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

Posted on 11/16/15 336 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. Patte says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:54am

    I have been using a prong on my newfy when walking as he can just give a lunge out of the blue…but I want to graduate him to a buckle collar as soon as possible…he is not aggressive …but a giant friendly dog that weighs 135 # is not always appreciated…I do use treats to get him to focus on me when we see other dogs…if their owner is willing…we do stop and let the dogs interact…I really like your idea of throwing the treats on the ground in front of him..i will try that also…also if anyone has any suggestions on stopping the sporadic lunging I would so appreciate it…


    • Scarlett says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:21am

      Have you tried using a head halter? They are really good for controlling big strong dogs.


      • Tucker-J says:
        Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:35pm

        Great suggestion. We have used head halters for our rescued Golden Retrievers. They are big boys (85# and 110#) and I can walk them both with one hand. I run with our four year old Golden and the halter works perfect, no pulling at all.

  2. Mary says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:51am

    I have a rescue dog . She is terrified to walk and to meet humans . She is ok with dogs as long as no humans around. Can u help me ? She has being abused by the breader .


    • LaDonna says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:12am

      When a dog is afraid (of anything) the best thing to do is treat the dog when it is near whatever is scary. We had a foster dog that had never been indoors before. She was afraid of everything in the house. We turned on the TV and threw treats on the ground near it until the dog was no longer shying away from it. We repeated this with everything in the house the made noises.

      When a dog is afraid of people, have neighbors, visitors, etc. drop treats on the ground for the dog. There should be no pressure for the dog to interact with the person. Other than dropping treats, the person should ignore the dog. Eventually, with lots of patience, the dog will realize that people aren’t so bad after all. People should not try to touch the dog until the dog approaches them and asks for attention.


  3. Sandy says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:49am

    Great article, love all the info I get from Susan Garret. Although I have fallen to training one way on my first dog I see how it has not helped. Now the 2nd dog I have trained more like your style, just wish I had more info and education before working with my first pup. Hope to see and learn more! Thank you.


    • CJ Dame says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:05am

      I have a related problem here – I live in a city and walk my dogs in my neighborhood on leash. My dogs are not reactive normally, unless they are being really actively threatened. We have issues with all the reactive dogs we seem to run across on walks. They range from small dogs like doxies to labs to pits. The are generally on prongs and some with harnesses as well. As soon as I see one that I know is reactive, I first try to avoid them by crossing the road, ducking behind a parked car, turning a corner if we are near one, etc. Then I give my dogs treats and lots of praise for ignoring the other dogs. At the same time, the other owner is typically yanking on, yelling at or otherwise unintentionally adding fuel to the fire. I have tried to model a better response with my dogs, but these folks were not following our example. I have even tried calling out in a friendly manner (loudly enough to be heard over their dogs’ vocalizing) that I have found throwing treats on the ground has worked for me. Without exception, the response has been that s/he will not “reward” their dogs for being aggressive. And so the punishment continues, the dogs’ behavior does not change. I have resorted to skulking around local cemeteries in the wee hours of the morning trying to avoid these creatures, since we just want to enjoy some calm, peaceful time together and not have all this drama. Sad.


    • Holly says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:34pm

      Sandy-there are many “cross over” trainers and handlers. You can move to more positive style of training anytime! Your dog will likely thank you for it.


  4. Karen Baxter says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:49am

    I have read through the comments and believe every person/trainer has their own experience to draw from. There are also studies done on all the tools mentioned here. The issue usually is not the tool used, but how the people use the tool. Gentle leaders can be unfair and dangerous tools if used incorrectly as can a prong collar.

    The bottom line in my opinion is that every tool has its merits and its disadvantages. Educating people and selecting a tool that is RIGHT for the dog is most important.


  5. Margaret Walker says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:49am

    For over thirty years I took a dog to school with me every day. Goldens, Westies, Border Collies, Shelties and White Shepherds.The children ( preschool to primary) enjoyed my dogs as companions and reading buddies. They learned to groom them, exercise them , water them and share space with them. In the process they learned to respect them, understand them and communicate with them. Frequently these young children taught their parents about dogs and even three and four year olds learned to handle dogs with care and consideration. My dogs went out to recess on flat collars and short leashes. They were comfortable walking among the shouting , running children and their space was respected. The interactions between dogs and children became a natural and easy one. Each was taught respect for the other. The children took it for granted that we do not need to hurt dogs to teach or live with them. This I believe is where the word needs to be spread and the seeds planted. Good Attitudes to dogs can be nurtured very early in life. Safety, management, communication and socialization is important at both ends of the leash and it is never too early to start spreading the word for everyone’s sake. Our dogs and our children will thank us for it.


  6. Pernilla says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:46am

    In Sweden, where I live, it’s not allowed. It’s considered animal cruelty and against the law to use or sell prongs or electrical collars. Great I think!


  7. cindi coccio says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:41am

    My girl wasn’t always great meeting other dog on a leash…..after lots of practice I never had to do a thing….she would see another dog and say “oh good time to go back to mom for a treat”…:-)


  8. Julie says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:40am

    If you are walking multiple dogs, be careful about throwing the treats on the ground. If you’ve got a food aggressive dog in the bunch, it’ll probably cause a fight. I’ve used the “toss treats on the ground” method when I’m walking only one dog.


  9. Ellie Fish says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:39am

    Enjoy your blog, came at a great time for me as I’m headed to FL with a new puppy to train to leash walk in a community where there are lots of untrained dogs walking. Looking forward to trying your method. Thanks


  10. Erica says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:39am

    I recently wrote a blog post along these same lines. I find it astounding that people don’t see parallels between dog training and child rearing or any relationship we have in our daily life. http://www.atraineradogandtheworld.blogspot.com


    • Teresita says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:18am

      I agree !


  11. Marci says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:36am

    I am a pet dog/service dog trainer with numerous dog issues coming to me. In particular I have a client with a 100 lb pit bull who was a rescue. This dog was on the street for we don’t know how long fending form himself. He is aggressive online when another dog is near.

    He lunges and pulls the woman off her feet. What to do


  12. Anna Elliot says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:36am

    Thank you, you are always a help to me! I constantly am working with my 2 Miniature Schnauzers–they get sooooo excited when they see another dog or person–mostly they just want to greet them and play–but they don’t sound friendly. So I have been using your info and we have been getting much better when seeing others.


  13. Jacque says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:35am

    Ok, well with Jacob I have tried all the tools, and yes I can c the e collar did make him want to act more hyped up. When I walk this dog down my street and another dog comes along he does try to get to the other dog, not so much with the intent to fight, if it is a small dog, a big dog he is ready to go. He does not do this at trials, but would not trust walking him to near other dogs on a loose lead. As far as treats r concerned, when just going on the street walk the treats would make absolutely no difference, his focus is on that other dog ONLY! So I recently attended a seminar with Matt Twitty, although he didn’t cover this per say, it was a bit on attention, he suggestions I walk into my dog to get his attention and while we r walking with no dogs around, even though he is looking, this is working somewhat, I just keep trying to get his attention, no point in taking tests with, he will ignore them. At home is a different story, he works for treats, as long as there is nothing else more interesting to him. This has kept me out of the obedience ring. I have never used a head halter as back in my day there was no such thing. Have heard pros and cons about them. Sooo?!


  14. Tiger says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:35am

    Great article. I have a field Golden. By choice I keep his collar very loose in case he gets caught by a branch or animal so I use a halter for walks. As soon as the halter comes out, he starts prancing because he knows a long walk is in his future. Prongs are cruel and should never be used on a regular basis or for something so routine as a walk. I’d react violently, too, if I had prongs hoking me! Bad owners! Shame!


  15. Carol says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:32am

    As always, your insight is spot on! I would never think of hurting my dog, however, after being attacked by a pit bull mix, my 11 pound Shichon has become aggressive on walks and I haven’t been able to figure out a method of calming her. (During the attack I held her above my head or she probably wouldn’t be alive today.) Never in a million years would I even consider a choke or pinch collar. I usually pick her up and soothe her which hasn’t worked. I am going to try your method which totally makes sense to me and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. Thanks so much for your informative blog!


  16. Nancy Schetelick says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:28am

    Have a rescue dog, part pit bull, use a harness all the time. If he sees a dog, even if 3 blocks away, he immediately has his hackles up and starts lunging and barking. Treats don’t work he is to focused on the object he dislikes. I walk looking ahead to make sure no one is walking a dog. If they are we have to turn around to avoid the dog. He is also a “runner” if he gets out of the yard getting him back is very stressful. I have had him for 8 yrs and he still won’t come to me if he escapes the yard. Otherwise, he obeys commands. And he lives with 2 other rescues.


  17. CV says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:27am

    This is a well written article. Thank you Susan. My issue I think is motivating my pup to want to stay focused on me. When we didn’t have another dog, she was friendly and social with other neighborhood dogs. Once we added a second dog that’s when she seemed to be come protective/possessive. If I walk them separately, she is great. If I walk the two dogs together, they feed off each other and go nuts.
    How do I work with this?


  18. Carol Sumbry says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:26am

    Great blog. I work at a shelter and see the prong often too. When I get a dog reactivity or aggression client I can almost guarantee they have been on a prong. Ok like your phase about “where knowledge ends”. So true – we need to keep educating one at a time. Thank you for the great message.


  19. Sue Muntz says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:24am

    Great article! Both of my Dobes tend to be reactive/protective of me when I walk the neighborhood. I use Easy Walk harnesses on them both. I try to get focus and treat when they pay the least bit of attention to me. I hadn’t tried just tossing a bunch of treats on the ground. The interesting thing is that I can take both dogs to events (dog events, outdoor dining, etc.) and dog shows where both rarely fuss at other dogs. I do manage them and the situation as best I can since people will let their dogs get in my dogs faces. The 2.5 year old particularly doesn’t care for intact males, mostly larger breed dogs. I’ve worked with her a lot in class to tone down any reactions. Its taken a while, but we’re getting through classes lately without any fussing at other dogs.

    I’ll try the food tossing now when I’m in front of my house to get value built for paying attention to me.


  20. Bonnie Hess says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:18am

    You wrote this at the perfect time for me. Yesterday I posted about my sad experience as a first time visitor to a dog park here. I thought it would be a good experience, another environment to play recall games with Bodhi’s. Unfortunately several of the dogs showed some aggression and were the ones who came in on a shock collar, choke chain, and bark collar, I feel there needs to be so much more education about dogs and dog training where I live. Thank you for being such a wonderful advocate and teacher, Susan . I loved this and will share.


    • cindi coccio says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:38am

      I always stayed in the car for a few minutes to observe the other dogs and people at the park before I decided it was going to be a good experience…..sometimes I drove away and just went on our own.

      might help


  21. Tiffany Huebner says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:18am

    First of all I am a big fan of Susan Garrett. I subscribe to her Handling 360, Brilliant Recallers and frequently recommend her book Ruff Love. We also use Crate Games.

    On this one I am saddened to see again the bad press that seems to always come with a pinch collar. I use them very successfully on my dogs. They are happy and accomplished dogs. I start my puppies on a pinchie when they are 7-8 weeks old and it’s used much like a bit on a horse. You can use any tool to intimidate, even a flat buckle collar in the wrong hands can do that.

    Interestingly it’s the aggressive/out of control dogs I use a gentle leader on to “subdue” them.

    I strongly believe that as a dog training community we need to support each other and agree to disagree at times. I believe all tools have a place in the right situation and have seen so many clients/dogs working quite happily on all types of equipment.

    At the end of the day the ultimate training tool should be “you”. I’ve stuck to that for years and have pretty awesome dogs because of that.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:23am

      Thank you for sharing your point of view so eloquently Tiffany. And 100% agree with your last line…”the ultimate training tool should be you.”


    • Marci says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:39am

      Well said.because I too feel that it is the equipment in the wrong hands which does the harm. Education is the key!


    • Elaine says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:55am

      Hi Tiffany,
      I think that I will follow Susan’s guide and try not to be judgemental in my comments but I need convincing that a pinch collar can be anything other than painful to a dog. You may not intend to hurt but when it tightens around a throat it must create a negative. I agree that flat collars can be used to inflict pain too and that a yank on a lead can hurt. But the prongs must by their nature hurt more. Physics and high heels come to mind.
      Even if you are an expert and don’t intentionally inflict pain there will be others, perhaps less experienced or intentionally cruel use these collars with impunity or without comment because as a society we accept them as a control aid.
      I don’t expect that you will accept my opinion but perhaps you could think about it.


  22. Meghan McSweeney says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:18am

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing. I have a very dog reactive Aussie mix. Although I don’t walk him on a prong collar, I do know that I have exacerbate his issues by getting nervous when another dog walks by. It’s a vicious cycle since he acts like a loon when other dogs are nearby even when on a head collar. I appreciate any insight and tips on how to work around this. Thank you!


  23. Katherine Thomson says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:14am

    Love, love, love this post! It’s so evocatively written and it really highlights the two opposing approaches to walking your dog on a leash.

    I’m sorry to say that I used a choker chain on my last dog and he suffered from leash aggression. It breaks my heart now that I understand why. Luckily for my new little girl, I now have a different approach to try.

    Thank you Susan. Your blog, Puppy Peaks and Recallers have improved my training methods a million times over, and my whole family is reaping the rewards.


  24. Debby Kay says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:13am

    I agree with you Susan, nicely written. However there are those dogs who do not respond to treats, such as Airedales and Tibetan Mastiffs that I often have the pleasure of working with. Its difficult to redirect their attention positively and so far the best I have found for those that are D2D aggressive when they come are to increase the distance while working on focus. Flat collars or properly fitted martingales seem to work the best with these guys. Any thoughts on other things to try?


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:18am

      I am a big fan of properly fitted and conditioned head halters Debby.


  25. caroline woods says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:13am

    I agree, prong collars exacerbate dog aggression or in some cases cause it. I have a dog that is fearful of big dogs therefore aggressive if they come near. I manage the situation and don’t allow interaction to happen. She has learnt that if she sees a dog and then looks at me she gets a treat and we walk in the opposite direction


  26. Anne Springer says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:06am

    Thanks so much for highlighting this issue. As a trainer, blogger, and creator of the Reactive Dogs Facebook group, I deal with this on a daily basis. My colleague, Jennifer Titus, developed the CARE web site (careforreactivedogs.com) at her own expense to help people who might not have access to a qualified trainer. We’re grateful when people of your stature in the industry focus attention on reducing coercive measures that could be contributing to this problem. We know it IS a problem, because our FB group has more than 10,000 members. Fortunately, we’ve helped many owners make progress by getting dogs out of prongs and in to harnesses or head collars and embarked on a program of training suited to the type of reactivity they’re exhibiting. Tanks for drawing attention to this!


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:17am

      Thanks for sharing Anne. You would be welcome to share a link to your Facebook page here.


  27. Melissa says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:12am

    Well written Susan! I am a veterinarian and am faced with talking to clients about reactivity almost daily. I see the same trend in the use of pinch collars and leash reactivity.. I even see them tighten the grip on the leash when I walk in the door. First step, pinch collar comes off. 🙂 I wonder if you would allow me to copy this blog for my clients.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:30am

      Absolutely Melissa and to anyone else who believes sharing this post can help even one dog. All I ask is that the blog be used in its entirety and accompanied with the line “Used with permission by Susan Garrett ©2015” #OneDogOwnerAtATime


      • Melissa says:
        Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:57am

        Thank you so much Susan!!!

    • Evelyn says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:21am

      Wonderful article. I totally agree. Respect, kindness and lots of patience are the key. Thank you.


  28. YT says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:31am

    My Kelpie was kicked out of litter by her mother (that says something to start with), I adopted her and hand reared her. She was attacked by dogs and men when she was puppy because she was eye-balling. Yes, her golden eyes have powers. Vet suggested she might have ADD, she was kicked out of school a couple of times, tried to hire professional trainer, but one suggested what she needs is medication, other suggested to put her down as she was untrainable. Now I’m with her for 3 years. Learning how to train with Susan’s online classes. She sure still handful and reactive, but she has a exclusive friend club. People who has no judgment toward her are the members and they all love her for her loyalty. She greets them with absolute attention. Some days normally 45 minutes walk becomes over one hour walk due to dealing with distractions. But I have learned to take it easy. Our challenge continues…


    • Chris says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:22am

      How lovely! Thank you for your patience with your special girl.


    • Susan C says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:11am

      Bless you for working so diligently with your dog – many would have given up! I have a reactive mini dachshund, and medication has been very helpful for him. It can reduce or eliminate the flooding of stress hormones in the dog’s system and this helps them to be more responsive to your training of more appropriate behaviors and responses. Please see the work of Debbie Jacobs at her Fearful Dogs Website and consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist for recommendations about medications.

      You are right, the challenges continue (even with medication on board) but both my dog and I are finding them less intense and exhausting now that he’s taking appropriate meds.


  29. Pam Cleary says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:32am

    This is all very interesting. I’m a companion dog trainer, for 16 odd years. I know people who swear their dog loves the prong collar and justify using it because the dog begs to have it put on…. to go for a walk. Gee, I’d wear one happily if it was the only way to get outside. Mostly right now I’m working on getting a couple of dogs off an easy walk harness and walking on a normal collar. Ok maybe a martingale. Tools are tools. Used right there are no bad tools. Used wrong they are all bad. What I get here is we still have a long way to go educating people about the animals we live with and what they are capable of when you use trust, understanding and an open mind and heart. There are no bad dogs, but there are a great many under educated owners. The one thing I have learned over the years- the dogs are ALWAYS doing the best they can.


  30. Joe Wilson says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:08am

    i got my border collie gruffalo from a puppy farm which is the worst place I realise, he was always a nightmare from start, I thought I would try some agility never have done any training with my dog, but here I was trying to learn with a reactive high arousal dog, fellow dog members would ask why I put up with him as I would always end up injured as he was so enthusiastic and I would get hurt, these people I ignored as he was my boy and I adored him with all my heart, even got in a dog trainer as I couldn’t walk my boy anywhere, but my trainer was horrendous and was starting to talk about harsh methods like my boy fighting his two Alsatians and gruffy being put in his place, well I soon got rid of him, my agility instructor stepped in and gave me exercises to do and he has come on in leaps and bounds, he’s never going to be perfect but I adore him the way he is, we have even got a few agility rosettes, which made me cry as I realised how far we had come, patience and love and good techniques do prevail, I urge everyone with a reactive dog put in the work it does work with shaping and good techniques xx


  31. Fran says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:49am

    My dog Julie (whippet/lab mix)and I spent about three years working on her aggressiveness with other dogs, which I think came from being mobbed by a group of dogs at a shelter. She got to the point that she would look, but not fuss over, small to medium dogs, and could pass them nicely on a path.

    We did a lot of the things Susan suggested. We were still working on bigger dogs when she died of cancer in Oct., but always with positive, gentle urging and NO collar corrections! (She weighed 50 lbs., so ours needed to be a partnership of a willing, happy girl on a walk with her human.)


    • Lea Ann Savage says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:06am

      How can you do a no collar correction when the dog lunges to the end of the leash to attack the other dogs?


  32. Regina says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:11am

    I have a Cattle Dog that is leash aggressive. Once the dog is close he is immediately friendly and wants to sniff/play. I have tried everything in terms of correcting my behavior I flat out ignore other dogs/people on walks and continue running or walking. On one occasion he decided he still wanted to react after passing the dog and nearly tore my arm out, causing intense pain. He is the best dog except for this and is very socialable off leash. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t take him in public except for his walks. We have a whippet as well and they are amazing together. What should I do? Is a head collar the best treatment? I’m at my wits end I can’t even take him to a coffee shop.


    • Pam Cleary says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:12am

      This is obviously an off the cuff response based solely on what you have said about your dog…. But in your comment you make no reference to what you do to help your dog deal. In my experience he is either afraid or frustrated by being leashed in the presence of other dogs. You need to get help so you know how to redirect him to focus on you when he is stressed- as mentioned in the article. Dragging him past dogs he wants to greet and play with ain’t helpin’ He needs to learn that sometimes he gets to greet and play, and other times not, and it’s not his call. I’ve 20 years working training companion dogs and you are not alone, and this behaviour can be changed Hope this helps


  33. Penny Mead says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:11am

    Susan, I just have to say that you have become a beautiful writer. Those first few paragraphs were poetry and I could have been there with you with your words.


  34. Marianne Hovde says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:30am

    Thanks for posting this. That’s great advice and easy steps that would make such a big difference for so many dogs.

    Even when used correctly, the problem with tools like prong collars and e-collars are that they don’t make dogs *want* to look at you or hang out with you.

    I’ve seen some good trainers on Youtube who use these tools correctly and gently, and get good results. But the dogs walk beside their owners looking everywhere but at their owners. They don’t *want* to walk next to their owners or focus on them, they do it because they have to. And if that’s your dog, you’re missing out on so much.


  35. Diane says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:11am

    Thank you so much for this and the suggestions! My dog can be leash reactive and I’ve wondered how best to handle that (luckily I know from previous experience with my dog that physical corrections don’t have the desired effect).


  36. Jackie Earnshaw, CPDT-KA says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:37pm

    Bravo! Well written, backed up and explained. Thank you! Hope you don’t mind my sharing this on FB


  37. Jan says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:36pm

    Great blog article as usual Susan. I’m wondering if I should try this at agility class with my somewhat aggressive Aussie. I play a lot of it’s yer choice from my hand while my instructor is talking or other dogs are practicing to get him focused on me. Maybe just tossing treats on the ground would be a better method? Although with it’s yer choice, they don’t get it til they make the “right” choice; here it seems you are recommending treating regardless of what they are doing, so they aren’t necessarily making a “right” choice?


  38. Zoey says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:19pm

    Maybe some instructors feel like force-based methods are faster and easier (though deceptively counter productive) when instructing the inexperienced dog owners on how to fix problems? I have met the sweetest, well meaning people who use these methods. Is it lack of knowledge, is it the need for fast and easy, or perhaps they’ve blindly put their trust in the wrong dog school. I had a recent encounter with the nicest people at a new local school. I had high hopes and was excited for them. I was so incredibly disappointed when I learned about their force-based methods. The owner gave me a long list of authors, mentors and well-known trainers to justify his methods. Sometimes people feel very confident and justified in their methods. There was no getting through to him. I guess it’s like you said, #OneDogOwnerAtATime


  39. Judi says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:03pm

    Thank you, Susan. I have a fearful/aggressive dog. It’s a slow process for us. We’re his 6th home and he’s come a long way. Still has a long way to go. I have wonderful neighbors who will just stand outside while we walk by — with me giving out many treats for good behavior and backing/walking away if he goes into a frenzy mode of barking. I so appreciate your positive approach to training. Me too; just wish our progress was faster and consistent.


  40. Jill Eckert says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:01pm

    Very well said Susan.. I have a fear aggressive dog – all 12 lbs of him!! He has been a challenge from day one but he has also taught me so much. Dogs definitely pick up on our tension. When he is reacting, if I get upset, he just escalates even further. If I stay calm, he eventually calms down himself. It took me a year to figure out how not to react and there are times when I am amazed how much he trusts me. I finally found a couple of classes where only positive reinforcement was used, and he has improved immensely. I can now do agility without fearing him going after other dogs, he is focused on me only. I shudder when I see prong collars or electric collars – to me that says that the owner does not want to put the time and effort into training.


  41. Barb Duke says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:35pm

    Thank you Susan. Our head instructor has just shared this blog post to our community dog club’s Facebook page. It is absolutely in line with the way we encourage our members to think and train … so one dog club at a time, this time.


    • Susan says:
      Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:45pm

      🙂 Awesome Barb!


  42. Amelia says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:35pm

    I believe that every tool has a time and a place. I have used a prong collar before, but for the very specific reason that my 60lb dog, who normally walks on a halti learned how to pull hard enough on the halti to drag me so she could attempt to chase cats. After some near serious injuries, I put her on a prong collar, and took her out for a walk. Now here is probably the biggest difference between my walk and on the one Susan describes above, I didn’t do anything, but keep ahold on my end of the leash. My girl jumped-lunged and corrected herself on the collar. She only tried three times. I kept her on it for a week to make sure that she wouldn’t try again to lung and chase the cats and then went back to her halti. She still hasn’t gone back to dragging me through mud, or nearly flipping me into traffic, so I think it was an appropriate tool to use in that situation. I would’ve liked to have trained it differently, but she would either see the cat before I did and be off, or she would see one that had walked out behind me. Neither were good situations to be in. When I saw the cat first I did train, but I wasn’t seeing the dat first nearly enough.


  43. Mar says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:34pm

    “…raising dogs is all about creating confidence in the dog.”
    – Susan Garrett

    Susan, I believe the problem lies even deeper than your analysis. I’m guessing that many of the people you saw – *not* *all*, by any means – had confidence issues themselves, which is why they got a big, tough dog in the first place. And a person without self-confidence is sending exactly *that* message down the leash: Life is fearful and I can’t protect you. (I was one of those people myself, although a smart person in my life chose a soft dog for me, not a hard one, and that dog and I learned together.)

    Of course, your training methods promote confidence in the humans, so I’m not disagreeing with your suggestions!


    • Tiffany Huebner says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:25am

      Bravo to this! So many pick a dog that is not suited for them.


  44. Kat Kavanagh says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:26pm

    Thanks for this Susan! My sweet high-energy dog has recently become reactive to young dogs, and I know my nervousness pulling back on his leash probably had an impact on increasing his intensity.

    A few local trainers I looked into do submission and pronged collars as their methods here in Ottawa, but I never felt right about them either. We are working on positive reinforcement training, and limiting access to those types of dogs until he is ready, but I already see an improvement in him with it… I don’t want him to fear me! I’m sure you’re going to get blow-back from this, but maybe you will change a few minds!


  45. Sargon says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:22pm

    I’ve always wondered if the issue is already present before the leash tightening. E.g. Dog learns to bark/growl in response to human tensing up. How many times do you arrive at home & relaxed after a day of work? Are you relaxed when using punishment/correction on your dog? Is that same tension reflex exhibited when walking your stressed conditioned dog near another dog?


  46. Lisa Bartlett says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:12pm

    Susan has struck a major chord! Perhaps the reason so many dogs are leash reactive is do in part to the fact everytime they see another dog, their owners pull on the leash pinching the prong collar inflicting pain. Thus the dog comes to associate seeing dog on leash = pain = aggression. Makes soooo much sense.


  47. Shaina Zimmerman says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:08pm

    I would disagree. The majority of my leash reactive cases are walked or were started on harnesses, allowing the dogs to pull out of control and become frustrated and therefore reactive. Also typically dogs that have been over socialized when young and not taught how to behave properly around other dogs. This is a human problem, not a tool problem.


  48. Erica says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:03pm

    I took my dog to an obedience class and by week 2 I knew it wasn’t for us. She spent all of the first week introducin “proper equipment.” This only included prong collars. I took her advice and got one for my pup. She absolutely shut down. I regret ever using one on her. I enjoy seeing that tail wag on walks and while we’re training. I think her reactivity has gotten worse since I got her (maybe from the prong collar?) But I am trying my best now to use CC to help her through her fear. We are seeing progress and I am encouraged that I am creating a strong foundation for her to make her own choices.


  49. Harley says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:01pm

    Loved your thoughts on the subject. I was just thinking yesterday that previous to training agility dogs, I was a strict obedience handler. With my agility pups I never taught obedience as established in obedience trials, but rather exposed my dogs to small then greater and greater distraction; all the time rewarding my pups when they paid attention to me rather than the readily abundant distractions. Yesterday, I noticed that though I’ve never taught heal, my 10 month old pup walks beside me on a slack leash even when other dogs we’re running around and playing or running agility.


  50. cal says:
    Monday, November 16, 2015 at 7:46pm

    There’s a difference between the ankle biters and my 110 pd doberman-shepherd back cross. He’s an exquisite social walker on a prong collar that shows no dog aggression and rarely needs more than a wiggle from my little finger. This is far more of a training issue than an equipment one.


    • sarah says:
      Monday, November 16, 2015 at 9:54pm

      If he’s such an exquisite social walker then why do you use a prong collar?
      If you’re saying other people having training issues are you implying you don’t have training issues? If you’re so awesome why do you need a prong collar?

      To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need:
      ◾A thorough understanding of canine behavior.
      ◾A thorough understanding of learning theory.
      ◾Impeccable timing.

      And if you have those three things, you don’t need a shock collar.

      — Dr. Ian Dunbar

      (same thing applies to prong collars yes?)


      • DP says:
        Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:50pm

        Sarah… you sound very aggressive

      • CJ says:
        Monday, November 16, 2015 at 10:54pm

        I think cal means that their dog doesn’t require corrections while walking on a prong collar and walks nicely on the prong.

        Any tools that we use on our dogs are able to be misused.

        I have attended a dog training exhibition where the trainer was giving harsh corrections on a head collar!! He may as well have been smacking the dog on the muzzle, it was distressing to watch. Just as distressing as seeing harsh prong collar corrections or dogs being dragged around by a flat collar or harness.

        I like to think how we teach our dogs is more important than what we use.

        Using Susan’s It’s Yer Choice in training my pet dogs has been more invaluable to me than any tool!

    • Sargon says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:18am

      Cal, does the 110lb+ dog respond the same way on a regular collar? What about the handler? Can someone else not known to the 110lb dog get the same, calm response from the 110lb dog with a prong collar as with a regular collar (without the owner present)?


    • NYKate says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:23am

      I’d agree with this as well. There’s also the safety issue to consider. With horses, people will occasionally very harshly criticize those who use ‘strong’ bits on their bridles. In a perfect world, with a horse that’s been well trained its whole life and who has no fear issues, we’d all be riding in big fat rubber bits and our horses would never spook or charge. But we have to deal with the reality of the world we live in, not the one we wish we had, and in this world, stopping power is important. Both for our safety, the safety of our animals, and the safety of the public.

      I have no issue with prong collars when used properly and with knowledge. They should also be a temporary correction tool, ideally, while the dog learns loose-leash walking. I think in the wrong hands and used poorly they can become very harmful to a dog, and in some dogs, they are never appropriate.

      But I’ve seen just as many dogs become dangerously overstimulated and aggressive with an owner who sets no boundaries and has zero respect from their dog. An owner near my house flings treats at her dog while it’s lunging and snarling at joggers passing by and dragging her towards them; this dog is a serious attack risk, and then, through no fault of his own, will likely be euthanized. It’s all in the human and how they use the tool, not the tool itself.


    • Tiffany Huebner says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:32am

      I also think the responses here show a pattern that I (a pinch collar user) continue to experience over the years. We don’t care if we see a dog on a gentle leader. We leave the owner alone/don’t make any comments. But the gentle leader trainers target anyone that users equipment they don’t agree with. Why is that? How is that “positive” training/interaction with others?

      I posted earlier I use pinch collars on my puppies. They are incredible dogs. And every morning we walk from our development to the park and continue in to the trails where we encounter other dogs, wildlife, etc. they are NAKED. Not even a flat buckle collar on.

      At the end of the day it’s about the relationship and understanding between a dog and it’s owner. Let’s just all get along. = )


      • S. Crimmins says:
        Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:48am

        I think its clear that many folks don’t know how to use the pinch collar properly. You may. I see numbers of dogs at our dog park, with them on and they say they use it so there dog won’t pull on the leash. Well of course the dog won’t pull on the leash, his neck is getting pinched… then the owner says they cannot control the dog otherwise… that is a lame-mo excuse! The pinch collar take training to use, just like the head collar.

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