Want to reduce your dog’s anxiety on walks? Use this trainer’s calming solution

Dog looking at something while walking on a leash
(Image credit: Getty)

Anyone who owns an anxious pup will know all too well that the joy of heading out for a relaxing walk is more often than not overshadowed by the challenges of dealing with a jumpy and reactive dog.

Anxiety in dogs can be hard to anticipate or manage while out for a walk. The moment they encounter triggers like other dogs or unfamiliar people, their calm and happy demeanor can quickly shift into a state of heightened fear. Barking, growling, lunging, and a display of stress signals become all too common, making walks a stressful experience for both the dog and their owner.

Recognizing a need for a solution, the certified trainers at Happy Dogs Training have introduced an effective technique known as the 'Engage/Disengage' game. The approach which they shared in an Instagram post, aims to neutralize triggers and reduce anxiety levels during walks, creating a calmer walking experience for both canine and human.

You can watch the clever game in action below before reading on to find out how to try this game with your own dog.

The 'Engage/Disengage Game' is a pattern game designed to reinforce positive behavior in dogs and gradually acclimate them to triggers in a controlled and rewarding manner. 

The concept is simple yet powerful: when the dog encounters a trigger, such as another dog or a person, the owner allows them to observe from a distance at which they feel comfortable. The moment the dog looks away or disengages from the trigger, the owner promptly marks the behavior and rewards their furry friend with praise or some of the best dog treats.

By repeating this process over and over again, the dog will start associating triggers with positive outcomes, effectively neutralizing their responses and reducing anxiety levels. 

The Happy Dog trainers do note that the game should only be played when the dog is under threshold. This means that the dog is not exhibiting intense behaviors such as barking, growling, lunging, or displaying stress signals like yawning and lip licking. "If your dog is doing any of those behaviors, create more distance and then try again," note the Happy Dog trainers.

If you feel like your dog's anxious tendencies are too intense for this technique to work, don't worry, training tips and games are never a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Plus, there are plenty of trained and experienced trainers and behaviorists out there that can spend some 1:1 time with your dog to help alleviate issues like anxiety.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.