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: