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Puppies to reactive dogs; How to enable them to engage with you!

In this post we will discuss, reactive dogs on lead and dogs pulling, lunging, shying away or barking on lead, as well as educating puppies to be confident with you when out and about! Enjoy 🙂

Invariably we teach a puppy to be an adult before it’s an adult and flood his life with new experiences all too soon. We try to ensure they are not frightened of A to Z and in doing so we actually freak them out. We would do better, walking away from things and dogs and people (they will still notice them) and by not making a big deal they will grow in confidence and then closer interaction with dogs you know are kind and caring, people you know who will be gentle also.

For vehicles, joggers and bikes etc, walk away as they whizz by. Use the movement of fleeing in a confident “Hey let’s go this way and play follow me” rather than sit here and get used to it. You will find that once you make the sensible decision for your dog, then he will feel you’ve got him and get him and will do what really should come naturally.

Imagine at a train station, you’re standing too close to the platform front, a train zooms past, you, step back and maybe even further. Some people make like the thrill of danger and the adrenaline rush!! So without using anthropomorphism (but I am) I’ve no idea what the dog is actually thinking, but I can surely hazard a guess, and if what I have done by giving space to a situation the dog calms, then that guess and action were pretty good.

little dog walkingDogs pull/react for various reasons from being impatient to get to a destination where they can free run, to feeling vulnerable without the ability to run away from their fears. Then, of course, there is the dog who has never been taught to walk on a loose lead or owners gave up too early trying to make it happen because they had sporadic support and nothing seemed to work.

Who takes who for a walk? Who makes the right decision when the world seems a little scary? Who decides where to go and how long for: you do! This is the game of follow me, be with me and we can bimble along together and just enjoy the moments, NOT tug-o-war!

Movement is a powerful tool and we need to inspire them to be with us. We need them to feel safe strapped to us and be thoughtful about how they feel in any given situation. Remember an over-exuberant puppy or dog is not necessarily a happy and well-balanced being. A bull in a china shop gets into trouble sooner or later.

Pups will follow us everywhere; they follow their mum, siblings and other gentle adults. However, we take them to classes and on the lead goes, they pull, we make a big deal and immediately we have taught them to pull. Wrong environment, too big an ask to be sensible and learn at too young of an age.
So; whether you have a puppy or big pulling adolescent/adult or you have a full-on lunging hairball. Start in places where learning will happen. Keep it simple and move on slowly to places where there are more stimulating things going on.

If you see a dog or person out and about, don’t go and do the meet and greet, walk with your dog and engage him in all you do and all that you are. He is not going to become aggressive with you being positive and not making a big deal about situations or other living beings. He will become nervous, anxious (roll over on his back), evasive or grumpy if you force an interaction or let an interaction occur with anything or anyone when he is stuck on a lead. How do you know what’s going on in his mind, what information he is gathering through his awesome sense of smell, canine communication skills, and reading abilities? People, looming down from a great high is intimidating and a dog will react by jumping up or giving space.

Interacting off the lead with the same age, nice dogs and strangers (anyone not living in your home) that let the dog sniff and suss them out, not smother them with human affection, or letting them interact with over-exuberant dogs with little regard for personal space. Gentle introductions with supervision, people kneeling down so pups can come and investigate. A simple low key, interaction.

So back on to lead walking and how to make it happen. It takes time, patience and moving forward slowly to low stimulus areas, building up slowly as the pup gets older or as the adult gets it. If you struggle in a new area, return to the previous area and consolidate learning. Move at your dog’s learning abilities and your teaching abilities and not human expectations are key to success.

• Start off the lead in the house, there are fewer distractions here so it should be more straightforward, then when this is good progress to the garden. There is no time limit to getting it right. Be patient.
• The learning process needs to be more about how you do it than any lead or harness. Get your encouraging, calm body language right and your dog will follow.
• Look to your dog, you are interacting with him, so when he glances up he is immediately rewarded with your kind and happy face. Walk backwards, have a toy with you, make yourself interesting.
• If he jumps up, stop, make no eye contact and don’t speak. calm emotion and positive thought. Walk into your dog to brush him off back on to four paws.
• When your dog is calm continue. However, do not step towards the same direction, step right or left or even back away.
• With some personalities, you will have to be more exuberant and others much calmer.
• Praise is calm to keep the dog in the right zone for learning.
• I’m not a great fan of constant treat’s. My preference is the odd food reward but the best reward of all has to be you. We want our dogs to be with you because of you, not food.
• Short and sweet lessons. If he loses focus, call him back and have another go. It’s not his fault, he may feel stressed and need a break. Always end on a good note.
• Move to on lead in house and garden, taking it slow, still within the boundary. At least 4 times a day building on time gradually as you and he gets better. Go at their learning speed.
• When at heel give reward and praise regularly. If he goes in front, stop, rest, then back away or get his attention by touching his bottom, or turning into him to move with you. Reward and praise when back with you. You may have to walk backwards initially so you keep great eye contact and engagement.
• Test your dog out, stop every now and again, if your dog is logged on to you, he will stop also, praise him. If however, he carries on, let him, he will stop when he gets to the end of the lead. You call your dog to you and begin again.
• Testing the stop is as important as walking.
• Try just moving one foot forward and stop. Just because you’ve done A doesn’t mean B is going to happen, this will focus your dog on to you.
• Progress further outside boundary as able Short and sweet get it right, too long you’ll get it wrong.
• Have fun, be fun AND ANIMATED with a quiet dog and cool calm with long vowel sounds for a reactive dog…. get his attention.
• With a bouncy dog, you will have to be quieter but still interesting.
• Do not go the same way every time, do not be predictable.
• Be “Relaxed” at every stage, if you lose your dog’s focus, go back to where you had it and begin again.
• Be prepared to call a walk off if you are not getting this feeling after 3 or 4 attempts.
• If you have a dog that runs and doesn’t come back, do not let off lead until you have complete “Relaxed and focused dog where ever you go on lead. Whether on a short or long line.
• When you do let off a short lead, have a long line to make you feel more confident, so he does not recall immediately and you can reel in. Do short line work for a couple of minutes, then have another go.
• You can play follow me on the long line, just walk off at 90 degrees and if your dog is logged on he will turn and move in your direction.

• Be inviting and fun when he comes to you.
• Remember a walk does not have to mean a hike, play en route, give time for standing and staring at your surroundings and sniffy time for your dog. . •Finding hidden toys together.
• Make a walk about you and him and the rest will become just things you pass.
If you think “problem” invariably there will be a problem. Walk away from your dog’s fears before he reacts big time. A small stop, ears pricked or mini sinking pose, walk away at 90 degrees.

What we have to remember is that dogs don’t do close proximity and communal territory nowadays. Where ever you walk constantly gives the dog the opportunity to mark and mark. That place is yours and theirs so if you have an issue walking out from home, practice at home and in the garden and begin your other walking elsewhere. If you don’t have a car, maybe a friend would be of help and have your best interests at heart.

Many dogs are better walking home than away from home, so you never know by walking initially in places you’ve never been before then moving on to walking back to home when your dog is showing trust towards your decisions, then give it a go. Have a get out route if needed.

If you have a reactive dog (by reactive I’m not only looking at aggressive, barking and lunging displays, but also nervous reactions also) then do not walk on lanes where you have no 90-degree ability to leave the area.

If you have a lunging, barking or aggressive reaction from your dog for anything, then it would also be worth investing time in helping him relax at home and addressing the other issues from the safe boundaries.


A calm, kind, assertive decision when required is paramount.

Written by Caroline Spencer.

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