Dog Walking Tips: What to Bring on a Dog Walk with Your Reactive Dog
Step 25 of 25 in the Dogly Reactivity Channel
with Karen Chapdelaine of TheTimelessDog, Training Advocate

If there's a secret to reducing stress and maximizing joy with our dogs, reactive or not, it's setting them up for success in all things, including on walks.

As the dog mom and guardian of a reactive dog, I know personally as well as professionally how stressful everyday things like dog walks can be for many dog owners. Knowing what to bring on a dog walk with your reactive dog can make all the difference in creating enjoyable and positive experiences for both you and your dog.

When you venture out to walk your dog, if you're prepared for any of the "what ifs" you can feel so much more confident that you can handle anything you encounter - from other dogs to skateboards.

And when you feel confident, your dog is more likely to feel more confident as well.

Dogs intuitively "hear" our feelings through the leash, our body language, tone of voice, and thoughts. Since we know most reactive dogs are reacting out of fear and uncertainty to triggers, it's exponentially more important that we make sure we are prepped and confident when walking our dog. It's a cycle - we influence each other, whether consciously or not. And that's why knowing these dog walking tips ahead of time is so important.


How to set yourself up for successful dog walks by being prepared

Anytime you go for a walk, job number one is always to keep your dog safe and under threshold. Knowing you're set up to have that covered when you walk your dog, you can both enjoy your dog's walk and each other!

Every time you walk your dog - even if popping out for a short one - these are my top dog walking tips and must-brings when walking your dog.

You can also watch me talk through and explain these dog walking must-haves - and meet CJ - on the accompanying video below.

7 items I carry with me on every single dog walk:

1) Harness - a safe, durable front-clip harness

A harness should always be used for dog walks - rather than a collar of any kind which puts unhealthy strain on your dog's neck with even slight dog pulling and can cause injury as well as serious medical problems over time. A harness distributes the weight of any pulling across your dog's shoulders and body with no pressure on your dog's neck. It also avoids the danger of a reactive dog slipping out a collar in a stressful moment.

I recommend a front-clip harness for the greatest ease if your dog pulls. You'll have more control and you and your dog will feel more naturally in sync with each other with a harness. You can also find dual-clip harnesses with a leash clip on both the front and the top of the back so use what works best for you. Here's a favorite harness with the dual-clip option.

Always be sure any equipment you use is designed for completely positive reinforcement; never use aversive things like prong collars or choke chains that only make your dog's reactivity issues worse in the long run - and damage the trust and bond between you.

2) Leash - traditional only (not a retractable leash)

You'll want a traditional leash, avoid retractable leashes which can be dangerous to both you and your dog, causing burns and serious incidents. A traditional leash allows you to maintain control of your dog when walking.

You can use the regular 6-foot length leash or a long line leash - about 20-25 ft to give your dog more freedom and make it easier to let your dog sniff - as I do with my dog CJ.

Try this

  • Try a 20-25 ft regular leash - it's the same as the classic 6-foot leash but gives you the option to keep it close or let it out when appropriate.
  • Keep the long leash close to start (the usual 4-6 feet length), then you can gradually let your dog's leash out, where it's safe and to whatever length is safe, to give your dog the freedom on a loose leash to go sniff and be a dog.

Freedom to sniff and be more dog is healthy and calming for all dogs and especially beneficial for reactive dogs.


3) Treat bag

You want your hands free and to have quick, easy access to your treats. As you train your dog and celebrate all the good behavior, a treat bag eliminates any fumbling and makes it easy to be a smooth professional at giving positive reinforcement to your dog in the moment.

You can get a basic, sturdy dog treat bag like this one or use a small bag/purse you already have that is dedicated to carrying treats and poop bags.

4) Treats - plenty of them and high value to your dog

Always have plenty of treats - even for a short walk. You never know what's going to come up that could be made less threatening, more comforting, or a positive learning experience with a profusion of treats. Even if your walk is short, you never want to risk running short on treats!

You also want to keep in mind that for a reactive dog, depending on what you encounter, a walk can have high stress moments and staying calm can be a big ask. Make sure your treats are high value - something your dog LOVES that isn't doled out every day for just anything.

Try this

  • Include more than one kind of high value treat in your treat bag.

I always use 2-3 different types of high value treats so my dog stays interested and doesn't begin to see a treat as routine. Keep that element of delight to always be more interesting than any perceived threat to your dog.

Note for all your dog's walks:

Consistency and knowing what to expect are essential for dogs in dog training and that includes walks, of course. You'll want to make sure any family members, dog walker, or even a friend who might dog sit know your dog walking routines like walking in non-busy areas, no dog park, etc and how you support your dog with cues, treats, etc to keep your dog comfortable and training progressing!

5) Umbrella - a portable visual barrier when you need it

I know this may sound like an unusual dog walking tip, and something you might not have considered. Knowing how useful and effective a visual barrier can be when some scary thing is coming into a reactive dog's line of sight, I bring a compact, folding umbrella as my portable barrier on every walk. It's small, easy to bring along and to open.

How many times have you tried to use your body to block something in your dog's sight line until it passed or you could move away? This gives you a much wider, larger visual block that's easily movable as the "threat" moves in your dog's view.

Try this

  • Get a compact, expandable umbrella and practice first at home with your dog before you take it on the road.
  • Open and close it several times around your dog so you get used to being smooth with the mechanism and your dog gets used to the sound and sight of it opening.
  • Practice moving it around your dog to block various visual angles. You can see how instead of just your body block, you'll have all this additional real estate to cover your dog's line of sight.

And you're ready to include it on your next walk.


6) Spray Shield - a last resort item, insurance I've never actually used

This is a last resort, last ditch item to bring in case of a true emergency. I've never had to use it but good to be confident you have an option in a dangerous situation. Spray Shield essentially functions like a pepper spray but it's harmless, using only the strong smell of citronella in a spray as a deterrent. It's the last, last thing you would use after you've tried all other options when another dog is actively charging you off leash and clearly aggressive to make sure your dog is safe.

Again, truly a last resort and something I hope you will never need to use but good to have in your backpocket for your dog's safety.

And, of course, at #7: poop bags.

Poop bags have nothing to do with reactivity but obviously a dog walking must-have for general purposes. Actually, amending that thought. Have you ever spent precious moments focusing on digging in your pockets to see if you remembered that extra poop bag you now need while a dog or bike suddenly appeared to spook your dog?

Having these things with you can make you feel more confident which ultimately allows you and your dog to be more relaxed and enjoy your walk, which after all is the point!

Pack your bag, grab your leash and you and your dog are ready for a successful walk!

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Next up in the Reactivity Channel on Dogly

Every step you take to build your and your dog's confidence on walks is setting the foundation for all your happy time together going forward. Check out what's next for more important dog walking tips here in Dogly's Reactivity Channel to help make walking your dog the simple joy it can be for both of you!

If you have any questions on leash reactivity or would like to share your experiences with helping your reactive dog, jump into our Community Discussion. Continue in our Reactivity Channel where you'll learn everything you need to know for your dog from our community of Dogly Training Advocates.

If you ever need more individualized guidance, get started in your dog's training plan here.

Karen Chapdelaine of TheTimelessDog

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Karen because she helps us live life with our dogs in a way that's rewarding, calm, and happy - and does it with empathy.

Karen guides you

Aggression - Basic Manners - Marker Training - Enrichment - Leash Manners - Reactivity

Karen is certified

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) - Fear Free Certified - DN-CET (DogNostic - Canine Enrichment Technician)