Cytoplasmic dynein is involved in a multitude of essential cellular functions. Dynein's activity is controlled by the combinatorial action of several regulators. The molecular mechanism of this regulation is poorly understood. Using purified proteins, we reconstitute the regulation of the human dynein complex by three prominent regulators on dynamic microtubules in the presence of end binding proteins (EBs). We find that dynein can be in biochemically and functionally distinct pools: either passively tracking dynamic microtubule plus-ends in an EB-dependent manner or moving processively towards minus ends in an adaptor protein-dependent manner. Whereas both dynein pools share the dynactin complex, they have opposite preferences for binding other regulators, either the adaptor protein Bicaudal D2 (BicD2) or the multifunctional regulator Lisencephaly-1 (Lis1). Remarkably, dynactin, but not EBs, strongly biases motility initiation locally from microtubule plus ends by autonomous plus end recognition. BicD2 and Lis1 together control the overall efficiency of motility initiation. Our study provides insight into the mechanism of dynein activity regulation by dissecting the distinct functional contributions of the individual members of a dynein regulatory network.