001 002 003 004 005 006 007 008 009

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. Gail Liebelt says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:02pm

    Loved your article. Head halters are a life saver. I wish they could be used at AKC trials!!


  2. Bernice says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:57pm

    Hi, lovely post,
    I wish you could see our club on a Sunday morning, we have a large membership with new people joining each week, it is a voluntary club and has been going for nearly 40yrs. Everyone gathers before class and we very seldom have any problems with on lead aggression, which we help people with by giving them info gathered from around the world, tell them to take dog to a distance where he feels comfortable and make being there happy for the dog. One of the best info I have come across was an article called. ‘Watch the world go by’ it is lovely and good for all dogs and people. We also have a policy. That they ask (people and dog) before there dogs meet, and the meeting lasts for three seconds and dog moves on. Our puppies get to meet other pups on lead and off, and all play sessions are short and care is taken to allow large dogs and small dogs to meet nicely.

    One of the ways this is achieved is the use of treats, by treating both dos or more at the same time I have found over the tears that it changes emotions, it gives me the opportunity to show owners how to teach manners and the pups how to share. (We usually have 20-25 puppies each week, we split them up for a short plat session, many different breeds and sizes, great fun and a great opportunity to teach there owners about simple dog language)

    We then go and sit under trees pups are tired so are happy tp lay down with other pups. We are surrounded by sports walkers skate park any thing and everything. Great club and I love it especially working with the pups nothing beats watching a shy little puppy blossom and learn that he can say hello and it’s good to play.

    The thing I would add is that the human learn to be calm, very calm, dogs will and do pick up on our emotions – it’s not easy but it works, especially doing things solely talking softly.

    Thank you for the article. By the way we do not have those awful collars and check/correction collars can not be used as such in our club and no puppy is allowed to wear one, our club is positive and members are taught about building a relationship with there dog and things on the whole seem to work very well.

    Cheers. B


    • Cheryl says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:01pm

      Who is the author of the article referenced in a comment titled ‘Watch the World go by”?


  3. Jaroline Miller says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:57pm

    I have a reactive Aussie. We have been training with a woman who is a certified trainer through the Karen Pryor academy. Although we have a long way to go, BlueBelle and I have made great strides in several areas. We use the freedom, no pull harness. It allows me much better handling with training. Especially with loose leash walking. Before “knowing any better”, I did try the prong collar with her. Didn’t work and I’m sorry I ever tried it.


  4. Judy Casey says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:56pm

    Good Morning Susan,
    I cringe for the poor dogs attached to these prong collars – and the ignorance of their handlers.
    With my young dog I went through a period of time where she would be lead aggresive. This was solved simply by getting her attention on me encouraging her to tug the lead as we walked past the other dog. This morphed into her looking to me for play on the lead ‘before’ passsing the other dog. Which in turn has morphed into her being off lead and sometimes having to pass another dog at close quarters, she does this well now and most times will come to me and ask for her reward – a game of tug on the lead (which I am holding but it is not attached to her in any way) So.. a stressful situation has become an opportunity for play and her knowing that she has achieved something which we are both pleased about 🙂


  5. Lois Snyder says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:28pm

    I completely disagree. If you firmly correct you dog the first time he even thinks about behaving aggressively towards another dog while on a lead, he’ll never do it again. I have about forty years of experience training dogs and this had been effective every time. I have sane, confident dogs that can go everywhere with me and I don’t have to carry a sack of treats. All you do by providing treats when s dog misbehaves is reinforce bad behavior.


    • Kristy says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:35pm

      I tried the firm correction with my terrier and it made her worse. I switched to rewarding her for looking at me (yes, with treats), and she has started improving immediately. The idea is not to reward the undesirable behavior but teach the dog that there is nothing to be worried about and interrupt the aggressive behavior. I’m sure a firm correction might work with some dogs, but I have seen it fail more than once. (Yes, I do have some experience.-worked for top theatrical animal trainer NYC, worked with behaviorist to rehab reactive foster dogs, agility, obedience.) I’m open minded and try to fit my training to each individual dog. But I have learned to not discount positive methods WHEN used correctly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn1xmUzi0ak


  6. Nina says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:38pm

    Interesting. I don’t use a head halter. I use a halter that puts pressure across my dogs front chest so he cannot pull/jump. This was recommended by his positive reinforcement trainer when he was a young, excited puppy and frankly, I now rarely use it. I have my dog walker and my son use it. For me, my dog has (for the most part) learned to not pull. He does sometimes when my son is running ahead. I believe this is more a dominance issue – my dog will also let me in the door first, but will stand in front of my son and push ahead of him and we are working on that. I use the halter when I’m going far afield and we are going to meet new dogs. My dog LOVES meeting all dogs especially new dogs. Because of his size (about 90 lbs) and exuberance, this helps all of us. He used to jump up and lick every person he met on the lips (except me and my son) and that has gone away except for the people that encourage it – and I ask them NOT to do this but people are much less trainable than dogs! We take almost the same walk everyday and there are a few dogs along the path – in their yards- that after a few times of my dog pulling to smell them he knows now to just keep walking. He doesn’t pull, he doesn’t even look at them. What I found worked well is when other dogs are going by (I keep an eye out and don’t even let him pull toward them) is to have him sit and praise him for paying attention to me. He is not as treat motivated as people/praise motivated. My sister has a pit bull and she used the gentle leader/head harness and she said it scared people because they thought it was a muzzle on the dog. That’s why I prefer this harness, when necessary. I recommend it to everyone who has a dog that pulls. It really made a big difference on all of us enjoying walks together.


  7. Margaret Hart says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:29pm

    Fortunately, prong collars are banned in South Australia. I really can’t understand why people would go to the bother of taking a dog for a walk when it must be such a negative experience for both dog and owner. I guess that part of California follows the little Mexican bloke’s philosophy of being pack leaders. I became concerned about my dog’s beach behaviour when he was a puppy because he wouldn’t come to me when called because there were too many distractions around him. Walking him became unpleasant because I was having to cope with a dog pulling constantly on the lead. We joined Recallers and our beach walks are now fantastic. I can let him off the lead knowing that he will come back when called. If there are other dogs he feels uncomfortable with he comes to me and stays with me until they have gone. I feel it is much more important to develop a trusting relationship with your dog rather than one based on fear.


  8. Silvia says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:25pm

    Great article. I agree completely. It is frustrating though and embarrassing when my dog tries to bite an approaching dog.

    My dogs are brachycephalics and there is no way I can use a gentle leader – trust me I have tried all kinds and sizes. What do you recommend? They pull on the leash while walking or when they see another dog, or a squirrel. I have tried walking the opposite direction since they were younger but they already know it, will stop and sit then prefer to pull anyway.

    Thank you


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:57pm

      Silvia have you tried the “Snoot Loop”? It is a halter designed with Brachycephalic dogs in mind. It has adjustable straps making it hard to remove. Otherwise a “no pull” harness would be your best idea.


      • Silvia says:
        Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 6:44pm

        I will try the snoot loop, thanks. But I even adapted a XXS gentle leader to fit the short muzzle, and it pressed on her nostrils and rubbed the eyes, not sure if this will be possible. I have tried the easy walk harness but then she can’t really walk with it, it restrains her on the elbows due to a large neck and chest. What have worked a bit so far is the sporn halter but not much change. The best thing so far is to use a flat collar and wrap the leash on the waist, but I feel that is too uncomfortable for daily use and would be a type of punishment?

      • LaDonna says:
        Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:04am

        If the easy walk harness is impeding the dog’s ability to walk, it might not be adjusted correctly. The strap that goes across the chest must be above the points of the dog’s shoulders. This means lengthening the strap across the belly and shortening the one across the back.

  9. Phyllis says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:21pm

    I have a Brussels Griffon who has fear aggression due to inappropriate/unsupervised socializing with a very large aggressive dog in her puppy days (when I did not own her). I am unable to use the head halter because of her brachycephalic breed characteristics.
    Because of her fear, her interaction with other dogs was very limited before I got her. Over the last year, I have refused to blame her for her behavior, knowing that she would not choose to be this way if she had been taught differently.
    I enrolled her in agility class and rewarded her profusely whenever she saw a dog and looked to me for input, or let another dog pass without a reaction.
    It has taken some time, patience, and the help of my fellow classmates, but now her adverse reactions to other dogs are few and far between.
    One of the keys is that I try to watch all dogs for their interest in Francine, and watch Francine for her adverse interest in another dog. This allows me to focus her attention on a task, and reward for that, thus reducing the chance of a poor interaction. The games of Susan Garrett’s Recallers are an invaluable tool for building value in your dog for YOU. We use them every day.


  10. Peggy McConnell says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:15pm

    Interesting observation, as I was in southern CA (Santa Barbara) the end of Oct. I also observed many dogs on prong collars and choke chains. It made me wonder about the type of trainers there.

    Thank you for the blog. Always so much good information.


  11. Wilma Turgeon says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:04pm

    Your blog was so right on. Even here in Springfield, MA the prong collar is often used. It is painful to watch the dog be treated in such a manner.


  12. Deborah says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:00pm

    Thanks Susan for writing this, so well put. I do compete in obedience and agility. I have Border Collies and Aussies all my dogs are taught on flat collars or no collars, they all know how to walk close to my left side and not ahead. Recalls a must, I can call them at any point and they come right to me. Here in New York have seen many dogs on pinch collars, sad….


  13. Vorginia Hengst says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:59pm

    Hi Susan, I have a seven year old neutered male Border Collie. He is a very beautiful sweet boy out of breed championship lines. Loves people of all ages. Has his AKC Masters Agility title and is a certified Therapy Dog. We have done numerous classed including Controlled Unleashed. Cooper is a good family dog getting along well with our other Border of 14 years. Always performed well on the Agility course; never leaving to run after dogs.
    When we brought Cooper home from the Breeder he was very anxious and cried and barked the whole trip. Thst has never ende. First challenge-a very anxious traveller. Second when I first began to walk him on locsl sidewalks (we live in a small development, part of a small town) I motoced he lunged at passing traffic. Third it did not take llong gor me to find that he also lunged at other dogs.

    Having never experienced such behavior on the past I began to seek help from various trainers and other sources. Nothing has been a perfect solution. We continue to keep him busy and stimulated. He is much loved by all who meet meet him.
    I am certain you are very busy but if you would possibly have time to forward any suggestions for Cooper and I we would both be forever grateful.

    We continue to work with Cooper. We are back to using a head collar and the ttoublesome behaviors are for the mist part are well managed but not eradicated.


  14. Karen says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:37pm

    I find your blog very interesting. I have a Koolie X ( maybe with Staffordshire terrier) Darby. We bought her as a tiny 17 week old who had come from a litter of 8. We bought her from a pet shop that sold dogs for a dog home. Looking back I should have been concerned as she was on her own, no other dog at the shop.She had leg issues which meant we had to keep her locked up for over a month to wait for them to strengthen and straighten up. We already had an older dog at home and they got along really well.
    When I could we took her for short walks where she showed extreme aggression to every dog we passed. I tried feeding, correction, toys just about everything I could think of but nothing would take her attention off the other dog.
    I joined our local dog club and worked my way thru from distance until we could be nearly part of the group. A lot of work with toys , loose leads and food but still she was unpredictable. She is walked on a halter style lead. She is now 7 and she is still totally unpredictable. She has been attacked by small and large dogs while I have been working on her issue (from around 2 years and up) due to people not leasing their dogs, and not once has she been able to bite back as I have always made sure I was in control.
    Unfortunately due to a recent issue I will not walk her again. She will run around our property for the rest of her but I am too scared as to what may happen outside our property.
    She is not my first , or second, dog that I have trained. I looked for inspiration from lots of world renown trainers. Darby even was able to trial in agility with no issue in the ring, but still a big concern between the car/ crating area to the ring. I believe your method would not work with her as she would never turn away from the other dog even with a haltie, I would turn her head but she would still be trying to see the dog, no matter how much I tried to change her ability to see it.
    Sorry for the long post but I thought you could use the background to understand my own experience.
    Maybe this post will give you some more inspiration on how a problem similar could be fixed/ dealt with. I seriously believe that if someone ,with less experience then me , had owned her , she would have been ‘put down’.


  15. Jean says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:25pm

    I would find it very helpful if you could show a picture of all the different collars and what they are called as I am not sure of all of them.


  16. Susan says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:20pm

    Interesting about “influencers” in a community. I hadn’t really thought about that. We were in Carmel this summer and the beach was so dog friendly & almost every dog was off leash! I was at first worried, but the interesting thing was that not a single dog with its group interfered with another group. They could even walk by a group and each set of dogs would sort of look at the other group and keep moving on with its family. I watched a gentleman bring down his young GSSD and got a little tense as she started to stalk a medium sized dog hanging out with a little boy and his dad. I thought, “ruh ro”. The gentleman told his GSD to stop and stay, put her leash on, walked up to the family then took her off leash & the two dogs had a rousing game of chase, the GSD stopping momentarily to kiss the little boy digging in the sand. I was so impressed by the wonderful pet owner manners I saw, except the guy who ignored the “pick up after your dog sign”. I was wondering if the west coast is just more relaxed than us uptight easterners or if these dogs had simply always grown up this way, saw puppies there too, and that this was just normal to them. It was cool. So, I wonder who the influencers are in that area.


  17. Judy Guillot says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:53pm

    Oh Susan, You are SO spot on! Definitely a post to share. Thanks.


  18. wendy johnston says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:47pm

    Thank you Susan. A great blog and so sad for the dogs who have owners without knowledge. My dogs have always been socialised and rewarded with treats for good behaviour. On our leash free beach I have never had a problem but occasionally there are dogs who show aggressive behaviour. After asking the owners to control their dog I am informed ‘Oh, they are only playing’. Save me from ignorant owners.


  19. Andi Bower says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:25pm

    Last evening I began my 5th Puppy Program this year. The pups ranged in age from 12 weeks to 7 months. The reason I teach this program is partly because of the joy Susan Garrett and team inspire in pups from 8 weeks old. This choice based game style training is what puppies love and the results are incredible and produce the dog of your dreams. To share and spread this style training is also a passion of mine.

    Back to last evening, all the pups came pulling their owners to the registration table. I had sent out an email with directions and yard reminders about keeping their distance from each other until class began. Not all dogs want a face on greeting with a boisterous pup! Clearly 2 pups, a 5 month old GSD and a Black Lab 7 months were shy and hid behind their owners. I asked both those handler/pup teams to sit on either side of my demo dog Ali who was on a table. Then I moved everyone else back into a semi circle. I asked everyone to share their biggest puppy/challenge/struggle to date. I then explained my training philosophy and began class with crate manners (asking them to puchase SG’s Crate Games) and gave them 3 games to play with their pup the next week until we meet again. Those games involved impulse control (SG’s IYC), a recall game, and daily puppy inspection.

    Then I asked the two shy pup owners to remain after class. It saddened me to hear both had been attacked by aggressive dogs who got away from their owners when on leash when these pups were only 3 and 4 months old. Their homework was to play the confidence building games at home, however, to take their meals “on the road”. That meant starting at home perhaps on the front porch with their pup on leash. Ask for nothing, anytime anything caused the pup to look up they were to drop a few pieces of food/treats to the ground in front of their puppy. See something, reward is coming. Be it a leaf, a bicycle, a human, a child, a car, etc. Watch your puppies body posture…do not delay and wait for a reaction, be proactive and calm, making sure the treat is delivered while they have viewed something. I used Ali in a down stay with a food kong at a 50′ distance to assist them how to reward their pups. Those puppies who would not eat in class, began to relax and both were willing to eat their entire meal while watching Ali relax at quite a distance. They were not asked to perform any behavior. I have decided to take on these two handler/pup teams separately from class until we see progress. As the puppy progresses, the locations will become varied. As the pup begins to push and act more confident, the games will be introduced as well in new locations. We may introduce a clicker next week in a separate session.

    I know this works as I had a very fearful BC rescue who just passed away 3 weeks ago at almost age 15. I had no idea what caused her to be afraid of anything and everything. All I knew was that to live life that way must be awful for her. A clicker, her food and being willing to go somewhere new everyday for more than a year made her my best friend and 4 time agility champion. No one could believe this confident, funny, loving dog could have been that way. Only those who grew up with her and had “wiggy” pups/dogs and trained the same way I did with Flow understood what it can take. Flow had a great life and made me a much better trainer through it all. You have to be willing to think outside the box and be your puppy’s advocate.

    Why I’m saying all this is because the 70 lb Black Lab came on a prong collar. I had specifically said what type collars/harness, nose gear to bring your pup in, stating no choke, pinch, prongs were allowed. She explained due to her pups fear, it was the only way to control her from running away from dogs dragging her in tow. UGH! I calmly explained to her what I thought about exacerbating the issue of fear begetting lifelong fear and she has agreed to try a Gentle Leader or Holt Collar. Both these owners had no idea what to do other than keep their puppies in the confines of their home as walking their pup was out of the question they felt.

    Next weeks class we will be addressing appropriate walking gear…Gentle Leader or Holt Collar will be what I will be recommending with the games associated with getting their pups to willingly push their nose through the loop!.

    While we can’t control the actions of others, we CAN share a different style of training which produces confident well adjusted loving companions we can take anywhere anytime and almost always predict their behavior. And those wonderful dogs will be able to spread the word amongst new people who are in awe of your dog and how you trained it joyfully as a team.


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:28pm

      Brillant Andi, thank you for sharing. <3


  20. Sue says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:24pm

    Why should you throw the treats in fron of the dog keeping his head down as opposed to treating him and n the RZ at your side?
    Loved the article. I learn something new every time I read your blog!


    • Phyllis says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:04pm

      Correct me if I’m wrong, Susan, but I think you are referring to dog owners who are not yet aware of, nor have trained a response to the RZ (or “reinforcement zone”). What you are suggesting are the first steps an “untrained owner” can take to begin a path of positive reinforcement.


      • LaDonna says:
        Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:07am

        Also, by throwing the treat on the ground, your dog is less threatening to other dogs when it’s head is down.

  21. Elaine Pire says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:21pm

    Love your Blog, I live in Aberdeen Scotland, I have two reactive terriers, one is 6 yrs old and has a medical condition which makes her grumpy, the other is around 2 yrs, I took him on a year and a half ago after watching this poor pup being passed from pillar to post, 6 months old and 5 homes, labelled aggressive which made me really sad, he has been with me for a year and a half now and he is such a clever wee monkey. I have struggled for years to find a good positive trainer to help me with the first terrier but every one was so stuck in the past with regards to training methods. Finally I found a lovely trainer from down Edinburgh way who I asked to come to Aberdeen to help me. Having reactive dogs can be very isolating and I had no idea until I organised an event for reactive rovers by Claire Staines ( dog trainer), just how many reactive dogs were in my area. With Claires help, guidance and now friendship, our dogs have come on leaps and bounds as we work with them in a force free fashion, teaching them tricks that we can shape into helping our dogs cope better in situations. We still have our off days but we are all moving forward, enjoying our dogs more now that we understand fully what their fears are etc. We have built up a small but very supportive group, we meet regularly to train our dogs, have fun and talk over any difficulties we are having. Choose force free every time as it does wonders for the bond between dog and human.


  22. Crystal says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:10pm

    I adopted my first fur baby when she was about a year old. I read that I should put her in obedience school. I found one near my home and enrolled her. This instructor was all about prong collars and choke chains. I hated it but did not know better. I have never cared for a dog and she was the professional right? I felt terrible knowing these collars were painful. While she did learn to walk nicely on a leash and to sit and stay, other behaviors started. She became nervous, anxious and was unnerved around other dogs. This broke my heart as I remember how she adored other dogs and initiated play. I hired s reward based trainer to work with me and learned about positive reinforcement and good harnesses. While my baby is far from perfect but has come a long way. She would lunge out and bark at her stressors (dogs, loud vehicles etc); she now looks up at me when we pass something she is afraid of. Of course she expects a yummy treat but that’s ok. :). I tossed those awful metal pain collars promptly


  23. Janice says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:08pm

    I read these posts with great interest but have not yet found a real solution for my boy. I have yet to find something that really motivates him that I can replicate and reproduce. He is an anxious ex working lurcher and he lives to find a scent, hunt, chase, kill and eat. Obviously he doesn’t get to do this now! But he has no interest in food or toys so I’m a bit stuck with what to do that will gain his attention (away from the other dog) and reward him sufficiently that he wants to repeat this rather than bark and lunge.any suggestions very gratefully received, thank you


    • Nikki says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:58pm

      Hi Janice – have you tried upping the reward level? Using a super high value treat? If so, and it’s still not working, you may just be too close to other dogs for his comfort level. Create some distance and work from a distance until he is comfortable, then slowly decrease the distance to the trigger (other dogs)


    • Tonestaple says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 5:20pm

      I know you say he’s not food-motivated but have you tried a meat variety of baby-food? They tend to be a bit smelly, plus yummy meat.


  24. Sheila says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:07pm

    I am a new member to Recallers and have been quite amazed at the interest my dog has shown in being a part of everything that we are trying. Because of the excessive energy of my three year old Wheaten and the infamous “”Wheaten Greeting” I used a front hooking harness that worked remarkably well on our walks. She does feel that every dog is her friend, but instinctively realizes when they are not and passes by. We have several off leash parks and for the most part the dogs play well together. I still need help with the greeting behavior though and welcome any and all suggestions.


  25. Suzanne says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:01pm

    Could you recommend a leash that you like, I have a 60 pound lab that lunges from one thing to another when we walk. I would love to find a good leash.

    We have used a flat collar leash – and she chokes herself, and when we use a flat body harness type, she hates it, and pulls even more.

    By a head harness, are you referring to a “gentle leader”? We tried it once and she did nose rolls the whole time. She is very friendly towards people and other animals, but I would like her to walk easily. She injured her ankle and I can’t take her to play Frisbee like the other dogs, so it’s hard to get her exercise other than just easy walks.


    • Elaine Pire says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:25pm

      I have found that working on lead skills helped greatly with my pulling, lunging dogs. They are smaller than your dog but we used the 300 peck method to get them to walk better on lead. This method could be a really good way for you to exercise your dog while she is recovering from injury.


    • Christine says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 4:51pm

      Working with many dogs in a shelter with this philosophy, it simply shows how wonderful it works and creates dogs who trust and can be trusted.


  26. Jan says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:00pm

    It’s not just Hermosa Beach. I spent one day at Newbarket held at Newmarket, ON, and possibly 40% of dogs had pinch collars. Attend any local conformation show and you’ll see pinch/prong collars are prevalent. And a vendor at Cynosport was selling some nice fabric martingale collars. Nice until I realized that the fabrics were hiding prong collars. Add that too many trainers promote such collars (and e collars) and sadly, they are widely used.


    • Ginger Aldrich says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:49pm

      Hi…..I would like to clarify that pinch or prong collars are NOT ALLOWED at AKC Conformation dog shows, or any AKC event of any kind. Nor are flexi leads. Most are shown on soft slip collars, or chain collars, or Martindale collars. The dogs are trained to show on Loose Leads, to show the judges their free gaiting and movement. Dogs that cannot be calm enough to be examined by strangers ( ie the judge) are excused from the ring, as “unable to be examined”
      We have few issues of aggression at shows, though if they occur it usually involves dogs new to showing or with inexperienced handlers. Flexi leads are not allowed because owners do not use them properly, allowing the dogs to wander too far from the owner.
      I am a VP of a major All Breed Dog Club and exhibitor for 38 years. …..and am on show committee for several large cluster events. I have never seen a prong collar used in a show or seen one for sale at booths there. Just wanted to clear that up …..if someone saw one at a show…..it was not an AKC show or the show officials had not noticed yet.


  27. Barbara Hunter says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:52pm

    Thank you so much Susan – this is so helpful. I have been distracting my reactive dog next to me (in reinforcement zone)instead of ahead of her.


  28. Mark says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:41pm

    Rather than the head halter, I’ve been using the special harness that attaches the leash to the chest, rather than to the neck or back. I think it’s safer for the dog, and it discourages pulling quite effectively. I put the link above so you know what I’m referring to (PetSafe Easy Walk is the brand I use). My theory is that pulling already raises a dog’s arousal, so by discouraging pulling I get a calmer dog less likely to be aggressive.

    I’m not sure if it has any advantages or disadvantages on countering aggression versus the head halter. But I’m sure it’s better than a prong collar, for the reasons Susan mentioned. It does et pour gasoline on the fire. I agree that treats and other good experiences are the way to make these risky moments a positive experience.

    Susan is there a video clip you can flag for me that shows exactly how you use the head halter? I read the Ruff Love book but I had trouble understanding the technique from the written description. Thanks!


  29. Claudia Wasmuth says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:40pm

    Thank you, Susan, for your blogpost.
    some month ago i had a lot of troubles with my 3 dogs with aggression on leash against other dogs. i startet to walk alone with the youngest of my dogs as often as possible. We tried to Keep distance to other Dogs and it was her choice to look to the other dog or at me (earning treats), but without barking. Iff she starts aggressive behavior, I keep calm and give her more distance. I never tried to use a headholder, because i don’t want to Keep her eyes away from the problem. Now after many weeks with more and more success, we can pass by a lot off Dogs without Troubles, even with our 3 Dogs together. Patience pays off!!


  30. Sondra says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:37pm

    I love this blog. Do head halters work for large dogs – I think, around here I have only seen them on small dogs. I have a 85# dog.

    30 years ago, I had a doberman puppy. I worked with a trainer for a VERY SHORT time who’s solution to her being a puppy who couldn’t focus was to put her in a pronged collar. That was our last class there!

    Love your information.


    • Gloria says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:33pm

      Think about horses – the Gentle Leader works much the same as a bridle does on a horse. And if you can control a horse that way, you can surely control a large dog that way. You will be amazed to see how easy it is…you can even use one finger and control your dog. Just follow the instructions about how to put the collar on (there is a right and wrong way), and work your dog up to using it gradually. These things are miracle workers!


  31. Renee Hall says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:31pm

    shared-spreading the hope and end to violence as a training method


  32. Marianne says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:25pm

    What you witnessed and described clearly demonstrates how “not to use a prong collar”. Very sad. Prong collars must be used carefully, but the same goes with head halters. Have you never witnessed someone yank so hard on a head halter that the dog’s neck is jerked violently? Or, a dog just standing by their owner barking aggressively on a loose lease? A collar doesn’t replace training and people in both “camps” just aren’t putting in the training time.

    We are using a prong collar on our current 7-month old Doberman. It is a tool for us at this point in time. However, it’s used in a manner similar to “it’s yer choice”. If he wanted to, he could drag me down the road. He is a puppy and forgets his size and manners at times. But, with the collar, he can self-correct if he goes to pull “too hard”. I do nothing but hold the end of the leash. He chooses to pull or not. It functions no differently than a head halter, except it doesn’t twist his neck. When he looks back, he receives a click and treat (which he returns to me for).

    You NEVER EVER want to “correct” a dog wearing a prong collar when they are looking at a person or dog!!! They will assume that person or dog has bit them and they WILL become even more aggressive!!! That is clearly what you witnessed.

    By using clicks and treats, my dog has learned that “good things happen” when dogs and people are around. As a matter of fact, AWESOME things happen when another dog is barking at my dog (liver treats or fresh chicken pieces). My Doberman has had a male Chihuahua “in his face” barking like a madman and my “big scary guy” just keeps looking at me with his stubby wagging, knowing that he will continue to be well rewarded for his lack of response.

    Not all prong collar users use them aggressively and not all harness and head halter users have non-reactive dogs. Why use collars (restraints) at all? To keep our pets, ourselves, and others safe while we solidify our training. Let’s not judge the tools people are using, but the way they are being used. In that regard, your observations of poor training are spot on.


    • Deb specht says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:02pm

      I have a husky just turning a yr old. Her training has been slow because of my back I didnt have the ability to be on top of it all the time. She is very hyper my husband put a choke collar on her and all that did was pinch her neck she didnt care she has pulled me right off our deck twice,I put a prong training collar on her and she is a totally different dog.


    • sarah says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 3:09pm

      Marianne- I love that you are using the clicker and treats with your dog! What do you think your dog thinks, however, when sometimes he feels pain from the pincher and sometimes he’s get clicks and treats? I would think that would be quite confusing for the learner? I’d love to hear Susan’s thoughts on this. Regardless of you “using” the pincher, there is still an underling “shut down” on the dogs end with avoidance….. From what I read in Susan’s blog here that is what she is trying to convey- “why go there?” Why not just purely allow our dogs to WANT to work for what we want them to do? 🙂
      I’d try a front clasp harness combined with your clicks and treats and see how that goes!


      • Marianne says:
        Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 11:07am

        I don’t “click” if he’s pulling into his collar. That would be rewarding that behavior! He’s clicked and reward for NOT pulling. The “click” has a conditioned response – mom has a tasty treat for you – when he hears the click, he looks and returns to me at which time a treat is delivered and he is “engaged” with me. The moment he glances at a dog/person, there’s a click and follow-up treat. The learned behavior is… dogs and people mean good things happen, therefore, dogs and people are good.

        While there are idiots out there that inflect pain with prong collars, used properly, they do not cause pain. There is a discomfort with them, similar to having a body or head physically turned by different collars and harnesses. Discomfort – I know because I have used it on myself to understand the feeling better.

        I don’t understand where the avoidance comes in. My dog (now) sees other people/dogs and his tail immediately starts waging. If I deem it appropriate, he “visits” (with rules) and he’s rewarded with both a good interaction and treats (or play) at the end.

        Collars are just that, only collars. They don’t replace training! My dog currently wears a prong collar because he COULD pull me off my feet – his brain is still catching up to his size and strength!
        And… my dog LOVES to train with me and continually learn new things – he’s a Doberman! 🙂

  33. Catherine says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:18pm

    Great blog. Thank you.
    I have a leash aggressive dog but she is not dog aggressive. Hard to differentiate at times – certainly for other dog owners as she is lunging at the end of her lead. We did Recallers but we had just got her as a 6-month old and had some challenges. She hates the halter but I do use it and a harness for training. The real message (I have never heard it before – right!) is Plan, Plan, Plan – be ready with the treats, etc. I am caught short too often. My fault not the dog’s.


  34. Cathy Eppinger says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:17pm

    This isn’t a comment, but rather a question. How do you prevent torsion on the neck with a head collar if the dog suddenly moves quickly away from you? Especially if in a panic?


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:52pm

      Cathy, I wouldn’t use a head halter on a flexi or other long line. I would use it only on a standard 4-6′ leash. I would also use it with an awareness of my surroundings. So the dog will never have any momentum to do as you are suggesting. I need to help guide the dog anywhere my head would automatically slide down the leash to grasp the clip under the chin of the dog.


  35. Connie Elrod says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:11pm

    Very good blog. I have a 3 year old border collie. A very rambunctious one. She would love to play with all the dogs that pass but most of them do not care to play with her.
    My problem is with strangers. She pulls toward them like they are her long lost friends. When they reach down to pet her, she begins barking and I have walk away pulling her to get her to stop.
    Would love suggestions


  36. Cathy says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:10pm

    The behavior that *most*people exhibit when walking their dogs near other dogs encourage aggressive behavior , pulling them back pinch collar or not, this is one way that encourages aggression in Schutzhund training it is used to get dogs pumped up and do bite work. I have always used high value treats for my dogs while walking with them , works to stop pulling and get attention .


    • Marianne says:
      Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 11:11am

      Such a GREAT comment!!!! It’s good use of time to check out how trainers build “drive” in Schutzhund training – they allow the dog to lean heavily into their collar while also building excitement in them. It’s frightening to see the exact same thing happening when people take their little “fluffy” on walks!


  37. Valerie Barry says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:07pm

    very well said – thank you Susan! I have this exact quote on my website: “where knowledge ends, violence begins”. We certainly are reminded of it every day in human conflict all over the world.


  38. Claudia says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:06pm

    Susan, we just returned home from Ireland. we were there for two weeks and during that time I saw many people walking their dogs.
    I was very impressed at how nicely the dogs walked beside there owners, passing people and other dogs. During the two weeks I only saw one dog that was reactive to another dog passing and I didn’t see any prong collars. I personally recommend the gentle leader but always tell people “it’s not something you can just buy and plunk on your dog”. Thank you for all you do for the dog community.


  39. Karen says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:50pm

    This is a very timely post. I just moved to a beach apartment in Redondo Beach-just down the road from Hermosa. We moved from Pennslyvania. My mini schnauzer is used to freedom in a fenced yard so I confess walks 3-4 times a day is a new event for her. When I walked her at our old residence, I used The Gentle Leader head halter because she was uncontrollably excited and would pull. I had tried to train. I won’t go into all I tried but nothing worked. The Gentle Leader allowed us to have very pleasant walks once we got going but when she forgot how much fun she was having, she hated it. She would rub her nose or shake her head and she hated me putting in on her. Same was true when I started walking her her on the path along the beach. (Thankfully there are no walls but sometimes there is a drop off so you have limited space to stay clear of other dogs.) One of the first things I noticed on so many of the dogs here was the prong collar. I never saw them in PA. However, I also saw many harnesses. People kept asking me if she was aggressive because of the halter and she is not. I decided to search for an alternative. I found a harness that clips from the chest as well as the back and she is so much happier with it. If I use both clips the leash is shorter but I can chose one or the other. I have all the control I need and she pulls even less than with the head halter. She is much less anxious when I need to guide her away from a bird or another dog. I am definitely going to try the treats on the ground because she likes to approach other dogs in a friendly way and that isn’t always a good idea I found out. There is so much to learn about walking your dog in the vicinity of so many other dogs. Thank you for your post.


  40. Keith Robert Wall says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:49pm

    Fabulous article. I so love all of your articles and wish there were many more.
    In UK where most dogs are walked ‘off leash’ the throwing of food onto the floor just may encourage the ‘other’ dog to come into our dog’s space; in my case not a good scenario. I choose to rapidly hand feed while trying to maintain a loose leash, still trying to create that the sight of another dog (especially an entire male) is to be welcomed.


  41. Cassandra says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:45pm

    I am very interested to try out the treats no the ground technique with my anxious male Weimaraner. Many times he refuses even the highest drive treats while on a walk. I have tried all types of training methods with a behaviourist and use his halti only when we walk in “public” – the rest of the time he is amazing on a flat collar. I think our past classes of 60 to 90 minutes were too much for him – he used to get physically sick from the stress. I will try out shorter sessions in areas I know dogs will pass by, but we still have a good buffer to protect us both.


  42. Sandy S says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:45pm

    Thank you Susan for your article. It does sadden and worry me the state of aggression seen in dogs handled by owners who think by using a pinch is the way to walk their dog.

    Like Krista above, I have too learned so much from the recaller games and have found an incredible difference in our dog. He loves to see everyone on our walks and of course has to meet every dog which sometimes it turns to a little aggression. I will use the treat and focus on me method you mentioned in your article and I know he’ll switch to me quickly and be even a better dog….
    Thank you again for all your articles, lessons and comments… our dog is a busy boy with obedience trials, rally-o trials and soon agility…. you’ve been my coach without even knowing it! 🙂


  43. Stacy Braslau-Schneck says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:45pm

    My dad used to live right along that boardwalk (up in Santa Monica) and I’ve spent a lot of time walking and biking along it. I often fantasized about setting up a table in Venice Beach with a big sign saying “Get Your Dog To Stop Lunging!” and giving out some simple training advice. But, I generally get the impression that most of the people with dogs there are showing off – they’re part of the “see and be seen” culture of LA, and their dog (usually a pit or an “exotic” breed) is just another accessory. I’m grossly over-generalizing, here (many fabulous pet owners also take advantage of the lovely space which is the boardwalk), but many of these people really don’t care to learn more about their dogs.

    Your readers – and mine – are different, of course, so I will be sharing this great, insightful article!


  44. Marg says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:41pm

    I appreciate your words and even more the kindness that was expressed. I so wish more owners of dogs had the desire to become dog people. Then they might become aware how their behavior creates the very behaviors they punish.


  45. Diane says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:40pm

    Thank you Susan and all fellow Recallers. My dog has gone from one who pulls on the leash as a naughty but nice, but not aggressive dog, to the dog I’ve always wanted through your great games and focusing him on the right things to have fun and learn through play. This is a great place to be and I would thoroughly recommend Recallers as the way to go! Di


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 2:12pm

      You go Di! Awesome report!


  46. Cam says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:36pm


    I see so much of myself in your words. I tense up, anticipating my dog’s reaction. We live in a town where there are no leash laws. So overcoming the unwanted advances of the unleashed/unsupervised dog as we are walking ON LEASH is an on-going challenge.


  47. Lora says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:34pm

    It is an unfortunate thing that these dogs have no social skills. These people either do not go to any training school with their dogs; or they go to a school that has no experience on how to deal with the aggressive dog – and figures just put him on a pinch to stop him/her. So many people just don’t have the time to go to a training school; or they think they have skills enough to work with the dog. The third option might be that since they don’t take the dog to parks, etc., that the dog’s aggressive behavior toward other dogs is “controllable” and not a bother when they are at home. It’s the way of the world and once again, we cannot be Crusader Rabbits and help the entire world of dog owners or anyone else. Sad situations for these dogs but still better than being in a shelter.


  48. Danae says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:32pm

    Thank you for this blog post Susan.
    I will keep two things from this one:
    1. “Violence begins where knowledge ends”.
    2. The way we treat our dogs is a matter of influence. Some people just do not know any better…

    I live in Athens (Greece’s capital) and only 5% uses a head halter. It is vital that more trainers like you are heard 🙂


  49. Krista says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:12pm

    Thank you once again for your wonderful insights into dog training. This being the first time i have ever had the experience training my own dog, and a puppy at that, it has been an exciting new challenge and having the tools and experiences that you have provided through recallers and your blog it has been a very positive one for me. I do not have trouble with on leash aggression but i am having a challenge on getting my pup not to pull her hardest to get to another dog or person so she can play. Through this post i now have ideas on how to curb this behaviour!

    On another note, thanks to the games i play with her everyday through recallers there is almost not a day that goes by that i do not get a comment on how good my 5 month old puppy is. So thank you! 🙂


    • Susan says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:16pm

      🙂 love to hear that Krista!


  50. Faith says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 1:05pm

    So well worded. It had me in tears at one point for the dogs, that are at us humans mercy. I forget how much of this kind of “training” still goes on. Thank you for this wonderful article. I will continue to pull together with you and others to advocate for the animals.


Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *