Leash Aggression in Dogs: Are We Trying To Put Out A Fire With Gasoline?

Posted on 11/16/15 327 Comments

I spent six days last week working from a beach house in Los Angeles, California. Hermosa Beach to be exact. It was an unbelievable week for many reasons. A big part of it was the people who were there with me. I have belonged to a small mastermind group for six years now. We get together in person three or four times a year and stay connected beyond that through an email group and through Facebook. We all run online businesses and are all “heart based entrepreneurs” who want to make the world a better place. I am the only “dog trainer” in our group which, I think, keeps it interesting for everyone. 🙂

working-at-beachLast week we rented a beach house as we were all going to a two day workshop so we decided to stay the week to hang out and work together.

The food, the beach, the learning, the weather and of course the company were all amazing however there was one thing that was somewhat disturbing for me.

Every morning when we sat down to work we would open our “beach doors” to bring the surf life into our living room. From where I sat I could look up and watch the beach volleyball players, the surf and the people walking the boardwalk (which was directly behind the yellow wall you can see in the picture above). Of course when I saw (or most times I heard) a dog I would stop work to take a look…if you are a dog lover away from home, that’s just what you do right? In addition to that, at least a part of each day I would go out on the deck, with no work in mind at all, just chillin’ and watching people and dogs.

It was awesome to see how many people got out to exercise their dogs each day! Dogs of all sizes out walking/jogging/roller blading/biking along side their people. So cool.  I guessed over the course of the week I saw at least 100 or more dogs.

 prongcollarThe thing that saddened me though was that of those 100 or so dogs maybe 10-15 were walked on a flat collar or harness. The rest were being walked on pinch/prong collars with the odd one on a choke chain. I didn’t see one single head halter being used over the entire week. Additionally, I noted that very few of these dogs could walk anywhere near another dog without aggressing at the end of the leash at that other dog…regardless of how close or far that dog was passing by. I can’t help but believe the trend of the prong collar is directly related to the trend of the aggression that I saw.

Now I am not writing this to be judgemental of those people. They are simply a product of those who are teaching them their dog training. I know this is a geographical thing and the “influencers” in that area. For example, if you walk down the streets of the small village where I live you will also see a lot of dogs being walked. The vast majority of these dogs are walked using one of three restraints either; 1. A head halter (I would guess close to 50% are on head halters).  2. A flat collar or 3. A harness. It is a rare occasion when I see a dog being walked on a prong collar here in Ancaster. I would like to think I have a small influence over this trend, but additionally, the largest school in our neighbourhood promotes head halters for all dogs that go through their programs.  Hence we see a lot of head halters on the streets of Ancaster because of the “influencers” in this area.

not guiltyIt stands to reason that the “influencers” in the Hermosa Beach area promote co-operation with a dog through pain or the threat of pain from the owner. Once you have that mindset, regardless of how much you love your dog, your first instinct is to control through intimidation. This is not only sad for the dogs but also sad for the owners and the relationship they are missing out on with their dogs.

Let’s go back to the example of the dogs on leash aggressing at other dogs.  What I observed was that in many cases the person walking the dog starts his “aggression” towards his dog almost before his dog starts. The owner sees the oncoming dog and then starts to “warn”  his own dog by getting a better grip on his leash. The dog is then given a pop back off of their front feet and a scolding from the owner the moment the growling/barking/lunging occurs..or shortly afterwards. The assumption of guilt and the punishing consequence is delivered at the moment the dog spies the other dog coming towards them.

The quote “Violence begins where knowledge ends” came to my mind frequently as I watched this interaction. Unsure how to make the dog behave, the only solution is to punish the dog.  In the case of dog aggression though, correcting the aggression is like trying to put out a fire by throwing gasoline on it.  Of course the flames are going to get bigger and stronger.  As will our dogs learn to become more intent on the act of aggressing.

A dog has a few ways they can communicate with us.  I would like to think I can read my dog’s minds but the truth is dogs can only communicate with us through their eyes, their posture including their tail, their movements, their breath, the lay of their fur, the way they hold their mouth and ears and finally their voice (whining, “talking,” growling or barking). The key is to learn the language your dog is speaking. To understand how they communicate.

Dogs are often “forced” to growl/bark or lunge because their cries for our help/protection from what they are worried about have gone unnoticed. Growling/lunging/barking/snapping is the dog escalating up the chain of communication. Well that is how it starts anyway. Once a dog learns that when another dog comes near, you are going to scold him then correct him your dog will learn he hates other dogs near by and will do his best to keep that other dog away (hence more growling/barking/snapping/lunging). Correcting the “growl” is telling your dog he has no right to be afraid. That if he shows fear you will meet his fear with violence.

The way I see it our job when raising dogs is all about creating confidence in the dog.  Confidence for those dogs to WANT to make the choices that we want them to make. So imagine if prong or chain or electric collars didn’t exist? What if rather than trying to “force” a dog to “get along” we focused on creating confidence in that dog to get him to choose appropriately? What would that look like?

First of all our goals while out for a walk would be about the dog rather than us. Rather than taking your dog for a 2 mile power walk down the boardwalk we would consider:

1. We wouldn’t choose the boardwalk where the dog has no outlet when worried. On the boardwalk there are three foot walls on either side of the walkway creating the perception of the dog being trapped inside this concrete walkway.

2. We wouldn’t try to get in our 2 mile power walk  but instead would focus on creating ten minutes of positive experiences for the dog. Ten minutes that would help to build trust between you and your dog and at the same time grow his confidence in that situation. At the end of the ten minutes (or less) you would break off for a game of fetch, tug or just a good old belly rub (for your dog :)).

3. The sole purpose of your walk would be for you to spot other dogs first. Every time you do you throw a handful of tasty treats on the ground in front of your dog and keep adding a new treat so he keeps his head down or focused on you until the other dog has passed. Yes you would do this regardless of the reaction of your dog towards the other.

Those three suggestions are a great step towards changing the experience of the walk for your dog. It gives your dog a chance to learn how to behave appropriately while enjoying time on a walk with you. It gives your dog the opportunity to not only tolerate but possibly even enjoy the sight of another dog nearby while out on his walk with you.

Scenario one: Your dog walking on the boardwalk in his view is “trapped” by two walls. When he sees another dog he knows first comes a scolding from you then comes a  pop where these metal nails dig into his neck.

Scenario two: Your dog has 10 minute sessions on an open path where he plays games to focus his attention on you and in addition to that gets handfuls of his favourite treats any time another dog comes near.

Which scenario gives the dog the opportunity to grow into the kind of the dog you would like him to be?

I would love to think as a community of dog lovers we can contribute to a world where dogs are not being “controlled” through pain or the threat of their owner “dominating” their choices.  Collectively we as dog lovers are the answer. It is all about educating and inspiring the “influencers” to want a better life for the dogs in their community or for that community to grow new influencers.

Today I am grateful for each of you out there influencing your own communities, regardless if it is just your family or friends. We can make a difference one dog owner at a time. Collectively we are the answer and today I am grateful to each of you who are inspired to be an example of growing confidence in your dog by providing choices, guidance and positive consequences.

 #DogsDeserveOurBest #OneDogOwnerAtATime

This is a great article that draws a parallel to what I am saying about punishment in dogs but in this article it is with respect to children. The bottom line here is “communication is the base of a healthy parent/child relationship.” The same is true for the relationship we have with our dogs …the difference is that many times our dog’s primary tool is to communicate their confidence or discomfort by way of how they use their body. Allow your dog to guide the choices you make for him so that he can learn to shine for you as your family’s pet.


*Note: As always I do welcome your comments to this post…even if you disagree with my point of view. However, I ask that all comments are respectful of others. I recognize that criticizing someone’s choices for their dogs is like criticizing how someone raises their children. This post was not written to give people a platform to defend their choices. It is simply meant to paint a picture of possibilities. Us dog owners can be a passionate group. However we are not going to inspire change through finger pointing and blame. We need to be tolerant of others current choices if we want to be given a chance to inspire them to consider different choices. Please be respectful when you comment.  I will delete any comments I believe are crossing the line of being courteous to others.

love beach


  1. Lynne Bockelman says:
    Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 4:57pm

    My view on prong collars is that they might still have their place on the right dog and in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing and why.

    However, I learned through decades of experience and watching other people make some very BAD mistakes that aggressive dogs should NEVER have a prong collar on. These dogs interpret the jerk of a prong collar as another dog biting them, and they become more and more aggressive towards people and other dogs approaching them. Even worse is the pet owner who uses the prong collar to hold his dog back continuously.

    I started training for AKC obedience competition in the 1970’s using old-school leash jerks for “correction”, with lots praise thrown in for good behavior. Back in those days, “food trainers” were looked down on by the “real trainers” because the performance of their dogs was often unreliable. But even then, I was always a huge fan of puppy training with all positive methods and food. If you prevent problems before they start, you don’t have any problems that could ever need to be “punished”!

    And now, my Sheltie and I are really enjoying the newer methods that Garrett and others are teaching. Echo has a blast in Agility and sheep herding – even though the sheep herding people sometimes look down on my food rewards… Circle of life, eh? You CAN teach an old dog and an old trainer new tricks! Thanks, Susan!


  2. Sarah says:
    Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 12:09pm

    I am looking for a new member of our family. The Billie rescue has an 11 mo. old collie who had been left in the backyard pretty much all the time b/c he nipped and jumped. (Owners had small children). I went to observe and meet this beautiful puppy. Most of her issues I believe are workable with my circumstances (my elderly mother lives with us and I have young grandchildren ). However walking on leash (the foster family use a prong as per the trainer sent by the rescue) is of deep concern to me. The puppy lunges and barks (not growls) at anything that passes going in any direction, even yards away. That includes another dog, a jogger, children standing in front yard with a scooter, etc. When reacting, it’s as if the dog’s brain hears and sees nothing else. What do you recommend ?


  3. Marie says:
    Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 10:10pm

    I’m going to add the comment for other commenters that it is incredibly important to develop an understanding of the reactivity (I’m not even going to call it aggression). I have a large dog who could easily be labeled as leash aggressive, but a bit of more careful thought has led to the conclusion that she is actually very fearful of larger or dark dogs, which can then lead to aggression if they get in her space. This easily appears to be leash aggression on a walk but using a desensitization and distraction plan wouldn’t (didn’t) work in close quarters. Instead, we’re doing very controlled long distance exposure where she feels as little stress as possible and can learn to relax and feel safe. It’s making a difference, but will be a slow process and requires a long-term mindset. For management purposes, I have a head halter (vet visits and the like), have taught her to sit tucked between my legs doing hand touches (passing at longer distances like 3-4 meters), and am generally prepared to drop a coat over her if an off-lead dog approached us (which is really just distraction but keeps her behaviors from triggering other dogs). If my aim were better, I’d fling the coat over the off-lead dog. At least those dogs were on lead?


  4. Lisa says:
    Sunday, December 13, 2015 at 5:24pm

    I was initially taught to use a prong collar and continued this until he was almost 2yrs. Now at 4yrs we had to go back to prong about 5months ago. B has gotten more interested in other dogs and it has now turned into dominance and mild aggression toward some dogs especially if they bark or growl. He has always been extremely submissive lying down and licking other dogs muzzle He has been well behaved but others now call is actions “teenage” behavior. He is big and recently pulled me dwn and I fractured my elbow. This time with nothing to do with another dog he was startled and bolted. At Doggy day care they suggested a e collar but I am already uncomfortable with going back to forced control especially when he can pull and pull even when on the prong. I feel I would b possibly increasing the problem as he had been away from prong or other negative correction / reinforcements and did well until his ” discovery of other Doggy friends through Day Care. I have no way of knowing when that changed in his mind to a need to show dominance. I have given treats in the past for good behavior / greeting in the past but now he ignores treats. Any other advice he is still on a prong collar at this time but he knows he can pull me so it doesn’t deter his anymore.


    • Mie says:
      Monday, December 14, 2015 at 4:13pm

      I had a leash reactive dog that could pull me over if she wanted to big enough to do damage to me and another dog. I didn’t use a prong, choke or facial halti, I used my voice and a harness. I learnt to understand her and comfort her when she needed it. To allow her to escape a situation or make the right decision. If I got too close I would move on and quickly, she never pulled me off my feet and never damaged another dog, I didn’t let her.

      Tools are the lazy way to teach your dog, using highly advanced body language skills and voice you get far better results that last.


    • ~Trainer says:
      Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 2:42pm

      Hi Lisa, I understand how difficult this is. Dogs who experience more and more stress as well as over-arousing situations (like daycare) often have their behaviors towards dogs change drastically during their teenage years (up to 4 years old for larger breeds), so it makes sense that his behaviors are getting worse.

      He is not acting out of “dominance,” but likely out of fear, so I would recommend that you work with a positive trainer or behavior consultant, a certified applied animal behaviorist, or even a veterinary behaviorist (advanced degree). They can give you a full, in-person evaluation with a very detailed treatment plan to help your dog feel more comfortable around other dogs and be safe. This is a common problem for dogs and they will be able to give you expert advice (and no prong or shock collars will be used). Do a search for one in your area (these are certified individuals who utilize positive methods):
      * for certified dog trainers, http://www.ccpdt.org/dog-owners/certified-dog-trainer-directory/, or https://positively.com/dog-training/find-a-trainer/find-a-vspdt-trainer/,
      * for certified behavior consultants, https://iaabc.org/consultants, or http://www.ccpdt.org/certification/dog-behavior-consultant/;
      * for certified applied animal behaviorists, http://www.animalbehaviorsociety.org/web/applied-behavior-caab-directory.php
      * for board-certified veterinary behaviorists, http://www.dacvb.org/about/member-directory.

      Some initial recommendations are to reconsider taking your dog to this daycare; if they are recommending shock collars, they might not be aware that causing pain and fear in an animal with a shock collar can make the problem much worse and can trigger aggression. I would not trust my own dog to go to daycare with anyone who believes in these methods (it’s too dangerous).

      Daycare is likely too intimidating for your dog in general, so finding other ways for him to get exercise and to socialize with 1 or 2 other calm, friendly (not intimidating) dogs would be perfect (try arranging a backyard playdate with friends or neighbors who have friendly dogs).

      Feeding treats whenever he sees other dogs on a leash (as you mentioned) is very important. The dog training and behavior tips on Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively” website are wonderful–and they are free! Here are two on “leash reactivity” (search the site for several more): https://positively.com/dog-behavior/aggression/leash-aggression/ and https://positively.com/victorias-blog/choice-training-working-with-a-leash-reactive-dog/.

      You can use Victoria’s helpful video tutorials to train your dog’s basic cues: https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/. The cue “Watch Me” is really useful for reactive dogs.

      The clever illustrations done by Lili Chin on dog behavior often cover issues of reactivity and fear, and show the training steps that your trainer will help you and your dog soon become very good at doing around other dogs: http://www.doggiedrawings.net/#!freeposters/ckm8 and http://www.doggiedrawings.net/#!infographics/c24ef.

      Remember, just one evaluation/session with a certified trainer or behaviorist will get you on the road to improvement with your dog. That it is a very wise investment if you’re noticing fear and reactivity. They will teach you helpful techniques, and you can practice them every day on walks. Then you have the option of doing additional training sessions as you have the time and resources available.

      Thanks so much for writing on this page for help–you’re doing the right thing because it’s important to address reactivity as early as possible to make the fastest progress.

      Best wishes to you and your dog! Let us know how it goes! 🙂


  5. leah says:
    Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 3:31pm

    Hi Susan!!
    I just launched my website (www.themoderntraveler.com) and you’ve been on my mind. I promised I’d send you an email when I launched, but I can’t find your address on your website. Please let me know next time you are in the Pacific NW if you’d like to meet up. (I think I’m headed to Victoria this month).

    Also, I enjoyed building my website so much, I’m going to start building sites for people. Let me know if you know anyone who needs a new site. And thank you again for the positive energy/inspiration.

    Meeting you was one of the highlights of my time in Sedona, you are fabulous!! Hope you have a wonderful holiday.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 11:42pm

      Thank you Leah! Congratulations on your new website, it looks amazing!


  6. kathleen says:
    Friday, December 4, 2015 at 12:52pm

    I don’t believe in a whole scale condemnation of prong collars. Some dogs have the power to drag their owners or pull them over, and something has to be done to level the playing field. And the assumption that the handler will jerk on it is unwarranted. A prong can almost instantly persuade a dog not to “hang” on the leash, without there being any abuse involved. What distresses me is when anyone makes statements about the treatment of dogs which threatens their ‘getting by’ in life. Some owners may be forced to ‘place’ a dog rather than implement a solution that draws such criticism. (That applies to de-barking as well. Although I doubt anyone thinks de-barking is a ‘wonderful’ alternative to the barking which can get a person evicted. Do you really want to deny a home to that barking dog?) Please keep that in mind!


  7. Wendy A says:
    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 11:21pm

    Oh Synchronicity, I love it. This morning before I read your post, my dog and I met a local and her dog off lead on a pathway. As soon as her dog was put on lead..you guessed it. I handed her some treats and ran a 3 minute session with my dog on-leash near by. Voila, good improvement and she is interested in learning more. As the saying goes – one dog at a time. I am proud to have helped one dog and one owner today.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, December 4, 2015 at 12:04am

      Brilliant Wendy! Thanks for circling back with an update! <3


  8. Monty says:
    Friday, November 27, 2015 at 12:38am

    What would happen if we pushed the dog from behind towards the distraction. Would the opposition reflex work in reverse and make the dog want to come back to us?
    I am always hopeful!! 🙂


  9. Savannah says:
    Thursday, November 26, 2015 at 11:49pm

    Interesting one. If you’ve ever had a leash reactive dog, you have probably experienced the same feeling of dread that I did before going on a walk. My dog, Penny, was attacked on-leash by an off-leash dog on a hiking trail, and as an already anxious and insecure dog, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I now had on my hands an otherwise perfectly human and dog-friendly dog who turned into Cujo when she was attached to a leash.

    I quickly grew tired of trying to avoid contact with all living creatures on walks, and I was determined to help Penny enjoy her walks again. Flash forward a few years and I now have a completely different dog on my hands. She’s not completely perfect on walks, and never will be, but she is completely manageable and we can now enjoy our time outside together.


  10. Virginia H says:
    Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 5:40pm

    Interesting idea. I have some reactive dogs that at this point, I just don’t trust and so they don’t get a chance to find a doggie playmate. It is my fear.
    I do several things that I believe came from Control Unleashed about trying to hold their attention and rewarding them for it. Last week, at a Rally practice, my young prospect litterally stiffened his whole body and fixed on this Chessy that came by and then her owner stopped to chat with folks nearby our chair. I couldn’t get him to look away and wound up touching his side several times, maybe even a bit of a poke, and getting him to refocus on me. Wasn’t 100 percent successful or solution but even when that dog walked back past us within 2 ft., there were no real issues after that. I would like to be able to trust this little guy completely though at some point. I can’t help my expectations that he will react the same again in the future. So where do I find my trust?


  11. Marsha Nix says:
    Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 4:38pm

    Off topic question- I was curious about the white dog in your photo. Is he/she a Feist dog? Just wondered because our dog was a rescue from Georgia and is deaf. She is training in agility and doing well.


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 7:30pm

      The white dog in the photo is my dog “DeCaff”. She is 3/4 Jack Russell Terrier and 1/4 Border Collie.


  12. Marsha Nix says:
    Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 4:31pm

    I have an Ausssie who has always been uneasy around other dogs. When we trial, I always carry a few treats while we are waiting for our turn to run the agility course. I put my finger on my nose and ask him to “watch me” . If other handlers are oblivious and get to close I will move away and explain that he gets nervous around other dogs.


  13. Lorraine Simpson says:
    Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 11:35am

    I have 2 Standard Poodles at the present moment – Sarah who is 7 and is very friendly and outgoing. The other one is Nikki who is 5. and has had to have a lot of confidence building from day one.
    When I take them for a walk, I walk them on a Martindale collar. When another dog comes towards us I either put them in a drop, sit or stand stay. Until the other dog walks pass.
    Most cases the person coming towards me with there dog says thank you. I also do the same when people are walking, running or cycling.
    When I take them to obedience training they wear a correction collar but have never used this for correction.
    Agility training they wear a fixed collar.
    Tracking they wear a harness.
    I only let Nikki off – free running in an enclosed area as she chases, birds and rabbits. I would not be game to take her off lead near cars.
    They have different collars, depending on what they are going to do.
    I take them for there walks together.
    I think when Nikki was a puppy I should have done more walking on her own as I feel she depends on Sarah too much.


  14. Julie says:
    Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 1:59pm

    Thank you! I have a rescue dog that is very reactive on leash – off leash he is great. I know I put tension on the leash when I see another dog even though I try not to. It is nice to get some practical & concise instruction on how to deal with it.


  15. Carolyn Hancock says:
    Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 1:37pm

    Thank you so much for posting this info. regarding walking dogs in different situations. I have a Border Collie who is very friendly, but in situations with high energy like Agility trials….she can be over the top, but your article has helped me to know what I need to do to alleviate her stress and mine too.


  16. Chantelle Henocq says:
    Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 11:45am

    It can’t just be luck! I’ve just come home from taking my anxious reactive dog out over Ham hill (dog walkers paradise in Somerset uk) He usually reacts to most dogs which resulted in me being anxious when walking him. So after Paula (my dog trainer http://www.poeticpawsdogtraining.co.uk) pointing me in the right direction and to read this article I put it into practice. Wow what a response. He was amazing and I had delicious rewards and just called him back when other dogs approached and a fed him. He did not react, not even when I had a unruly dog jumping up at me by the gate. I am so proud of him and myself. I feel if this carries on I may get my old pup back and we can both enjoy going out for walks again.
    Thank you.


    • Susan says:
      Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 11:59am

      Great report Chantelle!


    • Sue Walters says:
      Monday, November 23, 2015 at 1:30pm

      What a great story, well done both of you. Thanks for posting the link, my sister lives on Somerset and will be interested in trying website. Thank goodness we don’t have ‘prong collars’ in the Uk. I tend to see mostly halters, harnesses or flat collars.


  17. amy says:
    Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 8:14am

    I couldn’t agree with your post more. My dog and I walk twice a day. I never really considered it “my” walk. It has always been “his” walk, his time to sniff, learn, get mental stimulation and, of course, exercise. He is great around other dogs and loves his time off leash. I schedule my exercise for when he is done. Hey, you have commit time for your dog and for you.


  18. Susan H says:
    Friday, November 20, 2015 at 7:32pm

    When I adopted Crystal about 9 years ago, she was a wild pup on the leash and bit everyone and anything in sight. What worked for her was having her wear a harness and a Gentle Leader, each attached to a separate leash. In addition, I tied a sock to the end of one leash close to her muzzle, which she had in her mouth most of the time on our training walks. I asked people not to pet her or to bring their dogs close while we were working. I had a trainer come and look at her, too. It took us a few months of practice, but soon I could get her to sit and someone’s feet and then wait to be petted by them. Today she walks pretty well most of the time, unless a dog is loose (3x loose dogs came at us unexpectedly during training and I was knocked to the ground by them trying to hold on to my dog). However, if I stop to chat and Crystal sits and waits to be petted. She will sit calmly until I am ready to walk. I do keep an eye out for loose dogs though. Some owners sadly believe it is ok for their dog to be loose and have no idea what this does to dogs who are leashed and walking with their owners.


    • Cindy Larson says:
      Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 8:48am

      I always walk my dogs on leash. I feel you can never say never about kids or dogs. Some people say oh my dog is friendly but then one attacked my dog and my dog was not the aggressor. The other dog did damage to my dog both physically and mentally. I had to have stitches on my dogs head. Most places where We live there is a leash law but some don’t think it applies to them.


  19. Deb says:
    Friday, November 20, 2015 at 11:26am

    Great Post Susan!

    My observations though, being a cross-over trainer are that people don’t think they are ‘punishing’ their dogs using a prong collar (no concept of +P or +R), they just think the dog can be ‘controlled’ (won’t drag them down the street) and therefore safer, AND that the dog ‘behaves’ better with the prong as evidenced by less dragging, (although often not necessarily less outburst behavior). Also, with an already reactive dog that has not had good positive experiences around other dogs while on-leash, +R rehab training takes FOREVER and is really never done.

    So I really appreciated your point about not judging and educating instead! I also know that individual dogs are different and some tolerate and learn (not just suppress behavior) even with a prong collar – wish I had one of those kind of dogs – it would be faster!

    Alas I have adopted a 4 yr old with a history of leash frustration, am using a head halter. I’ve been at it for a year using all the methods you describe and while we have progress its an uphill battle and not nearly acceptable yet. But, since he had the same leash frustration with strangers, and now is delightful . . . I have confidence he will get there with dogs too – but the target is harder to control!

    People want fast fixes and most barely have time to exercise their dogs, let alone teach them to prevent or get over fears & frustrations. Dogs are not ‘yard ornaments’ – some people should have lovely statues of dogs for their yards or fire places, rather than living breathing dogs!

    Still, I also do what I can to educate and help people make better +R collar & reward choices for their dogs and for those who won’t or can’t, at least teach them how to use their crutches humanely and how to avoid side effects. Sigh,Deb


  20. Sarah Fulcher says:
    Friday, November 20, 2015 at 1:17am

    Hi Susan,

    In my area I see a very different trend. Not very many prong collars and yet, still a high percentage of dogs with issues while on leash. I see this issue with dogs walked on a wide variety of tools – head haters, flat collars, no pull harnesses, chain collars, and pinch collars. I notice absolutely zero correlation with any specific type of tool. I believe it has much more to do with lack of training and socualization. Frustrated dogs on any tool with poor leash handling on the part of the owner will create leash aggression. It is more the frustration than any particular tool from what I have seen.



  21. Georgia says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 9:41pm

    Hello Susan

    Thank you for that post, well worth reading. I have 2 Yorkshire terriers, both do agility, 1 is 5 years old and the other 10 years old. Since I had the 5 year old, the 10 year old has started to bark at other dogs walking by, so annoying, I have tried the distraction, but I really think the treat idea will work. so that is on my next mission.


  22. Cathie Jones says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 6:20pm

    Thank you for another thoughtful, well-written “lesson.” It isn’t fun to own an anxious dog. I’ve had one or two and still have no idea if it was something I did that caused their anxiety. I am always looking for ways to create confidence in my dogs.


  23. Nancy says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 3:28pm

    I have to wholeheartedly disagree that the prong is the source of the problem. I think the problems are improper use of tools, poor puppy training, and bad genetics.

    I have seen quite a few aggressive dogs on halters and head collars and I am concerned about a loss of control when I see a dog flopping around like a fish on these things.

    A neighbor with a nasty little welsh terrier has made great strides after all these kinder gentler techniques with many trainers failed her and we put her little terrier on a prong and worked together with obedience. No, I am not talking about giving a number 10 correction for a dog in kujo mode-no point at letting a dog get to that point and prong corrections at that point will only serve to escalate the behavior. While the dog is still not a sweety he knows to sit and stay put when he is told to.

    My own dog is a very pushy intact male GSD who has always had perfect dog manners and is so confident he pretty much ignores aggressive behavior by other dogs. I never exposed him to puppy play dates and controlled his interaction with known reliable adult dogs when he was growing up and always put myself between him and any obnoxious dogs when we were walking. Genetics and Proper puppy raising go a long way.

    I am going to make no apologies for using a properly fitted prong to keep him from pulling or giving a light correction for breaking an obedience command. My dog is by far the best behaved dog in the neighborhood and has to work offlead as a working cadaver dog……often with fenced or chained dogs (sometimes even loose dogs) in his search areas. Oh, yes, he is also a very lively happy soul.


    • Kristi says:
      Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 8:53pm

      Good for you, I am in agreement , throwing food at a dog is not always going to get you the results you want. I use a pinch collar for training and have had wonderful success. Well behaved happy dogs.


  24. Mary says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 12:06pm

    Hi Susan, What a great post. I had to read it because I have had this problem with my mini aussie, Molly. The problem had to be solved as I was showing her in agility, rally and some obedience. I have trained her using the method that you have described above when near dogs or crowded situations to get her attention and treat, treat, treat. We use to walk out of the hot areas with her going backwards sometimes because she was more focused on me and the treats. Now at she I can just say “here” and she will focus on me and ignore the other dogs. We have also attempted to teach her to be more dog friendly in a slow way. I would take her to a friends and let her get to know the dogs on her own schedule. She is now at time able to go and play with them. She will also tolerate smelling dogs at show but I am very cautious in the arena. Very happy to hear that you have found this successful as well. I have also learned not to tense up when I see other dogs in the vicinity. It took a while for me to learn that my tensing up was her first signal to become more aware and on guard herself. It surely has been worth the time and effort to transition her in this kind and loving way. Thanks for the awesome post.


  25. Kristi says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 12:00pm

    Many dogs like people don’t learn in exactly the same way . What works for one dog may not work for another. I find that introducing food contantly to achieve what I want is not alway successful. Just like a repairman has many tools to work with in his tool box so should I. I have used a training or prong collar with no ill effects. It is ment to apply pressure not dig into a dog as you have indicated. Watch a litter of puppies and their mother, there is a lot of parenting going on from momma and it is not alway positive. When she wants them to stop biting their siblings she doesn’t offer them food, she bites them! Puppies come to us having received consequences. Dogs and children need consequences in their lives or we know what happens to their behavior. Good luck with your methods, we are all after the same thing ultimately


    • Mike says:
      Saturday, November 28, 2015 at 11:43am

      Why do you think “puppy parents” use the “pain” (biting) method to discipline their “children”? Is it because they are not aware that they could achieve better results by trying to feed them? I’m not disagreeing with the article, I’m just curious.


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 7:35pm

      Kristi I have raised many litters…both Border Collies and Jack Russell Terriers. I have yet to have a bitch behave the way you describe. All of the “mothers” by withholding rewards..exactly as I have described. Yes there are some bitches that snap or snarl at their puppies…but that is not at all how my bitches have “taught” their puppies their lessons. I would suggest a prong collar would not work any better at controlling a dog than a flat collar if there was not pain involved. I am not judging…however please do not fool yourself…you are controlling the dog through pain or the threat of escalated pain…otherwise you would have no control.


  26. Lucie Dupertuis says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 1:40am

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for your blog. What you are writing is so true! My dog used to lunge and bark like crazy at dogs and motorbikes. He is big and strong and his behaviour was very frightening for other people in the street. I never used prong collars, but used to try to control him using a certain “dogs whisperer” method by giving him a firm pull on the collar whenever he would start barking or lunging. It never worked and our relationship deteriorated. Walks were very stressful and my dog was not progressing at all. I lost all my self-confidence as an owner, because I thought I was not able to be dominant enough. And my dog was avoiding me. That was a total fiasco!

    But then I discovered recallers, first on Youtube and then by registering to your online course. After 1 years, our relationship has totally changed. We have such a great complicity, and I can feel he trusts me completely. I used the method you describe. As soon as I see a dog I start to direct his focus on me and reinforce him for being calm. Now only the sound of my voice is enough to calm him down. He does not react on motorbikes at all and has made tremendous progress with dogs. And I have also progressed as a dog owner, I can now read his body language and understand immediately his level of stress and act accordingly. I feel much more self-confidence as a dog owner.

    This method requires patience and love, but it is worth it! I can only encourage other owners to use it, it works!



    • Susan says:
      Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 8:00am

      Thank you thank you Lucie. Thank you for your patience in trying to understand your dog better, thank you for your patience in allowing him to learn through reinforcement and thank you for taking the time to share your story of inspiration with others.


  27. Tonya says:
    Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 12:06am

    Dear Susan
    Thank you so very much for this article. I have an 18mo. old Belgian Sheepdog. I have been ill most of the summer so was a little behind on the training. I am going to use this method as I had resorted to the pinch collar in the past week to walk him as he pulled so much. He is not dog aggressive as a matter of fact other dogs in the neighborhood are aggressive towards him. I simply tell him to lie down while I talk to the neighbor. I love the fact that all the methods in your program have worked beautifully with all of my dogs and I’m sure this exercise will too and my dog will be a lot happier on walks.


  28. Jennifer says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:02pm

    Susan, it’s not possible to choose positive reinforcement pathway if you don’t know how. With a very active border collie, I found myself wondering what I was going to do with him. After 18 months of Puppy Peaks, Recallers and Handling360 we are having so much fun together – every day is a game day – only wished I’d know about this before, not just for my dogs but for raising children and interacting with people generally. It’s a life changer. Thank you


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 8:01am

      So very true Jennifer!It isn’t possible if others don’t know the way…we need to continue to grow the best “influencers” to show what is possible. Well done to you…you are now an influencer!


  29. Roslyn says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:54pm

    Dear Susan,

    Your posting above is very insightful and prompts me to ask for further guidance about dog walking. I have two dogs. Mollie who is 6.5 years old, is a Boarder Collie/Aussie mix and Emmie 5.5 years old, is a Boarder Collie/Cattle Dog. Since Mollie’s puppyhood, I have been struggling to learn how to break her of car agression and now, my younger dog has adopted this bad behavior. My dog trainer suggested the use of pincher collars, but I feel that this is cruel. Do you think that the halti head halter would work for me?

    I can take my girls for walks in the local woods for exercise and they love swimming and chasing balls at the park, without car agression.

    This week, I have stated taking them for 10 minute walks on our street and if no car appears we have a successful experience.

    Any suggestions?


    • Loreta says:
      Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 7:52am

      I have a 3 years old welsh corgi cardigan and right from the beginning he was car aggressive. I didn’t know how to break this habit, till I read somewhere a suggestion how to do it. At first I chose not a very busy street. When I saw car coming I asked him to sit and took a treat (something quite soft, not a hard cookie) from my pocket. After car passed and he was still sitting he got a treat. He was very quick to figure out that every passing car meants he will get a treat if not acting aggressively. Now when he sees car coming he will look straight at me till car passes by and then I will give him a treat – right now most of the times I use just a small kibble or even just a simple scratch behind the ear is good enough 🙂


  30. Tina Denman says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:00pm

    First, Susan, thank you so much for your wisdom and guidance. I have been an educator (in special education) – first as a teacher then an administrator for 25 years. I work with parents who need your wonderful advice! That being said, you have helped me SO much with my dogs! My boy dog, Barney, is my BABY. He is the light of my life. Problem is, he’s spoiled and has bad manners! His mom needs to do a better job :)…He loves everyone, wants to play with all dogs and is not at all aggressive. BUT…he jumps on people, is jealous of both my other dog and cat (just pushes them out of the way if I try to pet them), and so on. I’d love to hear something about stopping jumping in a non-punitive way!

    I avoided walking Barney because he was such a bad leash walker. I found a halter that works really well on him – it’s comfortable and doesn’t punish, pull or cause pain. I never use a flat collar to walk him – he just chokes himself. I will definitely try the treat trick! We walk at least 2X a day now!

    I have a tie out for the yard – It’s inside the house (I don’t have a fenced yard and a busy street), I clip it on him and he goes out (on the times I don’t walk him) – I also go out with him. It also lets him be outside with me if I’m working in the yard, etc. I have found that when dogs walk by, if I go over to him and get his attention quietly and pet him, he stops going crazy (he just wants to play, not aggressive, but he does bark)…wondering if tossing treats out would work too. Any advice there?

    Again, thank you so much! I have a new appreciation for both my dogs, and yes, my Maine Coon (who is bigger than my small dog)!


  31. Diana Kindred says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:55pm

    I lived in that area for 20+ years. I found your writing very informative. Thank you so much for writing it. Well said and I loved your ideas. I am also a dog trainer. I promote quality of life for families and their dogs. I hope others get the message that they to can have a well balanced family member if they will just use time and love not these kinds of collars.


  32. Cheryl Dean says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:40pm

    Thank you so much for writing this!
    I have a 16 month Balgian Malinois that had been severely abused and neglected with no socialization from the breaded that I got her from. Because of this she was very, very fearful of everything. I have had her for 6 months and sought the help of several “trainers” even one supposably specializing in Shepards and Malinois and their firm belief is that I should use a choker, prong, or shock collar. I asked them why they would even think to overcome fear with pain. I told them she had already had so much pain in her life and would never do that to her. I have tried several harnesses and flat collars and a gentle leader twice that she kept so tight while waking I was sure it must hurt her nose.
    I am now using a nicely padded harness which lead is in the front and this seems to be working better on our walks. This didn’t just happen over night, but with lost of love, patients, working on her fears and many a miles redirecting and going in circles. Nakia has a ways to go but has come so far in a shot time! I am also so thankful I happened on your Recallers and was able to become apart of that. ????


  33. Chris says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:24pm

    I’ve had big working dogs most of my life and I trained them with the “balanced” method. I used pinch collars because my trainers told me I wouldn’t be able to manage my dogs otherwise (I’m small, but my husband says with a big attitude!). They also told me that pinch collars were safer than choke collars because the chain restricts how much the prongs can close around a dog’s neck.

    I have a spirited 145 lb rescued Saint Bernard who is highly aroused around dogs. The pinch collar doesn’t work on him because when I try to reorient him to me he is still pulling and the prongs are pressing into his neck causing discomfort and escalating his arousal level with some negative conditioning to boot.. I’ve been dragged down gravel walkways. Not my idea of a good time.

    Then I started volunteering at the Humane Society in Seattle. The shelter provides classes on positive reinforcement training for all their volunteers who want to walk dogs. I am now a total proponent of aversive free dog training. I’ve read a ton of books on learning theory and their application, watched numerous videos and have even attended a couple of multi-day seminars.

    As for my Saint, I started training him with a head halter and I watch his body language as other dogs approach. I can easily reorient him to me with the halter before he targets and locks on the dog and in return he gets super high value treats. Now he turns and looks at me when we approach other dogs. It took a few months, but it works!! He’s happier and we are a much happier household in general with the stress level dialed back.

    With Recallers, I feel like I’ve been allowed into a secret society of dog enthusiasts who are trying to change the world for the good! Susan Recallers has taught me how to incorporate all that science that I’ve been studying into play and fun with my dogs (I have 2 others besides the Saint). Through your games I have found joy in training and am learning to be a better trainer. So thank you for being such a great role model. Sharing your knowledge and experiences (good and bad) has really helped me improve my relationship with my dogs. I will never go back – only forward!


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:18pm

      Wow Chris, thank you for writing. What a fantastic adventure, what an amazing person you have been for your dog. #Respect


  34. Lisa R says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:21pm

    HI Susan,
    Wonderful blog and comments! Here is my question..how can all this be translated to help a dog that is wary of children, either with fear or aggression,due to lack of exposure to them when a pup? I adopted a 2 yo Aussie who is quite worried about kids, and howls in their presence. She will “chill” if the older child offers my dog a treat and gives a simple command as I ask the child to do, but my sister just adopted a 7 month old aussie, who is wonderful, but has recently shown some aggressive tendencies to kids, and other times not. This has us both very concerned, as it is hard to ask a friend, relative or stranger to sacrifice their child so our beloved pet can learn to be ok with kids 🙂 Does what you wrote about leash aggression work for child de-sensitivation? I would welcome any and all comments, but don’t want to de-rail this blog if I am off-topic…maybe a good topic for the future? Thanks in advance!


  35. David Spence says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:21pm

    Dogs are like humans. There are all kinds. Like human kids, some are raised really well and a fair number are not. But, a dog is a dog. While we may see them as our children / friends, they sometimes see things differently than we do. Besides, a dog who loves you as much as you love your dog, if that dog senses something you, as a human may not (mistaken or not) that dog may act aggressively, if only in your interest. Sometimes it is a good idea to have your dog on some sort of restraint, especially when around strangers. I assume that you do see differences in dog breeds, as well. I always wanted to be able to let my dogs go with me without a restraint but I know that is not always the wisest course, for a variety of reasons. “My” dogs were always my children. But even well trained human children (few though they are) should not be without a “leash” at times. There is no Eden on earth for dogs or humans, I am afraid. I always chose very carefully where I would let my dogs walk with me off a leash. Sometimes, though it may have made me feel badly to restrain “my” dogs, that is the best choice. I always had BIG dogs and the choice of restraint depended on the environment. I was a good “parent,” but I was also a realist. Don’t always look down your nose at those using collars and leashes, please.


  36. Annie Warner says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 7:53pm

    My 2 Whippet boys are walked on 2 different types of collar depending on the situation.
    They have flat collars with their mobile no. embroidered on to it in large numbers, for general walking in safe places.
    At times though I use halti style collars as I have found that if for any reason they feel a little apprehensive or scared, a halti certainly seems to give a little more confidence.
    My older boy was attacked twice as a young dog within some 6 months, on one occasion as we were walking and he was on leash, on the second by dogs that lived in our street that jumped the fence and shook him by the neck causing severe damage but the halti has done wonders in restoring most of his confidence.
    My younger boy who is a re- home has only been with me for 6 months and came from a good breeder but located well out of town in the country and missed out on a lot of socialisation, he then was adopted by 2 different families and was returned by both….I am at a loss to know why as he is the sweetest boy and although a bit shy is settling in very well!


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