Friday, July 23, 2010

Walking a Reactive Dog

C:\Users\Walker\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\ZOV4YN8G\MP900448587[1].jpgWALKING A REACTIVE DOG

Note: I am a not a certified trainer or behaviorist. These are only my personal thoughts as a dog lover

This information is based on my personal experience, my personal philosophies, and my partial reading of an excellent book titled Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog by Karen Pryor.  Take from the below info whichever parts work for you


Walking a large, strong reactive dog can be a daunting task. It might be tempting to stop walking the dog; but this will not help the problem and will probably make it worse because now you have a large, bored, destructive dog on your hands.




In this Article







  • Dogs with known aggression issues must never be walked on a regular buckle or snap collar. The potential is just too great that the dog might slip the collar. 
  • Always use a properly fitted martingale collar or a slip lead (martingale is safer; a slip lead can choke). A Gentle Leader would also be acceptable.  Less secure than a martingale but safer than a buckle collar is a harness. Some dogs can slip harnesses. Still have a buckle collar for ID.  So the dog should be wearing at least two devices - a buckle collar for ID and a martingale or slip leash, or harness or gentle leader for walking
  • Absolutely no flexi leads during neighborhood walks.  Walkers must use a sturdy 4 to 6 foot lead and keep a good grip on the lead at all times.
  • Walkers must wear sturdy shoes - no flip-flops.
  • If the dog is extra aggressive and extra strong, consider a basket muzzle - which allows for airflow, panting, even drinking and taking treats. Still exercise caution. A dog can remove a muzzle if determined enough.  The drawback to wearing a muzzle during neighborhood walks is of course if you are confronted by an aggressive stray, your dog won't be able to defend herself.
  • NO dog parks!  At least not until the issues are resolved.  Not only is this not fair to others at the park (they become participants in your training issues whether they chose to or not) but it is also a way to set your dog up for failure - too much at once.



This is not the answer and it won't fix the problem, but this is better than not walking the dog, and it is a place to start while you are working on your dog's issues:

Avoid Other Dogs as much as possible.  Walk late at night and early in the morning. Walk in the rain.  Keep an eye out for other dogs and go in another direction when you see one coming


No negative reinforcement.  No punishing

Never yell, poke or hit the dog when he/she is reacting. (not with hands, not with newspaper, not with the leash)  This will just make matters worse. The dog will associate bad things happening to her when she sees another dog, and it will just make her dislike other dogs even more.  Please note that it doesn't matter whether or not popping your dog with a leash hurts or not. The act is still negative.

Only positive reinforcement

Reward the dog when he is being good.  If you have someone willing to help you with this: (Use a basket muzzle if safety is a big issue)

Have a friend stand still with a calm, not reactive dog in a sit.  Stand back as far away as your reactive dog needs to be before barking.  When your reactive dog isn't barking or lunging or growling, click, treat.  If your dog acts up, Do nothing; just stand there until she calms down. 

Note that this is not a quick fix. This could take weeks.  Once your dog is comfortable at, say 300 feet.  Then try moving in an arc just a little closer. Try to stop before your dog reacts. Tell your dog to sit, praise, click, treat. 


Keep working on this day after day, week after week, until you can get closer and closer.


If you don't have a friend with a calm dog, you will just have to practice this technique during your neighborhood walks


When you see a dog approaching, get your dog's attention before he starts reacting.  Talk weird baby talk, make weird sounds.  I personally like to blow lightly on a party horn. Put your dog in a sit, have your dog "watch me,", etc.. When your dog is not reacting, click, treat, praise highly. Continue getting his attention until the offending dog is gone.

Check your own behaviors


Do you get overly anxious when another dog approaches? Do you hold the leash tighter? If so, your dog will notice this and react accordingly.  I've found that using the basket muzzle allows me to relax a little more. Not hold my dog too tightly. 

Free Training Available

SA Big Dawgs has weekly free training sessions.  You can start out far from the rest of the group and work your way up. You can also talk with the trainer about your issues

Free Dog Walking and Socialization Available

SA Big Dawgs has free dog walking and socialization meetups  all over town, most days of the weeks.  You can start out far from the group and work your way up.

Also see,

La Trenda's Progression of Reactions to a loose dog

And see Item 3 at Animal Education Links for more animal info