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.
This page contains affiliate links which means I receive a commission on anything you decide to buy. I only recommend products that I either have used and/or trust.
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.
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.
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!