Taking your dog out for a walk is one of life’s pleasures - and the best thing is, as dog owners we get to do it everyday…come rain or shine! But whilst this is great for the health of you both, it’s also a challenge sometimes - especially if you’ve got a reactive dog.
Your dog’s behaviour can be triggered by any number of events outside of your immediate control, like other dogs, vehicles, other people or sudden loud noises.
Walking a reactive dog is stressful
With a reactive dog it can become stressful to take your pooch out for their daily walkies; they can be hard to manage and you’re probably faced with some judgement like “can’t you control your dog?”
Walking your reactive dog should in fact, be enjoyable, not something you dread - it requires a little training and some patience. So we’ve got five tips that'll help you turn stressful walks into something you both enjoy!
1. Communicate your calmness before you set off
It makes sense that if you’re stressed or anxious before you head off on your walk, that your dog’s going to pick this up. You know your dog’s reactive, so you’re expecting it and the cycle continues as they feel uneasy before you step out of the door - it may worry them. Starting your walk in a calm and positive state of mind is easier said than done, but some simple slow breaths before you head out can lower your cortisol levels and help more than you think. Of course, help your dog to feel calm before you both set off, too!
2. Turn those fearful triggers into a positive experience
Thing is, avoiding fearful triggers completely is almost certainly unavoidable for most people. So while it makes sense you avoid areas of your walk that seem to trigger your dog, you can also re-frame this whole experience. For example, letting your dog know that good things happen when they get close to their trigger. This might be their favourite treat and heaps of praise in the face of this “stressor”. If your dog won’t have any of it and spits out the treat, it’s best to go back to their comfort threshold where they feel calm and safe.
3. Make your walks unpredictable
Yes, whilst your dog might be expecting to go on their usual route, why not change your pace, switch directions and make it a little fun. Then, as they follow your lead, they’re praised heavily as it reinforces that dog walks are enjoyable! Sometimes a tug toy is a good way to hold your dog’s attention and focus on you for a few moments to keep them engaged.
4. Take a friend with you on some of your walks
Believe it or not, this can be surprisingly effective when you’re trying to walk your reactive dog. If you normally walk alone, it’s something new for both you and your dog. The right person can have a calming influence on your dog’s behaviour as well as how you react to your dog during a normal daily walk. To begin, try walking your dog in between the two of you.
5. Try a dog behaviourist
It’s understandable if you’ve tried everything and you’re still struggling to calm your reactive dog - sometimes you may need to reach out for help. Having a professional who knows exactly what to do can be a huge relief to helping you regain confidence and joy with your dog. Not only will you learn so much about behaviour and canine psychology, but you’ll feel a lot more confident in your abilities to manage your dog.
Walking a reactive dog can feel stressful and awkward, causing you to dread walking time with your pooch. Of course, not all techniques will work with your dog, so it’s best to try a variety of tricks and techniques to see how they respond. Once you start to see improvements in your dog, you’ll be able to relax more and focus more on the walk rather than your dog’s behaviour.
Verified by a licensed Vet