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Tips for Caring for a Leash Reactive Dog

Community Manager
Community Manager
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Occasionally, a dog in your care may be reactive and overreact to stimuli they encounter on walks. So what do you do if the sweet dog in your care barks and lunges on leash? Whether they are uncomfortable around people, bicycles, or other dogs, a reactive dog can have a great walk if you follow these tips.

Get the Details

Before your stay or walk begins, talk to the owner. They will know how to best guide you through caring for their reactive dog and can leave you detailed instructions. Be sure to ask about the dog’s threshold—or how close they can be to a trigger—prior to the stay or walk. Some dogs may not react until they are right next to the thing they are afraid of, while others may react at a very great distance. With a reactive dog, being prepared is key!

Keep Calm and Walk On

The more agitated you are, the more agitated the dog in your care will become. Take deep breaths and even send the dog some calming signals, like yawning, to let them know that they don’t need to be uncomfortable. Keep leashes as loose as possible, as a tight leash can signal to a dog that something is wrong. 


Bring High Value Treats

When you’re working with a reactive dog, giving them stale dog treats or ordinary kibble won’t do. Instead, arm yourself with high-value treats a dog would love, like cheese or hot dog pieces. While out on a walk and you see the trigger from a distance, immediately reward the dog before they start reacting. When the trigger is out of sight, stop giving them treats. Tip: be sure to check with the owner about their dog’s diet and what treats they like best.

Use “U-Turns”

Need to get out of a sticky situation? Use a U-turn! If you see something that you don’t want to pass, ask the dog to turn back around with you. Once you are facing away from the trigger, you can create some distance by jogging in the opposite direction. If the dog doesn’t want to turn, you can lure them with those high-value treats. You can even practice U-turns when the trigger isn’t present, so that the dog begins to understand that they should focus on you. 

Walk at Quieter Times

One way to have a more peaceful walk with a reactive dog is to avoid triggers entirely. By walking at less busy times of day, you and your canine client can relax without fear of running into a trigger at every corner. Ask the pet owners about what time of day they typically walk. Chances are they know the best times to go out!

A little patience goes a long way in helping an unsure dog feel comfortable in any situation. By providing excellent care to even the most challenging dogs, you’ll boost your reputation as a great pet sitter or dog walker, and keep your human clients happy. 


During morning residential neighborhood walks, when meeting other dog walkers, one of us always crosses the street to the other side.  The owners/dog walkers and I wave to each other but keep our dogs moving on the opposite side of the street.

Dog fanatic

This excellent advice! My dog reacts to certain color pichup trucks and beach carts, that he associated with carring a dog in the past. He will lung excessively. I occassionly use the u-turn advice, but most of the time I have him sit and wait for the vehicle to pass us and then reward him with a treat and continue the walk.

Dog fanatic

Great advice! My personal dog is the most reactive dog I have to walk ;) he will flip out at any dog we meet within a half a block distance even at 12 years old. The weirdest thing is it’s only when we are on a leash. I always use the U-Turn and if we get cornered I just calmly wait it out and try to distract him with treats however he rarely will take them. A tip I have for people- gentle leaders are great for keeping control, and having your dog sit or lie down and wait for the stimuli to pass if you can’t avoid. Remain calm even when everyone is looking at you like you have a wild beast!