Pre-Walk Activities To Decrease Reactive Behavior

reactive dogs Oct 25, 2021
Dog running with toy

 Does your dog lunge and bark on walks?  Do they pull you toward every interesting smell? In this week's video, I discuss some pre-walk activities that might reduce your dog's problem behaviors on the walk. 


What Are Pre-walk Activities?

Pre-walk activities are just activities you do with your dog before their walk.  You can start a list of potential pre-walk activities by answering these questions:

  • What does your dog enjoy? Any activity that your dog loves can work as a pre-walk activity. Some fun, energy-burning activities may include scent work, a dog play date, or a game of fetch/tug/flirt pole.
  • What do you have time to do right before your dog's walk? Pre-walk activities should take place just before the walk, without much of a break in between.


How to Choose a Pre-walk Activity:

 You can choose pre-walk activities to try randomly, but you might have more success with activities that could decrease your dog's motivation to "misbehave." 

In order to do this, watch your dog when they lunge, bark, etc. on a walk. What happens right afterward? If your dog pulls toward squirrels, does the squirrel run away? If your dog lunges at dogs, do they ever get to say "hi"?  These are potential reinforcers of your dog's problem behavior. 

Once you have some ideas of what your dog might be getting out of their problem behavior, you can test out related pre-walk activities.    For example, you might try Scent Work for a dog who drags you toward interesting smells.  For a dog who tries to chase squirrels on a walk, try a game with a flirt pole.  The goal is to try to reduce your dogs motivation to do those problem behaviors on the walk.  Why spend a bunch of energy lunging at squirrels, when you just got to chase the "prey" at the end of the flirt pole for 30 minutes? 

If you're not sure what a flirt pole is, or you're looking for other pre-walk activity ideas, check out our blog on alternatives to walks for suggestions.


How To Tell If It's Working

How will you know if your pre-walk activities are making your walks easier?  I recommend tracking your dog's problem behavior on walks in a spreadsheet or notebook.  Compare your dog's behavior on days when you didn't include pre-walk activities, to days when you did. Do you notice a reduction in problem behavior when you included a pre-walk activity?

I've made a simple free spreadsheet to help you track your dog's problem behavior with or without pre-walk activities. Grab it HERE! 

I hope these activities help in your training. If you're looking for more guidance with your reactive dog, check out our self-paced course for reactive dogs, the Reactive Dog Survival Guide. For a more personalized plan, sign up for private training


If you try out these activities and have success, or trouble, we want to hear from you.  Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or email us at [email protected]