6 Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog

Hey, friends. 

This is a popular topic, so I know if you google “Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog”, a ton of things are going to pop up. There are going to be lists that focus on the physical aspects of walking, like what type of harness is best, or proper ways to hold a leash. You find lists that give you great pointers to help you maneuver in a world where you can’t manage your dog’s triggers 100%. You even find lists that include tips to help your dog mimic natural behaviors and movement as much as possible on a leash walk. 

So, I’m gonna take a slightly different approach with this one and share things that I pay attention to that help me and my dogs have low stress walks through the neighborhood or at the park. 

6 Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog

(aka the indicators you didn’t know to watch out for!)


#1 – Listen for garage doors 

Seriously. When I walk my dogs I always keep one ear listening to indicators of triggers–not the triggers themselves, but the things that often tell me that a trigger is gonna happen. Garage doors are one of those things. Especially if you’re walking earlier in the morning, listen for garage doors opening up ahead or behind you. It can help you moderate distance between you and people, dogs, families, scary cars, and a host of other “people just living their lives” triggers.


#2 – Cars pulling into driveways or parking on the street

This is sort of the same vein as the one above. When I’m walking my dogs, I always pay attention to cars that are just now parking and take care to move my dogs away from that area. We never know what is going to come out of the car. It could be an off leash dog, a person speaking loudly on speaker phone, or a whole collection of people just getting home from school. 


#3 – The sounds of kids playing 

And sure, for Griffey, kids alone are kinda scary, but for things like kids playing in the street or at the park, that may also indicate that there are other things we need to look out for. Like a stray ball coming our way, or a basketball bouncing down the hill. 


#4 – Dogs on property signs 

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it when I see signs that there are dogs living in a house. When I know this is the case, I can help Griffey cross the street, or pass the house more quickly. This helps me, Griffey, and the families in the house. Because, while barking at things is a pretty typical dog thing to do, I also know how annoying that can be, so if I can avoid triggering someone else’s dog, heck yeah! 


#5 – Learn yards where dogs hang out 

This one takes some time, but if you’re walking in a location regularly, learn which yards tend to have dogs in them during walking times. Just like above, I make an extra effort to cross the street to both avoid stressing me and my dogs out, and to give those dogs and families a little extra room. 


#6 – Jingling dog tags

Jingling dog tags is another thing I listen for to help manage my distance from other dogs. This helps me to know which houses have dogs, which yards are currently occupied, or if a dog is coming down the street. 



Finding your indicators 

Can you tell I’m attuned to indicators of other dogs? Consider the things that your pet finds stressful and ask yourself, what may indicate that? The ones I’ve listed here are pretty good for dogs and people, but you and your pet might need something else! Finding early indicators can help you take a more proactive and empowered approach to enjoying walks with your dog instead of feeling like you’re just reacting to the world around you!



Now what? 

  • Learn your dog’s indicators! While we focused on things outside the house today, you can also look for indicators of stressors/triggers in the house. Things like the smell of smoke before the smoke detector goes off, or the quiet of the washing machine before that last spin cycle are some ideas to get you started! 
  • Once you know what to look for, you can start putting your management strategies in place to be more proactive and less reactive. When I see someone park their car in the driveway two houses up, I may cross the street, linger, or turn back. It lets us have the space to observe what’s happening instead of walking into the thick of it. 
  • And of course, if walks with your dog are frustrating, cup draining, and something you don’t look forward to, we’re here to help! 


Happy Training! 




4 thoughts on “6 Tips for Walking a Reactive Dog

  1. This Article addressees how to avoid or anticipate stressors that put the dog over the edge. Our only problem while walking is other dogs. My guy goes completely into attack dog posture, barking hysterically and lunging. Unless we are surprised, I am able to anticipate and keep him calm by talking to him and giving treats. This makes for a very stressful walk. Is there any way to cure this behavior? I’d like us to be able to relax and have a pleasant encounter with others dogs and their people.

    1. Hey, Beth! Thank you for your comment!

      You’ve done an incredible job of learning your pup’s body language and implementing some strategies to avoid the issue when you’re able to. Nonetheless, none of us head out on a walk to feel more stressed than before we left!

      For my pup, we taught him skills to help him navigate the world without explosions, and we help clients do this every day! Reach out to us at [email protected] and Corinne can help you figure out the next steps for your pup.

  2. I also make sure we avoid the times school children are heading to their buses and coming home. My biggest aggravation is other people letting their dogs off leash. We have had several times of dogs coming at us. Thankfully I have a small dog that I can pickup. We have gotten pretty good at watching out for triggers, but every once in a while it does happen.

    1. Yes!! These are great additions to the list! We also would rotate neighborhoods to avoid trash day since garbage trucks can be a lot!

      Off-leash dogs can be absolutely terrifying, even if that dog is entirely pro-social! On my street, all but two houses allow their dogs to free roam, and it is a very stressful walk from the front door to the car for us.

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