Many pet parents worry about taking their reactive dog out for a walk — and for good reason.
When confronted with unfamiliar territory, people, and other dogs, many pups that are typically sweet and good natured at home will suddenly start barking, snapping, growling or quivering in fear the minute they set foot outside the door.
Knowing how to calm a reactive dog when you're out and about is an essential skill to have. And the good news is with patience, training, and dedication, it can be done.
According to Lyz Knight, a certified and accredited dog trainer who has extensive experience working with reactive dogs, the best way to support your nervous dog when you're on a walk is to prepare well.
With that in mind, Knight has put together a handy Instagram video in which she reveals four essential things that make up a successful walk with her reactive dog, Molly. Let's take a look...
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1. Lots of treats of varying value: In the video, Knight uses a range of dog treats, from diced hot dogs to peanut butter. "Treats are great for rewarding my dog for behaviors I want to see more of, and also are really helpful when we're working on building positive feelings towards things she thinks are scary."
2. A harness and leash: Knight favors a 15-foot leash when walking Molly as it gives her plenty of space to move her body freely when it's safe to do so. It's also short enough that Knight can quickly gather it up if she needs Molly to stay close to her.
3. The freedom to sniff, explore, and move: "A bit of myth busting here: reactive dogs don't need to walk on a short leash or in a heel position right next to you all the time — it's okay, and in fact recommended, that they get safe access to sniffing and exploring!," explains Knight.
"I of course also make sure to keep my dog and others safe (for example, I wouldn't let her run into the road or go directly up to another leashed dog!), but I stay conscious of keeping my leash loose, letting her have choice around where we walk and how fast we go, and try my best not to rush her along if she's found a really good smell."
(For more on the benefits of sniffing, check out this dog owners experience of taking their Border Collie on a 45-minute sniffari. Spoiler alert: it tired them out more than a two-hour hike!)
4. Opportunities to learn: "Training moments are incorporated throughout the walk, whether there are triggers around or not," Knight says. "The whole walk isn't a "training walk" (because honestly that sounds exhausting for both of us), but I periodically will add training in throughout. We practice pattern games, loose leash walking, engagement games, and management skills like treat scatters, magnet hand, and our flight cue (used if we need to get distance from something quickly)."
Reactivity is complex and it can be challenging to deal with. The tips above are based on one trainer's experience of working with this issue and may not be suitable for all dogs.
If you feel you and your pup would benefit from some extra support, we recommend reaching out to a qualified trainer who will be able to assess your dog's unique needs and tailor a training programme to suit them.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past three years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with a very mischievous Cocker Spaniel and a super sassy cat, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.