on a swivel, dragging the dog behind. 

By rushing your walks and avoiding triggers you are going to hinder any progress on your dogs reactivity (if you aren’t specifically training for it). The first thing to note is it doesn’t get the energy out of your dog, sure it’s a brisk walk but a dog must be mentally and physically stimulated. Repeatedly doing this will store a lot of pent up energy in your dog which can lead to other behavioural problems. The main concern is that this pent up energy will be saved for times of fight-or-flight, such as when they are about to react. Your dog needs to be able to enjoy a walk and sniff and explore and discover at a minimum. If you have to do a quick walk make it a structured one, one where you designated stop points where your dog can wee and sniff and then at other times they must walk nicely with you.

If you don’t engage with your dog, regardless of whether or not you rush your walks, then you will end up having a distracted dog, one that wants to go and do something more interesting.

I recommend teaching a focus command for when you are walking a reactive dog, by being able to gain the focus and attention of your dog will allow you to pass by triggers in the long run. Start with teaching it inside the house and work in more distracting environments. You will notice as you continue this process your dog even starts to “check in” with your where they constantly look at your to “check in” – now that’s leadership!

Other ways of engaging a dog on a walk include using toys and other high value motivators.

You can find out more about the issue of leash reactivity in dogs with the Beginners Guide to leash reactivity, a brief look at the problem and how you and your dog can create a plan and work through it!

beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs

One Simple Trick To Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm

Why is it essential to helping a reactive dog find calm? Discover how you can improve your current walks with this simple trick that will shape your dog to look at you for guidance and support instead of resorting to their usual behaviour.

helping a reactive dog find calm

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Dealing With Leash Reactivity In Dogs

Reactivity is just that, a reaction, normally to an external stimuli. Dogs have around 300 million receptors in their nose making them 40 times more powerful than ours!

We picture our dogs walking by our side and slightly behind, ignoring the world around us, whilst we enjoy the walk with them. This is a big challenge you are asking from your dog with the world around them when you’re constantly bumping into triggers that make them pull, lunge and even bark uncontrollably. You can however work WITH your dog to get them to trust you and look to you for guidance on your walks.

Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm Through Teaching Engagement and Focus

This is for anyone who is struggling with any of the following issues:

  • Your dog constantly pulling you around, stopping and dictating where they want to go
  • A high alert dog that seems to constantly be looking around and getting themselves stressed out
  • A reactive dog that barks and lunges at people, dogs and other stimuli
  • A dog that doesn’t engage with you on the walk
  • People who feel like their dog is really walking them

Dealing with a reactive dog is a hard and frustrating process, you feel that they’re stubborn and don’t want to listen but the problem is they probably feel the same way too.

Imagine your dog with a personal bubble, when indoors at home, when safe, this bubble probably covers the whole house. As mentioned it’s because they feel safe, they’re used to the environment. When you go outside that bubble instantly gets smaller and now we’re talking about just enough to cover your dog (bubble size in proportion to your dogs confidence). When outside the slightest thing like leaves blowing past could put a dog on edge.


As mentioned the bubble gets smaller when you and your dog venture out for walks and the leash just makes it worse! Yes it is a means to take control of your dog but it restricts your dog and that is a major cause of frustration. They are now outside in this scary and distracting world and they have no where to go but with you, in situations they’d normally run, you walk toward the trigger (and if you are reading this then chances are your dog might not be too confident to let you take the reigns but that doesn’t have to be the case!)

Communication Barrier

We expect our dogs to know exactly what we mean, perfect English, a complete different language. For example your dog pulls ahead and you jerk the leash and say “No! Heel!” but how much have you trained this command? Does your dog really understand the word? Especially out in distracting areas?

The problem with a communication barrier is it’s frustrating for both you and the dog. On the other hand your dog is communicating what they want, you just aren’t listening. If a dog pulls on the lead it’s because something has got their attention and they want to go to it and they get frustrated because they can’t (because of the leash). So they pull and you pull back and you do this process over and over.

Walks become frustrating very quick when you don’t understand each other, so you make it as quick as possible just to get it over with.

Teaching Your Dog To Look At You For Guidance

This is what you are trying to teach your dog

The Goal

What you are trying to achieve is helping a reactive dog find calm. You want to train your dog into trusting you in difficult situations, to look at you and be calm, this is key to success, you want your dog to be engaged with you.

You want to make that bubble of theirs bigger, so that at least it engulfs you. The world might be scary but the best way to show your dog there isn’t anything for them to worry about is if you are there to guide them along the way.

So how do you teaching your dog to be more focused on you to achieve calm dog walking?

Start in the house

The best place to teach anything starts in the house! Then you move into places with a few more distractions. This is how you “proof” behaviour, making sure that regardless of what happens you’ve proofed it from distractions.

For Jasper, I use the phrase “focus”. You can call it what you want from “look at me”, or a simple call of your dogs name.

  1. Put about 10 treats in your left hand and one in your right
  2. Get your dog to sit in front of you
  3. Let them smell your hands (they may muzzle and nudge but be patient and stay still and silent)
  4. After a while your dog will look at you and at the point you instantly mark and reward with the single treat (bring the treat up to your eyes and slowly lower to your dog to reinforce that you are wanting them to look at you
  5. Take a treat from your left into your right hand and repeat

Keep doing this in the house and slowly add a bit of length between rewarding and then start rewarding for every other success and then mix it up to keep your dog on their toes.

Do this daily when you have a chance, you don’t have to use treats all the time, you can reward looking at you with a cuddle or a play etc.

Before Your Walk

A lot of people say that if you let a dog out the door first you are letting them be dominant etc. But that’s not the reason I walk out the door first, it’s a matter of safety. I believe dominance is a term that’s thrown around too lightly, if someone broke into your house and you came back and the door was open, who would go in first, you or the dog? The leader right? Interesting….

Being the pack leader isn’t about dominance, it’s about safety and keeping each other safe and providing what’s needed.

When leaving the house, my persona isn’t “I’m in charge, you follow!”, It’s more “follow my lead and everything will be fine”. If you want your dog to look at you for guidance you’ll want to be a guide for them, not a dictator. You want to show them what you want.

Engage your dog from the front door before you leave and it will start your walk off wonderfully!

  1. Do your normal routine of getting ready to leave so you and your dog are stood at the front ready to go
  2. Slowly open up the door, if your dog moves or tries to get up close it
  3. Repeat opening and closing until your dog stays sat once the dog is open.
  4. Now walk out the door and stand in front of it facing your dog (if they move put them back into a sit)
  5. Practice the focus method for a few times, slowly increasing duration by a few seconds.
  6. Let your dog walk out (if they run out take them back to step 4)

At this stage of time, when I leave the house, Jasper will sit and look patiently up at my while I lock the front door. He may get distracted and look at people walking past but he’ll stay sat and focuses until he’s released.

During Your Walk

I find the most stressful part of the walk to be the point right out of the door. However if you get your dog focused on you at the start of the walk then I promise life will be ten times easier!

Add this to the start of your walk and see how helpful it can be.

  1. Once you’ve left the door, stop and get your dog to sit (mark and reward if success)
  2. Tell them to focus and once again mark and reward
  3. Take a few steps and repeat
  4. Continue until the end of the street

Once you’ve completed this street you will find your dog checks in a lot more, they look at you when walking, make sure you reward this behaviour!!! I’d start with consistent rewards at first and then give them at intervals to keep your dog guessing when the treat is going to come

When You Encounter Another Dog

This method is great for helping reactive a reactive dog find calm, even in the presence or when passing other dogs. You are aiming to catch your dogs attention and keep it as you walk by the other dog.

However, if you and your dog aren’t comfortable with this yet, especially if you haven’t got that much engagement on your walks yet, then avoid other dogs.

Simply teach a U-turn that allows you and your dog to turn and escape easily.

  1. When you spot a dog in front of you, turn with your dog on the outside (it’s more forced if you turn into your dog)
  2. Call their name or make a kissy sound as your turn
  3. As your dog turns greet them with a treat in a heeling position

Teach this in the house and outside because it is a lot harder to get your dog to do a U-turn when they spot another dog. You will need a lot of practice and treats to build up this skill.

The long term goal is to slowly decrease the distance at which you’ll turn from another dog until your dog gets comfortable with closer distances, this is when you start getting the dog to engage with you instead of turning.

After Your Walk

Make notes of your walk!!! That’s the way to truly make progress. You want to write down anything you think necessary; dogs encountered, any outbursts, what went well, what didn’t, what could YOU improve on.

At the end of the day you are the foundation to making improvements for you and your dog. Do you need to hold the leash more loosely, did you get too cocky and try walking past another dog, were you engaging enough to catch your dogs attention, do you need to do more work?

This will make a big difference for you and you can see what works and what doesn’t for your dog.

You can find four more of my tips for calm dog walking here.

7 Key Tips For Helping A Reactive Dog Find Calm

Practice makes perfect!

You want to make sure that you practice practice practice! From inside the home, to low distraction areas and so forth. You want to make sure your dog fully understands what you are asking at that point in time. This isn’t an overnight process, but one that is going to take time and patience. Work on a few bits daily and reward your dog so they have an incentive to work WITH you!

Have days for leash aggression training

Have specific days or sessions where you actually work for leash reactivity. By this i mean you will want to encounter dogs on these days (even if you have to start from a distance). 3 of these short sessions a week will do wonders.

On days you aren’t training, make sure that you try to avoid dogs, this stops you from being caught off guard and it also keeps your dogs stress levels down too!!

Don’t push your dog too far even if you are making progress

Don’t get too cocky and try to make progress quicker than your dog is ready for. You want to listen to the body language and if they get uncomfortable then you turn round and head the other way. This is how you make yourself a leader to your dog, they will learn that you’ve got their back.

Understand your dogs body language

As mentioned, you need to understand your dogs body language. It can help vastly knowing how your dog will react. How is the body posture when your dog spots a dog? Does their tail wag or are they frozen still with fear?

Picking up on body language will help learn what you dog is trying to communicate with you.

The importance of high value treats


If you want a dog to learn something and to focus on you, you need to give them an incentive. If you want a dog to walk calmly on leash, why are they going to pay attention to you and kibble when there’s smells everywhere and people and distractions?

You need to bring out the big guns, high value treats that your dog goes crazy for. Something that as soon as they catch a sniff, they’re like putty in your hands.

I normally fry some chicken, cut it into pieces and put them into a treat bag. I also carry standard treats in this treat bag…so when I ask Jasper to do something or if he’s generally behaving, I’ll give him a standard treat BUT when a dog or big distraction comes into the picture, and he listens to what I want, out comes the chicken!!

Timing is everything

This may sound so easy but getting to grips with the timing is tricky! You need to make sure you are rewarding your dog for the right thing. If your dog checks in with you and it take you 10 seconds to get a treat, they’ll forget what you’re rewarding them for, is it for the leash manners or sitting because they’re getting a treat?

This is why you start training at home, so the dog knows what you want from it, but you also know what to expect as well!!!

Get a treat bag!

I honestly recommend that you get yourself a treat bag. One that you either carry over your shoulder or attach to your belt/trousers. The reason behind this is because you can quickly mark and reward the behaviour you want to keep. You want to try and reward the dog within 3 seconds to make sure they know what you are rewarding for.

Even when you have to reward your dog in quick succession it’ll be quicker from a bag than having to dig treats out of your pocket! Plus many have different compartments where you can keep your phone or poo bags and even small toys like a tennis ball etc.

Hopefully you’ll find this practical for helping a reactive dog find calm. I highly recommend this for those struggling with reactive behaviour in dogs. It takes a lot of time and patience but if you are willing to work with your dog through this, you will gain this sense of accomplishment afterwards.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help, sometimes we need more than a guiding hand. Check out the rest of my blog, starting from the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs which is a great starting point for those looking to understand more about managing this issue.

My Top 4 Tips For Calm Dog Walking

My Top 4 Tips For Calm Dog Walking

Do you struggle for calm dog walking? Do you yearn for your dog to walk by your side and not get distracted? You’re in the right place! Continue reading to discover my top 4 tips for calm dog walking…

calm dog walking

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The Importance of Calm Dog Walking

Why are leash manners so important? Why do people train their dog to walk politely by their side? It’s a nicer walk! Right?

The reason many of you are here is to help figure out how to teach leash manners to your dog because maybe at the moment it isn’t that fun of a walk. It’s a rare occassion where you hear an owner say they’ve never had to deal with the pulling and barking and constantly being distracted.

I had to deal with Jasper and his leash pulling until I decided I had enough of it. Being a rescue and a reactive dog teaching loose leash skills is vital for a more pleasurable walk.

The process of teaching calm dog walking is in fact relatively simple, the only thing is you need to be consistent which is where a lot of people fall down. Teaching a dog takes time and even longer to teach a puppy something. The bonus side of leash training for dogs however is that you walk your dog at least once a day. This means that at least once a day you can practice these skills even for just 5 minutes.

Primarily you will want to understand why your dog behaves like it does in the first place while on a walk…

Why Your Dog Has “Leash Issues”

The main reason a majority of you will be experiencing this problem is purely because your dog doesn’t know how to act on the leash yet.

  • You might have had them as a puppy and it didn’t really matter but now they’re bigger its a become a problem
  • Maybe you got them as a rescue and they had a lack of training and exercise before you
  • They may lack self-control and want to interact with everyone
  • They are constantly getting distracted by people, dogs…leaves in the wind
  • Maybe they smell something more interesting than you in the grass

Next time you are  walking your dog, walk at a slightly slower pace than normal. What does your dog zone out at? Does he pull on the leash in certain spots? Does he get excited at people or dogs passing by?

When your dog wants something they will try and get it unless you’ve taught them not to. Squirrels, kids running around, skateboards, different smells etc.

The aim of the game is to teach your dog self-control so that you reward them for calm walking with sniffing a tree or running the block. It’s all about team work!

Leash Reactivity In Dogs

Some of you may find that your dog is actually leash reactive. This is a behavioural condition in which a dog will react to a certain stimulus/trigger – another dog, kids, men, trucks, bikes etc. The reaction can range anywhere from a death stare, stiff posture, barking, lunging and even biting! (Find out more about the leash reactive warning signs and triggers)

It is a common issue which many people deal with. If you feel this might be something that affects your dog then check out the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs for everything you need to know to get start to overcome this problem. There’s a lot of information on this blog to help you as well!

beginners guide leash reactivity in dogs

A great video of teaching self-control before you even start your walk!

My Top 4 Tips For Calm Dog Walking

1 – Use The Right Equipment

First thing you need to do is make sure you’re using the right equipment. This may sound simple but a lot of owners don’t know they are making mistakes.

Correct Leash

Retractable leashes will encourage your dog to pull. When they pull they get the reward of wanting to go where they want and even if you stop the leash, they end up in front and pulling. There have been cases of people even getting burns from getting tangled in these.

A long line on the other hand gives you more control, you can hold it in both hands and give and take freedom when needed. You can have them on a short leash, loose leash and even train from distance and allow socialisation.

Correct Harnesses

A harness is the next piece of equipment you should be looking for. Harnesses are becoming more of a chosen option due to comfort. The strain from the leash isn’t localised just around the neck but instead through the body. Some harnesses allow you to connect to the front (chest area) to help reduce leash pulling. Some also come with handle/s that you can grab when needed.

Tactical harnesses come with velcro to attach small bags and essentials!

High Value Treats

High value treats should be next on your list of equipment. If you are wanting to teach your dog how to walk politely then you need to give them incentive. The world is a distracting place for them, why should they pay attention to you? By giving them incentive to focus on you and marking this behaviour you will improve your walks tenfold!

Treat Bag

Other accessories include things like a treat bag that allows you to quickly dispense treats to your dog whilst carrying your essentials. You’ll be surprised how much easier and quicker your dog learns when you can mark the exact behaviour.


For those with younger dogs the use of a clicker can be very effective with marking behaviour you want. This applies to walking calmly too. When your dog walks calmly or ignores someone walking past then you mark and reward.

2 – Start Inside The House

My next tip is to start inside the house. The routine of going for a walk starts as soon as you either mention the walk or touch the leash.  Before you even leave the door you need to prepare your dog for calm dog walking. To prepare your dog you need to make sure they are in a calm state of mind where they are focused (or slightly less excited).

When inside the house constantly touch the leash and your shoes or make your keys jingle. You want to keep your dog on their toes. If they get excited every time you touch your things, simply put them down and do something for a few minutes. Continue doing this until your dog is in a calmer state of mind before you leave the door.

You want to make sure that your dog shows self-control. The biggest hurdle will be the front door. There’s no blaming them either, a whole world of potential to go and explore. This is why teaching them self-control at  the start of the walk is essential. If they get to run out of the door and carry that excitement through the walk you’re going to have to keep up!

Get your dog to sit by the door and slowly open it. You are looking for calm behaviour, if your dog gets up or moves towards the outdoors, close the door. Repeat this until you can fully open the door.

3 – Teach Self-Control Through Alternative Behaviour

Having taught self-control and calmness inside the house, it is time to teach it outside. As mentioned before, the reason dogs behave badly on the leash is because they haven’t been trained properly.

During your walk you want to teach them alternative behaviour to the problem issues that you are having. For example if they are constantly pulling then you need to teach an alternative. You need to teach that pulling means you stop (or turn back) and the alternative you teach is a loose leash means you can keep moving.

For dogs that bark at triggers then this is a bit harder but it is possible to teach alternatives. Teaching them to sit down or to look at you or targeting or to follow you. There are many different behaviours that you can teach and the principle for teaching them is very basic.

Mark The Behaviours You want, Correct Those You Don’t

When your dog displays behaviour you don’t want, mark it with a no. Correct the behaviour e.g. If your dog gets excited at something and pulls – make them sit. Mark the correct behaviour with a yes/clicker and treat. Repeat this constantly making sure to praise and reward your dog.

If you want your dog to focus on you more, then every time they look at you and check-in, mark and reward. This teaches your dog to look to you for guidance, to remember that good things come from giving you their attention. You can call their name or make kissy noises to get the attention of your dog and reward them. Practice this in slightly busy areas to increase attention.

The first 5 minutes are the most excitable for your dog. With the proper leash training for dogs you can learn how to calm your dog in these 5 minutes so you can enjoy the rest of your walk!

leash training for dogs

4 – Let Them Be A Dog

Having a reward system is very important to improving the connection with your dog. When the two of you discover that you want to work together, great things happen!

You are already rewarding when correcting behaviour but a crucial point I want to talk about are designated break spots.

These are spots you have during the walk where you basically let your dog be a dog. Whether it be a toilet break, a little run around, the chance to sniff, chasing squirrels. You can’t expect your dog to walk nicely all along if there is no light at the end of the tunnel right?

If you find your dog struggles reaching these designated spots then break it down. Have breaks when you reach the end of the street calmly (making sure you reward too).  Let them sniff around or give them a quick praise and treat.

Common Questions

How do I stop pulling on the leash?// How do I stop my dog getting excited around people on walks?// How do I stop my dog pulling before the designated break spot?

Teach an alternative behaviour! Find the behaviour you don’t want and correct and reward with what you do. All these issues can be solved by teach an alternative.

Why is my dog so distracted?

Dogs are simple creatures and their attention is limited. If you are in an area with distractions and smells, then getting your dogs attention will be harder than normal. Start training to get your dogs attention in quiet places before busier spots.

How do I teach my dog to walk on the leash?

There are many maneuvers and techniques that you can learn to help you with leash training for dogs. Starting and stopping, changing pace and direction and working in busier areas. These are all examples of how to improve your walks!

Enjoy Calmer Walks

A walk should be something in harmony. Where you enjoy spending time together. It shouldn’t be all business from A to B as quick as possible. You should enjoy it. This is why breaks are important, this will be what your dog looks forward to on the walk, not the exercise! I hope these 4 tips will help you achieve the calm dog walking you are seeking!

You Aren’t Alone!

Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!