Should Your Reactive Dog Be Off Lead?
September 01, 2022
Reactive Dog Walking

No dog owner sets out to have a reactive dog, on the list of things we want for our dogs being a barking lunatic probably never made the cut. I sure as hell did not want a dog who thinks bikes, skateboards, scooters and suitcases on wheels are to be herded and barked at on sight.

But sometimes the dog we get brings a little extra to the table in the form of reactivity.

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour
How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

I am Suzanne Gould Professional Dog Trainer Specialising in Foreign Rescue Dogs and Reactive Dogs. I am also a Dynamic Dog Practitioner – quailfied to assess your dogs Gait and Posture to identify potential areas of pain or discomfort.

I specialise in rescued dogs because my own dogs have only ever been adopted they all came at different stages in their lives and handled the transition very differently to each other. I also wrote the book on bringing home a rescue dog – The Rescue Dog Rangers Roadmap, Your guide to transforming your rescue dog into a confident canine.

My 5th dog Ally arrived with me age 1 and turns out shes reactive, she wants to chase and herd bikes, skateboards, roller blades, suitcases on wheels and scooters – It was very hard for to adjust to her very crazy behaviour. So that set me on the path to understand reactivity and how to help a dog and their owner deal with it and get over it.

Problem Dog Training Edinburgh Rescue puppy Trainer Leith Professional Dog Trainer Costs Prices qualified

When the focus is strong… this is from my last Romanian dog Meet -up I held to help the dogs and their owners.

We all had a big play as well as do some group training.

This photo cracks me up… although my dog Erick isn’t a Romanian Rescue he was a honorary one for the day!

Reactive Dog – Should they be off lead?

But just because your dog reacts does that mean they should be forever confined to their lead?No Absolutely not. There are of course things to consider before letting your dog run free…

Wee Erin in the Video is a very Reactive Romanian Rescue and she is nailing her walking nicely skills as well as mastering her listening skills. She is building up her ability to do these around her triggers of strangers and dogs. This is the foundation for her to get off lead – listening and being calm.

You should always have more than one recall cue too. Come or Here is usually the one people commonly use, lets face it is boring and there is very little enthusiasm you can put into it.

I teach a different games that get dogs flying back to their humans, because this are fun and usually involve sniffing and finding treats it means the dogs are likely to turn away from the trigger they want to run and bark at.

My favorite game is Ready, Steady and I use this on my group dog walks too. The video on Portobello beach shows you an over excitable Labradoodle who shouts at strange dogs, a beagle and a Cyprus rescue dog who can charge at other dogs and bark non stop at them. Then there is my own dog Ally.

We were on the beach although with plenty of space there were several dogs around with their owners. I keep my dogs interested in me by playing ready steady… As soon as I shout Ready they come charging for me, because they know I am going to throw treats for them to chase and find when they reach me.

Check them all out in the video!

Location is all important. Its got to be suitable for your dog, so they aren’t faced with the trigger every second step or constantly exposed to them as that would push most dogs over the edge.

You may want to practice in a secure dog field first then start choosing quiet locations for to have mini practices.

The beach in my video was a great option, although there were still dogs about and bikes on the path next to the beach it afforded me with plenty of space that I could give the dogs their fun off lead.

Untitled design28 1

Get your FREE Copy of my ‘Reading Your Reactive Dog’ Ebook

Learn to understand your dogs body language and help them not to react.

Training Owners Of Reactive Dogs

When you’ve been handling a dog who is reactive for some time your instinct hold that lead tight and avoid everything becomes a second nature. Your anxiety and stress levels are probably through the roof when its time for a walk.

ALL of the owners I have worked with have had their confidence shattered by a reactive episode or several of them. Their anxiety around what their dog ‘might’ do is really high.

So its my job not only to help them train their dog but help them as an individual overcome a history of reactivity from their dog. Its VERY EASY for me to ignore the human element or tell an owner to get over their problems. But this approach doesn’t help in the long run.

Most of the time the dog will pick up the training pretty quick and we have to wait for the human to catch up. Undoing weeks, months or years of bad habits applies to human as well as the dog!

I always love it when we get to recall, not only is it my favourite thing to teach but the faces on the owners as I tell the drop the lead or let me hold the long line so they can keep moving forward on the walk. You can’t be serious?!?!? Yes I can because their dog knows it they just need to feel the confidence.

(Besides I am always ready to chase a wayward dog, but I haven’t needed too)

The recall games really do restore faith, trust and confidence in both the owner and the dog.

Bruce… Romanian Rescue

Isn’t he handsome! Bruce struggled when people when he first arrived, he was very wary of them and would bark if they tried to come too close. (It took him a while to warm to me and now I am his dog walker!)

This meant that his owners were reluctant to let him off lead, though they really wanted to as he loved playing with other dogs.

We worked on his anxieties and triggers, then when a good foundation had been established I showed them my recall games.

Bruce loved them and would play with me when we practiced. He gets off lead quite a bit now and every time I take him on group walks too. His anxiety is a long game when it comes to training but he gets some freedoms in the meantime.

Sotos…. Dog Reactive

Don’t let his face fool you, he isn’t innocent. He is an absolute diva at times.

Sotos was dog reactive on and off lead, most dogs he spotted he liked to bark and lunge at. (A small part may have been small dog syndrome!)

His owners have helped him create calm associations with dogs and have excellent management in place. But were reluctant to let him off lead…as soon as he spotted a dog he would be off like a rocket to bark at them.

One of my recall games Ready… really worked with Sotos. He can be called back even when he is in mid run to bark at a dog with this game!!!

So his owners get to enjoy their walks with him and Sotos gets to play and explore!


If you’d like to chat about training and behaviour options for you and your dog, book a free 30 minute call with me and we chat all things dog. CLICK HERE

Reactive Dog Edinburgh

Other Blogs to Check out to help with your dogs reactivity.

Is A Reactive Dog Just A Naughty Dog?

Reactive Dog Training Edinburgh – When Bikes and Runners are the Enemy

Training a reactive dog to be a calm dog in 8 weeks

Further Reading

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

How to Change Your Reactive Dogs Behaviour

Edinburgh Dog Behaviour - Reactive Dogs Reactivity happens for a reason. True Story, reactivity is never your dog being naughty its an important bit of information your dog is giving and it also gives your dog something that they need in that moment. Maybe their...

read more
How To Help Your Reactive Dog

How To Help Your Reactive Dog

Reactive Dog Training Edinburgh Tips To Help Your Dog Living and working in Leith, Edinburgh is hard work when you have a reactive and anxious dog, I should know I live with my own barking lunctic Ally in the heart of Leith. Ally is a 3 year old, Old English Sheepdog...

read more
Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

Dynamic Dog Case Study: Brodie

The problem isn't always straight forward, check out Brodie's Red Herrings. Brodie is a very handsome and playful Old English Sheepdog, his owners reached out to me over problems they were having, with Brodie growling and barking towards his family in the home, at...

read more