How To Walk Your Reactive Dog: 8 Trainer-Approved Tips

Owning a reactive dog poses significant challenges for me as an owner. One of the primary difficulties is the constant vigilance and proactive management required to ensure my dog's safety and that of others around us.

Reactive dogs are often sensitive to their environment and exhibit aggressive or fearful behaviors towards other dogs, strangers, or even unexpected sounds. Consequently, every walk becomes a potential minefield that requires constant vigilance and management to prevent any negative interactions.

Learning how to calm your reactive dog and taking proactive measures to minimize the likelihood of future reactivity is crucial in maintaining a harmonious relationship with your canine companion.

Taking that into consideration, I recently stumbled upon a valuable post shared by renowned dog behaviorist and expert trainer, Nikki Mather, on Instagram. In this post, she generously unveils her top eight tips for effectively walking your reactive dog.

A trainer teaching how to walk a reactive dog

These eight tips from the expert trainer can greatly enhance your walking experience with your reactive dog.

1. "Avoiding their triggers"

Mather explains that consistently subjecting your dog to their triggers will reinforce their reactive behavior. She recommends altering your daily routine to circumvent these triggers. For instance, you can avoid taking street walks or visiting busy parks during certain times of the day.

2. "Stay vigilant"

According to Mather, being aware of your surroundings enhances your preparedness to proactively avoid unfavorable situations. Therefore, she recommends training your dog to perform an emergency turn, enabling you to safely navigate challenging circumstances with composure.

3. "Keep the leash loose"

Keeping your pup on a tight leash is a mistake that many dog owners make, often unknowingly. While it may seem necessary to have complete control over your dog's movements and behaviors, overly restricting their freedom can have negative consequences on their overall development and well-being.

According to Mather, tension in the leash can exacerbate the feelings of restriction and frustration in reactive dogs, potentially worsening their reactivity and insecurity.

4. "Remain calm before a walk"

Mather emphasizes that although it may seem overwhelming, it is crucial to recognize that your reactive dog can actually exacerbate the issue if it senses your anxiety even before you step out of the house. Therefore, she strongly advises allocating some time beforehand to alleviate your stress levels.

5. "Use a harness"

When it comes to walking a reactive dog, using a harness can be an invaluable tool. Unlike traditional collars, harnesses distribute the pressure evenly across the dog's chest and shoulders, minimizing the risk of injury or discomfort. This is particularly crucial for reactive dogs that tend to pull or lunge during walks. By reducing strain on the neck area, a harness helps prevent potential damage to the dog’s windpipe or delicate structures around the throat. Additionally, harnesses offer better control over the dog's movements by redirecting their attention towards the handler.

According to Mather, utilizing two points of attachment facilitates the containment and control of your dog's body, particularly in challenging situations.

6. "Allow them to sniff"

In tip number 6, Mather highlights the significance of sniffing as a self-calming behavior that effectively alleviates stress and anxiety in dogs. Consequently, she strongly recommends providing ample opportunities for your reactive dog to engage in sniffing activities, thereby promoting a state of calmness.

7. "Stay positive"

Reactivity in dogs can stem from fear, anxiety, or past traumatic experiences. It requires patience and understanding to help them overcome these emotions. Be consistent with training techniques and avoid punishment-based methods that can worsen your pup's reactivity. Moreover, your consistent positivity will create an environment where your reactive dog feels supported and encouraged during walks.

Mather recommends maintaining enjoyable and stimulating interactions with your dog. This approach greatly facilitates the process of training, enabling both you and your furry companion to embrace a serene and positive mindset.

8. "Get help"

Seeking professional help is paramount when it comes to walking a reactive dog. A professional dog trainer or behaviorist possesses the expertise and experience needed to assess your dog's reactivity and create a tailored training plan. They will evaluate the triggers that provoke your dog's reactive behaviors and develop effective techniques to modify their response.

Mather advises against struggling alone. Instead, she recommends that you seek assistance from a certified and force-free behaviorist who can guide you toward the right path and provide unwavering support throughout your journey.

Nikki Mather is a qualified dog trainer and the founder of  Positive Steps Dog Training. You can view her Instagram post below.

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