Stepping Stones to Calm and Confident Walks. A Chaining Game for Reconstructing Walks

This is a new game that I’ve developed to help people whose walk is an emotional crisis for their dog.

It’s for dogs that are manic, over-excited and over-reactive, making walks a nightmare. It’s for dogs that are scared or jumpy – or simply don’t want to go out at all.

Reconstructing the ‘walk’.

I have taken ideas from Janet Finlay and Leslie McDevitt Pattern Games, and from Bankhouse Barker’s circuit walks.

It’s all about transforming your dog walk into something quite different – not what the dog has been programmed to expect.

The Stepping Stones Game involves a sequence of actions for the dog, using his or her memory and also anticipation. Anticipation is a really good way of getting the dog’s attention and keeping it. It increases focus which in itself results in calmer behaviour.

Do you remember the game (you may not if you’re if you’re young) ‘I packed my bag and in it I put…..’? I used to play it with my children. One would say, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put (for instance) a toothbrush’. The next one, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put a toothbrush and a Mars bar’. The next one, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put a toothbrush, a Mars bar and a tortoise’ (as the game became silly).

You will build a chain of stepping stones with your dog, based on the same sort of thing.

The wildly excited dog

A dog that is wildly excited may jump up and grab the lead or grab you. He may be over-reactive to other dogs and people, She will very likely pull on lead. A wildly excited dog is experiencing an emotional storm and can’t cope. Any loose lead walking technique goes out the window.

The aim is for excited and over aroused dogs to begin their walk calmly.

The frightened dog

A dog that is terrified out on walks and perhaps very reluctant to go out, may due to fear also be over-reactive. This dog is also experiencing a kind of emotional nightmare. He/she simply feels very unsafe.

The aim is for the sacred dog to start out willingly and more confidently.

The convalescing dog

The third use of the Stepping Stone game is only indirectly to do with walks. It’s for dogs that can’t go for walks who are perhaps having to convalesce; it’s a really good enrichment memory game just for its own sake.

Okay, so this is this is roughly what you to do.

Like the saying ‘charity begins at home’, enjoyable walks begin at home also.

First of all list all the cues your dog knows. You might call them commands, I call them cues. Things like sit, lie down, paw, stay…… Now list the activities and games that your dog enjoys.

To start with have about 10 activities. All right, we may want to make it longer eventually but you don’t use them all at once you add them one at a time.

Here’s an example of links in a stepping stone chain. Your first one could be ‘count aloud taking five slow paces’. Then ‘take five slow paces and then sit’, then ‘take five slow paces, sit, stay for a couple of seconds, drop food’. Then ‘take five slow paces, sit, stay for a couple of seconds, drop food’ and a short game of tug’.

Build your stepping stones until it takes about 10 minutes and do it four or three times a day to get the sequence really learnt and established.

It goes without saying that over-excited dogs stepping stones won’t involve things that are too exciting, or fearful dogs anything that makes her/him uneasy.

The order of stepping stones remains the same, the route covered is variable

Your stepping stones stay in the same order always. It’s best to always add a new thing to the end only.

The ground you cover varies.

You begin only where the dog is most comfortable and calm. Your stepping stones go around the house and the garden, in as many rooms as you can. Vary the exact route each time.

Don’t push ahead too fast. When each step is learned and anticipated you add another stepping stone onto the end.

When your dog is ready, sometimes add walking just outside the front door to your random circuit. Come back in again to continue your chaining in the house and garden.

Harness, lead and other ‘walk triggers’

Two important things to add into your chain are putting on the harness and then a few activities later adding the lead. When you do come to open the front door you’re not having to stop put on the harness and lead.

Add in other ‘walk triggers’ like changing your shoes or picking up your keys.

If the dog is excited or scared when you go out of the door, spend more time in the house and garden before trying again – just opening the door but not going out this time.

Once you establish going out and coming straight back in again you can then gradually take your chaining a little bit further away from your house. Your neighbours may think you’re crazy but they might enjoy watching you as well!

Over time you will be eliminating a lot of the triggers which the dog associates with going out for a walk, causing excitement or fear. They will begin to mean something else, something not loaded with emotions of fear or excitement. You are reconstructing the walk.

It could mean you don’t do anything but this game with no walks at all for a while. It depends upon how severe your case is.

The choice of stepping stones themselves will depend upon a lot of things.

This is very general course. For each dog and his or humans, it’s going to be very individual. What the stepping stones consist of and where they lead is going to depend upon what sort of house they live in and what it’s like outside the house. It will depend on the dog’s emotions, temperament and personality.

It’s going to depend on a lot of things. Work out the best sequence of ‘stepping stones’ for your own dog and then take it slowly, adding one at a time.

Theo Stewart


About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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5 Responses to Stepping Stones to Calm and Confident Walks. A Chaining Game for Reconstructing Walks

  1. Lyn says:

    Excellent, as always, Theo xx


  2. Great ideas! I need to figure out a way to get Bogie to stay calm in the back seat of the car. He’s fine as long as hubby’s back there with him, but alone he tries to climb into the front seat. When he was younger, it was easy – I just put him in the travel crate. But he’s much bigger now and will chew on the seat belt. Aaarrrrggg


    • Theo Stewart says:

      Doesn’t the harness on the seatbelt hold him back?

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, I don’t have the type of harness that a seat belt can slide through. I have a “special” seatbelt that only clips to the d-ring on the back of his harness. Unfortunately, the seatbelt itself does not stay in the receptacle if he tugs at it or squirms in the seat. Truthfully, it is a piece of junk. It works fine for Ducky, but she settles down on the seat, and sometimes even goes to sleep. I’m just going to have to work with him. This boy is a Velcro dog.


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