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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. Leslie says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:46pm

    thanks for reminding me of the right way to handle this situation. My pup has always been reactive to other dogs when on leash and I have used restraint instead of reward. I will start now to turn this behaviour around with reward and confidence building when near other dogs.


  2. Cathi S says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:44pm

    There’s a huge awareness and education opportunity regarding head halters. And, it doesn’t help that organizations like AKC do NOT allow head halters. I asked one AKC rep “why?” And, the response was “….head halters mask aggression.” I don’t know if that was his personal opinion or the consensus of AKC? When AKC asks for feedback regarding rule changes, I always take the time to ask for allowing head halters, but to no avail.


    • Cathi S says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:48pm

      ……yet AKC allows choke chains in the obedience ring. Go figure…


      • Christy S. says:
        Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:12pm

        The AKC only allows choke chains in the ring because they can remain completely loose and at the base of the neck. Points are lost and disqualifications can even happen if the collar gets tight at all. I understand completely not allowing head halters or other correctional devices on dogs when in the ring. That is the time and place to test the training not be training. And, just in case the argument gets made that if dogs are trained on them, they might be “better” because the promise of getting in trouble, gets made. I have my dogs on choke chains in the ring but never in training. I switch the collars because I have had judges tell me to loosen my flat collars, having my dogs wear there choke chains prevents a judge from thinking my dogs collar is too tight.

  3. kb says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:44pm

    I want to make a more general comment about the need to engage in behavior modification if your dog exhibits reactivity toward other dogs or toward people (and especially toward children).

    My club recently had to place sanctions on the owner of a large, working breed puppy after the puppy broke from the owner to bite a child. While the child was not seriously injured (the bite produced a bad bruise rather than a puncture), and the parent is dog-savvy enough to know that puppies can’t be taken seriously (and hasn’t sued the club!), the fact is that the dog is fearful and needs behavior modification to address that fear.

    Everyone wants the dog to succeed, but the owner chafes at the temporary restrictions placed on the dog, saying that it’s not possible to train agility while the dog is required to be securely leashed.

    I would argue that the behavior modification is training agility. A dog who breaks from his handler to chase a child (or squirrel or other dog) is a dog who lacks engagement with the handler. Behavior modification will build more engagement, and will allow the dog to focus more on the task at hand–for example, agility–than on the distraction.


  4. Clara Brandt says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:38pm

    It is really good to hear discussion about this. I have been feeling a little at loss about what to do with my dog. I have a year old English Cocker Spaniel that I have in agility class. He is a cuddly bug, and loves to Play with other dogs, and is a very appropriate Player, however recently he has started barking and growling at dogs when we walk by. Recently I have realized that I have been getting more and more nervous when we are around other dogs, because I am embarrassed about his response, I worked so hard to socialize him well, I think it is kinda a downward spiral, we were in a class with two reactive dogs, so when we would need to work near them I would work very hard to keep him away and attention on me, however there must have been enough times I pulled him away and was stressed about his barking reaction that he is now associating dogs being close and me being nervous. I will have to work on this some how. I use a flat buckle collar while in class and a K9 bridal when walking. I do think that a stressed quick response of pulling him back from other dogs cause I am nervous of both dogs response has had the same impact as if I was pulling him back on a prong collar, he can still feel my apprehension. If anyone has some encouragement and suggestions on how to work on this in a class setting please let me know.


  5. Jason Rae says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:37pm

    Another great article and I love the patient and understanding you have for other peoples choices which I can take a lesson from. This is a great example of how to use a positive method to over time change your dogs behavior without hurting them in any way. I think the reason people miss this one is because it takes time and patients to teach them. The result tho is well worth for the handler and the dog. Again thanks for sharing amazing insight and sharing it in a way that makes a difference.


  6. Rosa says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:34pm

    hi, Susan, how could you know, I needed this article? and today?
    From 15 weeks on my dog was trained the “classical” way….and I got a reactive dog. Currently I’m in recallers and H 360. We improved so much since we started, but still struggling with this issue.
    I appreciate, that you showed me “less tension, more attension”. this morning it worked twice on our walk in town ( with flat collar), including positive comments from the lady with the two dogs who came around the corner…I was really pround and thankful to you. we lowered the distance from ‘ really far ‘ when seeing another dog to 3 meters now and I am positive to get by other dogs one day without worrying.
    Thank you for this great article, I’m always learning something, this time I’m greatful for your mentioning the head halter. I bought it, but never used it until today…this will be the next step.
    Today I’m greatful, I have a friend who introduced me to your sites and methods and of course for your great work. Thank you


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:51pm

      That is SOOooo cool Rosa! How nice it was for that woman with two dogs to notice all of your efforts for your dog!


  7. Tamar says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:34pm

    I love seeing posts like this! My concern is that the over simplified tips for leash reactivity that are all over the internet can often discourage people living with reactive dogs and push then towards force based training and inappropriate tools. These work great great for rural and suburban households with dogs who will take food when mildly aroused or stressed. But about all of our clients with reactive dogs in heavily populated cities with out pause between dogs and where even a potty break can have 3 or more over threshold events? Or what about dogs who won’t take any treats outside and play is over arousing? I think more positive reinforcement and science based trainers need to speak up to these clients and provide better advice than simply toss food on the ground. Just my humble opinion.


    • Tamandra says:
      Friday, November 20, 2015 at 6:12am

      Some good points there. Being able to take food lowers arousal, and is obviously very useful. And it’s something that can be built, being able to trade down value of reinforcement. I’ve used tugging to redirect arousal to triggers, and while it’s arousing, it’s a better alternative arousal than the trigger focused one. So it’s an intermediate step, to then being able to use food, and get alternate behaviors. I know what it’s like having an environmentally vigilant dog, with triggers constantly in the city. His is motorcycles, and skateboards, and lesser degree bikes/joggers/kids. We can get hammered! Throwing food is definitely not going to work. To me that seems a distraction mostly. What I want is the dog to learn to control their arousal, and make a better choice.


  8. Debi says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:30pm

    Good article. I don’t have this problem with my dogs. Both male a, a standard poodle and a golden doodle. I do have a problem with the doodle wanting to pull on leash. I tried the halter, or head collar and he hated it. Didn’t want to walk if he had to wear it. So I got the easy leader and that works fine. My dogs are home schooled. I read every book I could find and on line articles and videos. They were the only therapy dogs in their classes that were home schooled. I love working with them and enjoy learning anything that can help me with them. Last night they got their picture taken with Santa at the mall. Then we wandered around to visit those we knew. We were stopped often and the kids just loved them. They also had to pose for more pictures. I just love a happy and well behaved dog. Thanks for all you do to educate dog lovers.


  9. Ellen says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:30pm

    Unfortunately there is a wealth of misinformation out there for well-meaning people. For example, I wanted to get control of my rescue pup and had no prior experience with herding breeds or positive based dog training. I got lots of dog is wolf so you be alpha advice (ahem) and then with my work schedule, I ended up taking obedience at one of the large pet store chains. My pup is not aggressive but had no prior training so had no clue and really pulled hard all the time on a leash. The trainer was a very nice lady and she suggested the same prong collar for my pup. I did not end up going that route, but could have, I was certainly advised by a paid trainer to do so. If you do not know where to go to get dog training, you may end up with a punishment based training system and not know there are alternatives. Luckily, I followed my gut and soon got my pup into agility and my trainer is all positive reinforcement. She led me to Susan Garrett and I joined recallers and now I have real tools. Point being, not everyone is as fortunate or as educated and unfortunately some still adhere to punishment based systems. Thanks for putting this out there. Education and exposure is the key to helping us understand how to build a true relationship with our dogs. Thanks Susan for helping me build one with Teddy!


  10. Linda says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:29pm

    Susan, this article was very well-written. Thank you for allowing us to share it with others so that they may learn, too.


  11. Roxanne Davis says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:22pm

    Great article, thanks Susan. From my experience, many dog owners don’t know how or, if they do, won’t take the time it takes to build confidence and skills in a dog. Part of that is they don’t understand that the dog can really make significant behavioral changes. They think, “My dog is a puller.” “My dog doesn’t like other dogs,” as if their dog’s behavior is cast in stone. They haven’t heard of counter conditioning and all the wonderful ways we have of calming our dogs. When I see someone with a reactive dog, whether it is triggered by the environment, other dogs, or people, I try to recommend a book or video that I feel addresses the situation.


  12. Karla Wilson says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:22pm

    Thanks for bringing your heart and voice to this all-too-common problem. And for increasing the numbers of positive “influencers” in the world by sharing your knowledge and perspective online.


  13. Elsa says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:22pm

    I have an agility student whose dog developed a liking for the numbered cones and would take off with them given the chance. The next class they showed up with their shock collar and told me to zap him as soon as soon as he goes for a cone! Wow, no. The dog is also on a prong collar because it was “taking too long to get him used to the head halter” I suggested. One class they forgot their flat buckle collar and sure enough during class the dog got loose from his owner and came flying in to investigate another dog but the teeth didn’t come out until I grabbed that prong collar to pull him away. I am so lost on how to convince some people that there are no shortcuts to the behavior they want. I have been working with them for months and they are frustrated with their dogs’ progress and its because their dog has no interest in the relationship. But my pleas fall on deaf ears. Thank you for listening. I loved reading your article, you have a fantastic way of making concepts so clear.


  14. Aadi Taute says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:22pm

    My Rhodisian cross was trained in the prong method 5 years ago and is still reactive. My BC has never had a prong or choke on him and is trained on food/focus method. It seems the key is seeing the oncoming dogs soon enough. We are trying the food focus method on the Rhody and it’s paying off. My BC starts looking at me when another dog approaches and it gets an instant reward.
    Both dogs were reactive to dogs barking and lunging behind their fences. We take this time to work on sit,down, stand to bring the focus on us. I look for these to help build their confidence and reliability.


  15. Heather Dufault says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:21pm

    Six months ago, we adopted a large two-year-old Border Collie, who had not been treated well in his original home (tied up constantly). He began to display leash-reactivity not only to other dogs (especially those his own size or larger) but also to people when he seemed to feel that they were too close to him. I began working with a trainer who advocated a lot of what you, Susan, are talking of here: use of treats as diversion, not placing the dog in a situation he can’t cope with, etc. I felt that we were–maybe–beginning to get somewhere with this, but unfortunately, this dog also began to react aggressively with the rest of my family in the home (and with anyone who came into the home to visit)…and the problem was that the moments of aggression were extremely hard to predict; they would seemingly occur out of nowhere, as the dog could be calm and sweet-natured one moment, and then snap at someone the next. In the end, I had no recourse but to return him to the rescue organization, as everyone else in our home had become too stressed by his unpredictable behaviour to be willing to stay on-board with my efforts to change his behaviour. This was very unfortunate, but it is important that everyone who is part of the dog’s ‘family’ is supportive and consistent in how they interact with and conduct modifying training, otherwise it is not the right environment for success.


  16. Cynthia says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:21pm

    I don’t know how they use or teach the use of prong/pinch collars in California but the part of the US I am from the major competitive obedience trainers use and teach the use of this collar but only as a mechanism for the dog to correct itself. From what I understand for most situations owners are told they are not to make the correction especially in the case of a dog getting excited about another dog whether in an aggressive way or a playful way. There are some situations where the owner is to make the correction but those are rare.

    I don’t really know their reasoning for using this method over others, perhaps its one of those situations where that is the way they learned and they haven’t graduated to new methods, I only know that they use it for self correction of behaviors which I suppose if you really consider it would only work if the dog got to the point where it was pulling on the leash.

    While I take classes with these trainers I use this collar not because it is part of their training program but because I read an article about the permanent damage that different types of collars do to the throats of dogs that pull, the prong collar is the only one that when used properly didn’t cause damage during the training process, perhaps that is why the trainers in your area teach use of head halters.


  17. Mary Pat Taylor says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:13pm

    Thank you, Susan for this great article! The title is very apt, especially when it comes to people tugging their dogs away before another dog even comes close. Years ago I did some schutzhund training with my GSD, Gandalf. He loved it. When socializing the puppies with other dogs in class, we were instructed to keep them on a loose lead, because holding a tight leash on them can actually create aggression where there is none. Also, some dogs are more aggressive on leash than off, since they see the area of the leash as their “territory” to protect.
    I am so glad to have found you and your methods, Susan. It is a joy using them and watching my border collie mix Jessie learn and love her training sessions, and my 17 year old terrier is also happy to join in! 🙂


  18. Joan says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:10pm

    So glad you reminded me of positive reinforcement. My trainers use prongs. I need to stop using it as a walking tool. Thanks


  19. Diane says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:08pm

    Good article. I think the strategy is valid and effective on open trails as well. The concept is this–10mins of focused, task driven work and then, play with reinforcing rewards. So many times, I see the scenario you describe-owner takes dominant, hi-play/socialize drive to public, highly used walking trail on a chest leader. Do is pulling 3 ft ahead and the handler is shouting chastisement from behind-no pause, no eye contact, no task/reward. Simply overstimulation and reinforced ignoring of handler. It’s hopeless.

    I believe in benevolient use of a slip chain (conformation showing for ex), traditional harness for controlled liberty and will try the gentle leader for obedience. Simple as that, isn’t it. And, if all else fails and the dog is just too anti-social, well, go out one on one or leave it home. Simple as that. Thank you for what you do!


  20. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:07pm

    Thanks for the great article! I am a current recallers student and am having great success with your training. I took my reactive, gaurding, fear anxiety, Australian Sheperd out of classes started recallers and also am currently working with certified animal behaviourlist. I agree with your article and wish that more people would take the time and patience to protect thier dogs and the dogs they walk by. Patience and distance!


  21. Julie says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:03pm

    I will try and spread the word that you have listed here. I am 100% on board. I hope I can influence properly with your help. Thank you.

    Now what do I do with a constant barker on the agility course. Guess I reward that behavior all too often. lol…. I wished I lived closer to you.


  22. Kathy says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:01pm

    Thanks for the great article! I am a current recallers student and am having great success with your training. I took my reactive, gaurding, fear anxiety, Australian Sheperd out of classes started recallers and also am currently working with certified animal behaviourlist. I agree with your article and wish that more people would take the time and patience to protect t


  23. Terry Shevchenko says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:01pm

    I have 3 wonderful Norfolk Terriers, Tilley a 13 old female and 2 males Winny and Neddy 9 year old litter mates. They all do Dog Agility and act in Theatre, mostly Wizard of Oz and Annie. They are wonderful in every way except when l walk them on leash (flat leash for the boys and a halter for Tilley) in Springbank Park in London Ontario where we meet dogs walking and my 3 will start barking and pulling towards dogs coming our way. You have talked about walking a single dog and l don’t have problems when l walk one dog but when the 3 are together they work as a pack and feed off each other. One starts the barking and the pulling and then the other 2 join in. It’s never one dog that starts the commotion, it’s seems that the first one that sees a dog coming starts the behaviour of barking and pulling. My dogs are not fearful or aggressive and it puzzles me why they do this. Is it that they are working as a pack? This never happens when we do Dog Agility and they are on the leash, just when we are out for a walk. Even worse, is a roller blader comes toward us or passes us. Tilley does not react to the rollerbladers but Winny and Neddy bark and want to chase them ever so badly.

    As l said they are wonderful in every other way and l have no other issues than the issues above. They also go to off leash dog parks where there are no issues when they are running around with other dogs off leash.

    I have been calm when other dogs come our way on walks, l have tried treats and they are motivated by treats by not in this situation.

    Any ideas how to make my walks with the dogs more enjoyable.

    Terry Shevchenko Middlesex Agility Club London Ontario


  24. Jodi Wilson says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:58am

    I am trying to wrap my head around “science based” training and it’s not easy. I fully agree with this article because of communication barrier between man and dog. We treat the dog as if they understand what we want without teaching them the response we are looking for. We assume they are being willfully defiant when they are just being dogs responding to stimulus the only way they know how. However, the link to spanking was silly. There was nothing to learn from the article and being a person who was raised in an abusive home I take strong offense to the little it did say and calling discipline abuse. Children do need a good learning environment as does a dog, but unlike a dog a person has willful defiance. And while I understand people are the root of their dogs issues so is the parent to a point. Just as much damage can be done to a child or dog by the incorrect application of “science based” learning. Further elaboration would be argumentative. I want to end with how inspired I am by your training and am looking for someone close by who teaches the same way to no avail. I want to be a trainer such as you and thank you deeply for all you do for the dog community.


    • debra n Snap says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:18pm

      I also thought the “link” to the spanking article was out of place. I believe in your positive methods, Susan – you know that. But being a child that had a spanking or two or three (no, that’s not abuse), I didn’t end up in prison because of it or grow up aggressive. Just my thoughts.


  25. Tracey says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:57am

    I recently moved to San Diego from Portland Oregon and observe the same scenario described by Susan. It is shocking and very different from what I see in Oregon. I even saw one dog with a shock collar and a prong collar. If given the opportunity, I will ask what goals the handler is attempting to achieve with the prong collar and most of the time the reply is, “my trainer told me to use it.” I am considering carrying business sized cards with pertinent information links regarding the potential side effects of using positive punishment.


  26. Liv says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:54am

    Very helpful information. I am considering the idea of treating my two dogs more individually when it comes to leash walking. One of mine takes all in stride, the other shows the anxiety described when an unfamiliar dog approaches. No correction required! I am interested in suggestions, for now, I am backing up, or to the side asking for the “Look!”


  27. Leatrice says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:53am

    Thanks for the article! I am a certified dog trainer and the Gentle Leader is my favorite tool in training dogs and their humans to walk comfortably on leash to bond and enjoy each others company! I do believe the tool works best when humans are giving hands on instruction and practice. No other tool I have ever used works as effectively as a good head collar. As I tell my clients, with a head collar 50% of any potential fight or reactivity is stopped which only leaves the other dog. The situation can still have potential danger, but is 50% more manageable than it would be without the Gentle Leader. I do find, unfortunately, that there are only a few trainers willing to use head collars in training. Articles like this will serve to create more. Thank you again.


  28. Nila McKendry says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:49am

    Great info. Lots of stuff to digest & put into practice. Thank you, Susan.


  29. Cathy says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:48am

    Thank you for another great post. I love looking at the dog’s actions taking into consideration how they must be feeling. If one is a caring dog owner this can create a wonderful paradigm shift that only helps everyone. I like the fact that you suggest people take time out to train the behavior they want rather than powering thru their own agenda trying to force their dog to comply. In my experience as a dog trainer, when I suggest this approach, many resist this because they just want a compliant dog who’s needs don’t get in the way of their life!

    And thank you for for exhortation to be kind and respectful in commenting. It’s sad that’s even necessary, eh?


  30. Doug Harris CODT - KA says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:45am

    Hi Susan,

    Your blog was dead on, love learning about the science we use that drives our training. I just finished Dr Susan Freidmans LLA program, already putting my new knowledge to use. Keep up your work, one dog and human at a time!

    Happy Paws



  31. Melissa says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:44am

    I have a very hyper one and a half year old cocker. He does better on a harness. When he is on a leash, all he wants to do is pull and he chokes then. When Baxter meets another dog, he growls, yet his tail is wagging like crazy. Sometimes I wonder if that his way of meeting other dogs. He never acts aggressive to a dog, unless one acts aggressive to him. He then wants to play. I just don’t get the growling and constant pulling when on the leash.


    • Carol says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:01pm

      Your dog sounds just like my Bearded Collie mix. She’s a rescue, and I think she was never properly socialized on how to greet other dogs. Once they’ve met, all she wants to do is play. I’ve been doing something similar to what Susan is suggesting. I stop, have her sit and then just give her treat after treat. It’s working… mostly. I have definitely seen positive progress, but the key is to spot the other dogs first and always be alert!

      I’ll try putting the treats on the ground on our walk today. Thanks for the article!


  32. Teresita says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:43am

    Thank you Susan l am training my adopted cattle dog who is 4 months and half old. This article is of a great help. So far we are doing ok.


  33. Robert Horner says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:43am

    Hi Susan,
    A very interesting post as always. However, in the UK i’m not familiar with the term pinch/prong collar. I’m guessing that this is a half check collar (as known in the UK) but it is an interesting point that the influences of the major dog training establishments dictate the type of collars chosen in that area.


    • Kayla Block says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:52am

      A half check collar is what we in the US call a martingale (which is nothing like a horse martingale)
      I’m not sure what you’d call the pinch collar, but it’s like the metal part of the half check, except all the way around


  34. Pam Ward says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:37am

    As usual — the problem is on the OTHER end of the leash!


  35. CS says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:33am

    Excellent article, thank you for sharing this. I agree with the overall point that is being made.

    I do want to point out however that the examples of prong collar use cited above are perfect illustrations of exactly now *not* to use one. Every single tool available runs the risk of being used incorrectly in uneducated, unskilled, and heavy hands (i.e., the general dog-owning public we see at the beach).

    Vet techs tell me how common it is to see severe neck injuries from improper use of head halters (IMO the Canny collar is a much safer choice for green handlers). I see well-intentioned trainers using food rewards improperly quite often… in the case of leash reactivity and aggression, they make the situation and the dog way worse by rewarding the state of mind and behaviors they are trying to extinguish. It is not the fault of the inanimate objects – it’s bad timing, it’s lack of understanding on the human side. Skill / finesse / timing / education are absolutely crucial with any tool or training aid.

    I would love to see an article written that explains how to use these tools (in this case, a prong collar) properly. Rather than just dismissing them. Anyone that understands this tool, and dogs, would *never* use it in the manner described in the article. It’s a perfect way to create some lifelong aggression problems for sure.

    But that doesn’t mean the tool can’t be used to properly and fairly to help train leash pressure behaviors. Or fine-tune body position in competitive heeling work. This training is done with a very light hand and high value rewards in a very motivating way. The complete opposite of the heavy-handed beach scenario. Dogs are happy, upbeat and not stressed when this is done properly.

    In the end, I agree that this tool should not be easily recommended to the everyday dog walking general public (I too steer many people looking for a quick fix away from it). Posted with respect and gratitude for what you do.


    • Anne says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:40am

      I think the only correct way to use a prong collar is to bin it. Fortunately I live in a country were ther are illegal


    • kb says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:21pm

      I agree both with Susan’s observations that the prong collar can contribute toward dog aggression AND with CS’s point that the prong can be a useful tool.

      Prong collars in protection sports are used in drive building. It’s the equivalent of stroking the dog on the side while playing tug. The dog goes even further into drive. The people on the beach are not controlling the dogs, but building more drive in their dogs and contributing to their dogs’ aggression.

      In contrast, a properly used prong can be used to shape behavior. If used correctly, there should be no need for more than a couple of corrections.

      I used one with my older, highly dog-reactive dog, but we did not start with a prong. No. We started with my training making sure I had good reward timing and placement, and that I had worked with my dog to the point where I could, in a low pressure situation, ask for a behavior and get it. We worked on a “look” behavior, as this is easier for a dog under pressure to succeed at than, say, a sit or a heel. We used only positive rewards, not positive punishment.

      However, as we added distractions of other dogs, it was apparent that my dog reacted to other dogs even across a field the size of a soccer field. At that point, we introduced “no,” and over the course of a couple of weeks, we introduced consequences for ignoring the “no.”

      The prong was positioned on the neck, with a very light lead on it, and the end looped up under the regular collar. In other words, I did not even hold the lead. We wanted zero pressure on the prong because the timing had to be right. When I saw another dog, I asked for a Look behavior. If the behavior was not offered, I’d say “no” and then repeat the Look command. If the dog still chose not to obey, I would reach down to the light lead, give a single correction, and then drop it.

      I had to use the correction twice in two weeks, and 4 times total over 6 months.

      5 years later, I know I still have a reactive dog, but the difference is that he knows he has choices. He chooses to watch me instead of react. I reward him for that choice. I can take him to trials, heel him in crowds, and work him around other dogs with confidence.

      But this kind of training is very unusual. My trainer had a lot of education, and resorted to positive punishment only because the dog’s reactivity posed a risk. The positive punishment came with extremely clearly defined criteria, and was meant to get the dog to realize that it had behavioral choices, and that good choices around other dogs means good rewards.

      That said, I will freely admit that I advise people against using any corrective device unless they are undergoing extensive behavior modification with their dog under an extremely knowledgeable trainer whose first choice is to try to shape and reward good choices.


  36. Tonestaple says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:33am

    I only had time to skim the article but I have a very dog-fearing dog. The minute we see a dog, she goes into full-blown stare mode. If I see the dog first, I start my “look at that” routine which she knows by now will result in cookies so she mostly will look at the dog and then at me. I mostly act so excited by the other dog that I look deeply silly, but it works. I’ve been thinking about trying to be a little bit less hyper about it and see if that works any better.

    But when a stupid girl is taking her dog down the street holding the dog’s leash in her hand and her dog sees my dog, chaos ensues, especially when stupid girl drops her dog’s leash when she loses control of her bicycle. That was ugly and I was fortunate that no blood was shed. I backed away with Sophie in tow as soon as stupid girl had her leash back in hand and told stupid girl that she was going to seriously hurt her dog if she kept up with the bike thing.

    Or when person at park has her dog off leash and her dog starts to trot over to my dog to make friends – holy cow – this is all so dangerous to me and my dog.

    I am running out of places where I can walk my dog safely just because of other dog people who have not bothered to learn a single solitary thing about doggie behavior: there’s not been a one of them who knows that staring equals aggression but they think it’s fine to wander around with their dogs off leash.


  37. Anita says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:32am

    I’ve been working with my reactive JRT with a great trainer. The dog is reactive to so many things in her envirornment but not especially to dogs. I was taught to distract the dog with treats thrown in the opposite direction from the distraction BEFORE she gets aroused. It seems like many people might be waiting too long to throw the food and their dogs have passed the threshold where they can be distracted. It takes careful observation of your dog and surroundings to practice this technique but it works.


  38. Cheryl Arscott says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:31am

    Agree with post. Great article. Thanks.


  39. CV says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:31am

    This is a great article. My girl can walk fine when she’s not with our other dog. It’s only when we walk them together that she becomes protective/possessive of him. How do we fix that when both dogs are being walked? walking them separately is fine but my goal is to teach her how to walk with our other dog without being possessive of him. Suggestions???


  40. Debbi says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:30am

    Along with pairing positive experience(treats) I think you need to consider the dog’s ability to face that level of distraction(other dog/person etc).
    Maybe going for a walk down your street/a boardwalk is expecting too much. Just like Susan said to move off the boardwalk and condition at a distance with success first. I observe alot of people who think the leash is the license to take their dogs anywhere any time when their dogs really need gradual positive introductions to new distracting situations….even if it is leaving the house and going down the street….one opinion anyway.


  41. Lara says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:26am

    Thank you for this article. I rescue and foster dogs with behavioral issues. My German Shepherd/Doberman cross came to me 3 years ago before he was euthanized due to aggression toward people and other dogs. Although he bonded with me quickly, he attacked anyone who came near me with lightening speed. With a lot of love, time, patience, safety precautions for others and training, he has become the most loving dog with people. He is not the same dog at all. Now he does fine with other dogs as well (I have since brought in another rescue and one more foster). BUT.. on leash around strange dogs, he wants to attack. He is fine off leash with strange dogs though. It seems to be intermittent also. A trainer came in that trains service dogs showed me to use a “slip chain” with him to give him little quick corrections as we continue to pass other dogs in close proximity. I haven’t felt that it was a good idea to “force” him to have to be in close proximity to other dogs. I wouldn’t want to be forced into that situation either. I have never walk him in a situation where he is trapped. The slip chain is helpful with quick corrections and happy voice “let’s go” talk with him as we pass. Which I “thought” was positive for him. I am now giving that a second though. When I tried a gentle leader with him, just let him walk around the house with it, he appeared panicked. It confirmed his stress & panic when I took him outside the house with it. Just in my front yard, no other dogs around. I didn’t use it or try it for a walk at all because it was so stressful for him. I got him a front lead harness “easy walk” to see if that helped ease his stress and it seems to have a calming effect. I work hard at managing my own body cues to be calm and non responsive so I don’t give him the anticipation to be “on guard”. Thank you for your article! I am going to begin using your training tip for him. I’m excited to begin! I really appreciate all of your blogs and training information! Thank you Thank you Thank you!


  42. Betty Mayes says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:25am

    In England there aren’t any prong collars, or at least I’ve never seen one. I would think that anyone seen using one would be reported to the RSPCA.


  43. Andrea says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:20am

    Excellent post! I am a devoted Recallers person and so glad of it. I currently have a Pyrenean Shepherd who is probably the biggest behavior challenge I’ve even deal with. But with positive methods, lots of redirection and desensitization using treats and toys, we have worked through about a million different potentially major issues (e.g. car chasing). I did train him to accept a head halter, but I don’t use anything but a flat collar any more. At some point I was having trouble with him reacting to strange people and dogs (his adolescence was a real trip) and for a time I had a trainer working with me. He was one of the “protection dog” people and his own dogs had pinch collars and choke collars on … both at the same time. I have no idea what that was about. He tried to help me using positive reinforcement, but what I saw was a lot of luring and basically distracting rather than letting the dog make any decisions. I gave up on that guy after a while. I think it takes some time and work for people to really get an understanding of the methods we use. It seems simple once you have that mind set, but getting into that mind set might not be trivial but so worth it. Keep writing and teaching. People need help!


  44. Barbara Boudreau says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:19am

    My 4 yr old GSD is high drive but well socialized. We do agility, obedience and nose work. I will take her to the dog park occasionally to chuck balls for her, but we enter only if I approve of the “ambiance”. We walk with a chest clip halter and I don’t let her greet other dogs on leash because too many owners aren’t aware of dog communication (my dog is non reactive unless another dog lunges at her or is in-your-face rude). One time out of the blue she became overly aggressive toward another dog until I realized she was reacting to MY anxiety (a huge man with an enormous Akita came strutting towards us). Thanks to your article, I will now calm MY fears by concentrating on my dog with treats or other distractions.


  45. Rebecca says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:19am

    I take it that the food on ground would be off the path enough so the other dog did not try to take it and we end up in a resource guarding situation, correct


  46. Charlene says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:18am

    Thanks for this!! It is very hard to do much with your dog , if they are uncomfortable around other dogs. I Have struggled with this , and love to read anything that may help.


  47. Ami S says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:17am

    With any tool, comes improper usage. I use a head halter on my large dog at USDAA shows. He doesn’t go looking for trouble, but I like to have control of his head if something out of our control happens. He could be reactive if put into a certain scenario. On walks, he walks on a flat collar and does not aggress towards other dogs. We are on a mission to walk (4 miles an hour – let’s go!) and he was well-paid to ignore other dogs while out walking. My other dogs are little and also walk without issue on flat collars, paid the same way with mucho rewards when walking past other dogs, (again, we walk briskly and don’t have time to focus on other dogs) and they never needed a head halter. Now, our canine chiropractor has seen some spinal damage due to improper usage of the head halter. Again, anything used improperly is going to have repercussions. John Q Public needs to be trained how to use the tools for success. And a lot of the public does not want to invest in the time it takes to train the head halter properly so the dog doesn’t tantrum. I can see both sides to this discussion. It will be interesting to follow! 🙂


  48. Michelle says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:14am

    Thank you for this! I have a 6 month old Golden Retriever puppy (my first “on my own” dog). Since she was 7 weeks I take her everywhere, she loves people and other animals-cats and dogs-and is the most loving and playful pup! I have used only clicker training and positive renforcement with her and was shocked to hear a trainer tell me to get a prong collar to keep her from jumping and pulling toward other dogs when she sees them.

    And when she stops to smell something on a walk to just pull and drag her because it’s “my” walk, not hers.

    Horrified I fired the trainer.

    She responded by telling me that if I want to “nip it in the bud” that’s the clearest message for my puppy and I am only confusing her by taking more time than needed to train her to stay close to me and not jump.

    I am so tired of hearing people tell me to get a prong, or ask “is she going to settle down?” She is A PUPPY. Puppies play and get excited and selectively listen. They are quirky, and mischievous, and loving and offer the most unwavering loyalty. Why would I squelch that to “nip it in the bud” which says to me “I don’t want to spend the time it takes to train based on trust and not fear”.

    So after 6 months, I can’t imagine NOT having her. We have a bond based on trust and when I do speak assertively she listens and does what I ask because she trusts in me and what I ask of her.

    OUR walks are just that.OUR time. Not mine or hers. She smells, and carries sticks and I am as patient with her in doing that as she is with me in tying my shoes to get out the door.

    Pets are not meant to be dominated they are meant to be taught…given guidance, kept safe and loved. And if we do that they can share in our lives in a remarkable way.


    • Barbara Boudreau says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:57pm

      Good for you Michelle. My now 4yo GSD was nutso as a puppy…happy,brave, loved everything but uncontrollable energy. I used only positive training and now she’s the most perfect dog imaginable. She knows the difference between our casual fun walks where she’s allowed sniffing privileges and focused “heel–no dawdling”. She also understands “visit” with people (4 on the floor)as she is a people magnet. She’s still happy, confident and so willing to work for me.


  49. Marilyn says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:12am

    Any suggestions on what I can use instead of treats for a large Guardian mix who ignores treats when he’s over stimulated? eg:He will not come unless he wants to, and sometimes he just doesn’t want to. I can be holding pieces of jerky and he won’t come!


  50. Sonia says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:07am

    My pup is one and a half. She is still learning leash walking, she is a very hyper yellow lab mix. However at about 12-14 weeks old, she was attacked by another dog while I had her on leash. Now while on leash, she so wants to see other dogs and play, I let her meet the dogs and sniff and then in a split second she reacts, growls, barks and lunges at the other dogs. I can take her to a dog park and she plays with everyone!! Just not while on leash, it’s very sad cause I know deep down she just wants to play. Would the same exercises you describe above work for her?


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