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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. Shelly says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 6:07pm

    It’s painful for me to look back, knowing I once used these types of collars. Choker, prong and electric collars…this is what I knew, this is what I was told to use, this is what I saw others using and this is what was ‘recommended’ that I use. So I did. Of course I had no success with any of them, well, maybe short term success at that given moment (with a yank, stab or shock) but they never provided any long-term solutions. It wasn’t until I took the time to educate myself that I realized there was a better way. When I found “Say Yes” I became a member of Puppy Peaks. This is where I learned about the Head Halter, the proper way to introduce one to my dog and how to use one correctly. It’s been the most effective training tool I have ever used. There is no need to use force & intimidation or inflict fear & pain in our dogs. I’m so thankful that “Say Yes” came into my life. I’ve learned so much about dog training & dog behavior. I now share the kind of life with my dogs that I know they so deserve! Thank you Susan for using your voice to help educate dog owners around the world!


  2. Claudette Barker says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 4:44pm

    I live in a 2 part house. The walk linking the 2 has a chainlink fence between me and my neighbor. There are 2 beagles there. My 2 JR’s and the Beagles are very territorial. I knew that I didn’t want to live with fence fighting so began doing your system. It worked perfectly. I now have 4 happy dogs each morning.


  3. Lainie says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:43pm

    I used to live in Southern California. Cesar Milan and his ilk are very popular there. I tried a prong when I was frustrated with my dog and he hated it. He loves playing the games and hints when he wants to do training.


  4. J Dog Trainer says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:31pm

    We should be as compassionate about the uneducated, ignorant dog owners as we are about the dogs.

    Many people feel more secure if they have a forceful training device on their dogs. In addition to being fearful of their dog’s behavior, they are fearful for their reputation and appearances among their peers. Dog training “influencers” need to be less adamant about banning these devices and more understanding of those who hold the leash. Let the owner keep the tortuous contraption around the dog’s neck while training with less aversive restraint and a second leash. Once an owner observes their own dog responding to positive reinforcement, they can be much more easily persuaded to ditch the punishment.

    Fearful humans need love too.


  5. Leslie says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:22pm

    Whenever I am out walking and I see a dog with a prong/pinch collar I immediately assume that the handler does not know how to manage the dog’s behavior properly and is now resorting to physical restraints/techniques. I also assume that the handler does not have a strong working relationship with the dog.
    Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with a pet takes study and practice. Many folks don’t want to make that kind of commitment.
    I have herding dogs and mine, too, are sensitive to a “greeting sequence.”
    Also, people need to choose a dog breed that fits their lifestyle, time, and abilities. I regularly see people with dogs they can’t handle due to the dog’s size, strength, and temperament.


  6. Sherry says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 2:39pm

    Great article. I live in Newport Beach, CA about 40 miles south of Hermosa. I use only positive reinforcement and have two reactive dogs myself. My dogs and I frequently walk on a narrow boardwalk on Balboa Island. My bait bag is always on and I bring food for my dogs. I purposely wear my bait bag so other people can see it (lead by example right?). I receive several comments about how well behaved my dogs are during their walks. When my dogs see another dog, they immediately look up at me and I reinforce that behavior by giving them their favorite food. (note: I am a certified dog trainer and have worked with my dogs to get them to a place where they can see dogs, be happy about it and love walking on the boardwalk).

    Unfortunately, the use of prong and shock collars is prevalent in this area. Just the other day, I saw “dog trainer” in my area teach a dog owner to correct a dog for only looking at another dog – without reacting. This dog was wearing a prong collar. So if using a prong collar on a reactive dog is adding gasoline to the fire, then correcting a dog for looking at another dog without reacting is like throwing a lit match into gasoline and expecting… Even more disheartening was that this ‘dog trainer’ works for a veterinarian facility.

    The good news is that I have a very busy dog training business. I am getting more and more clients that are learning that positive reinforcement works better than punishment to change behavior. My clients learn that we have to change, not only the symptom (barking, lunging, snapping, etc) but also the cause of that behavior. Once those clients see and experience the results they are sharing the news with others.

    I will share your article on my business page. Thank you. ☺


  7. Bonnie Hirst says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 2:36pm

    This all makes such perfect sense to me and unfortunately I can totally see myself in your scenario of getting tense and getting a firmer grip on the leash the minute I see another dog and I am fairly sure my boy is going to react to it. I will try to improve, relax and become the handler my dog deserves.


  8. Susan says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 2:16pm

    For what its worth, Dr. Jean Dodd, DVM (vet in southern California) commented on her blog, that prong collars may be contributing to thyroid injury or disease.

    I myself transitioned into +R methods after reading “Culture Shock” written by Jean Donaldson (I think), also books by Karen Pryor. I would think that in time the word will get around.

    Presently, my training group(s) feel that prong, choke chain, e-collars are beneficial, and in some ways the only way to train. I have an overly excited lab puppy and my agility teacher wanted me to put a prong collar on her so that she would eventually learn to not lunge toward people & dogs, which was her way to connect and play. My explanation of my use of +R methods fell on ‘deaf ears’.

    The prong, choke chain, etc. are still in use because they work. The question is at what cost to the dog and/or the person’s training program.


  9. Tucker says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 1:45pm

    It is interesting to see how many people use pinch collors, but many people do not know how to properly use them. I dont like them for a few reasons. 1. They do little about correcting the issue with some dogs. 2. They can accutally hurt the dog in many ways. And 3. Many people dont put them on the right lenth for their dog with could lead to many serious issues and a big vet bill. In my opionion we should due away with pinch collars for the safety of our dogs. Their are many other ways to correct aggrestion behavior as well as other methods to help with it. Many of which work very well.


  10. Elizabeth P. says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 1:35pm

    Having read many of the comments, I think it would be interesting (although not possible) to sort people by the size of their dogs. My guess is that many of the anti-prong folks have medium or small dogs. It is easy to be critical when you haven’t been dragged into a potentially dangerous situation. Yes, training for challenging circumstances helps, but things still happen that you can’t even imagine.


    • Lainie says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:28pm

      My dog is 73lbs. We use either a martingale or a headcollar. I tried a prong and he absolutely hated it. We enjoy our time with a martingale much more.


    • Tamandra says:
      Friday, November 20, 2015 at 6:50am

      My dog is also 73 lbs, intact, high drive working line GSD. I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t judge the choices others make, but I know that it’s possible to have control with a large dog without a prong collar.


  11. Mary Copeland says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:58pm


    You are so diplomatic. I travel frequently in California, and was in San Francisco this past week. While there I commented to a friend that the leash culture of the Bay Area is drastically different than around Los Angeles. I was not so diplomatic and named the “influencers”. Up north I did not observe a single choke, pinch, or prong collar on this trip. By contrast, I would guess in LA I see more than 60% of dogs wearing such devices. Though, 20 years ago my local culture seemed to take a happy shift toward positive reinforcement (Thanks to Bob & Marion Bailey!)the pendulum has swung back a bit and I encounter more shock and pinch collars again. These devices come along with trainers who swear to use positive methods,but when the training gets challenging they default to this instead of good training.
    And I couldn’t agree with you more. A dog who experiences pain via a shock or pinch collar upon seeing another dog is very likely to associate that discomfort with the other dog (or whatever else might be) in their line of sight. When trapped by a leash or a barrier one of the few options they have is aggression.
    I try to put bright, very obvious head halters, or harnesses on my polite walking dogs so people will see what the well- adjusted canines are wearing.
    Thanks for being smart, and leading with your heart!


  12. Christy says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:36pm

    Terrific article, as always! Only about 11 yrs ago did I give up the prong collar, and it was with some reluctance. I was reluctant, not because of giving up perceived control, but because I have a breed prone to wobblers syndrome, a career ending, very often life ending disease, and the use of a head halter could (potentially) exacerbate a dormant condition. I suspect that many Doberman owners (and other breeds prone to wobblers), use prong collars for the same reason.

    The problem, we feel, is that if the point of attachment is under the muzzle, and the dog lunges, the powerful body moves one way while the head is being held tight, and the neck is absorbing the torque, and you have a traumatic incident at C5 and C6 (usually), where the problem is typically seen in a wobblers dog. (Sadly, I’ve had 2 dogs with wobblers).

    Fortunately, a new product was designed in the UK called a “K Bridle”, and instead of the lead being attached to the underside of the (long) muzzle, the lead attaches high up on the neck behind the ears. If the dog lunges, there’s less resulting torque to the neck. I love this product and saw great changes when I convinced my husband to use the Bridle with our male dog who was becoming reactive. Confidence increased for BOTH dog and husband, and walks have become fun and relaxing. Right product, an understanding of how to use it, and conscious walking without a iphone in one’s hand. 🙂


    • Christy says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:37pm

      Sorry! That’s K9 Bridle.


    • Tamar says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 2:19pm

      I love the halter style head collars- a company in Canada called Newtrix also makes a behind the head attaching collar with a bit of martingale to it!


  13. Nitza - Lea says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:23pm

    Thanks so much for your Education and Insperation!

    I , used to use the most strong ones you would not recomend, in the past, but tryed my best to not hert her, and y et- it is …

    via a frind who is now have become an official trainer in Positive Reinforsments, that intruduced me to the Fredome, and to listen to my dog vrss “fight” her, and.. their is a long way to go- but it is in much better horizon now!

    I still have hard time follow the web and the great constructive games- it is harder to follow instruction becouse A. I am staborn. 🙂 B. I am deaf- and most of the vediw is yet to be captioned, and C- the web it self- ( or I am getting old ) is hard to understand- but- I am optimistic- that if I do try to keep trying to follow we are all going to benefit!

    I am very happy that you incorege the envioranment “Education” – but without pushing- so on this page, I will try , bli neder, to expose my kid more to this idea ( but mostly she is with me over the day )

    Thanks, again.

    would you have any recomended program to follow your game and understanding building- for example- someone who did this before and more fluant who may be able to mentor us a bit?



  14. Judy Moore says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:25am

    I run my three Aussies on 30 acres of woods and pasture. Always surorised that so few of my friends are will ing to do this (at my place) for their dogs who are never off leash. When ever my dogs are lucky enough to have guests, there is never any trouble..past a short sorting out process.

    When out and about and at agility trials, I taught my dogs to change sides with me when approaching another dog.. This puts me and the other person between the dogs and we keep moving.I think my dogs gain confidence from this because they are in charge of the change. When meeting out of control dogs my dogs feel it’s best to have me move them way out of the way before there is any kind of mud slinging.

    If we ever meet a loose dog, i try to stay calm, keep moving and yes, trow handfuls of treats..sometimes a little scary, though.


  15. Sheri says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:49am

    Not all Southern Californis trainers advocate old school harsh methods, very few in competition homes. Susan, you are in Ceaser’s backyard here tho–he has a huge following the pet owner demographic. And the trend toward rescuing damaged shelter pets & breeds not known for sociability compounds the problems i. If inexperienced folks would get a mild mannered breed and commit to a positive training program, like Recallers, all dogs & owners would be happier


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:44am

      Complete agree Sheri except for one thing; the effectiveness of positive training programs like “Recallers” is not reserved only for “mild mannered breeds.” However, the greater the history of inappropriate behaviour the greater the need for a large dose of patience being a part of the dog training solution. Sadly that is where prong collars “appear” to many as the only solution… people are willing to sacrifice the experience of their dog for what appears to be a “quick fix.”


  16. Hedwig says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:48am

    When I walk my dogs here in South Africa it happens quite frequently that other dogs off leash come running towards me and my dogs. If I throw treats in front of my dogs in that situation, the other dog might try to steal them which might trigger aggression or even a real fight.

    But even if the oncoming dog is on leash, what do you do when the other owner is coming straight to you for the dogs to say “hallo”. Everybody will want the cookies!


  17. Kimberly says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:13am

    I appreciate your article and your methods of training. My feeling is, if I wouldn’t use a particular teaching opportunity on my child, then I wouldn’t use it on my pet. We have several dog owners in my neighborhood who use electric collars. My German Shepherd and I have been “attacked” (but not severely injured) over and over by dogs running through their electric fences, who get more aggressive as their collars activate. Positive reinforcement is so much kinder and humane. Thank you for sharing your good works!


  18. Chris says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:10am

    Admittedly, I haven’t read all the comments, but those that I have read all seem to be commenting on the use of various types of collars, harnesses, etc. and on training methods. Would anyone care to chime in on our possible role as “influencers”? This is something with which I struggle. I have no problem setting what I consider to be a positive example, but when interfacing with the general public (as opposed to an individual who asks me a question, thus inviting me to share my knowledge and opinions) how can we best apply the principles of positive dog training to humans in such a way as to encourage them to work positively with their dogs (and children?)? Is there some subtle way we can work to shape the behavior of strangers around us? I hope some of you will share your ideas on this.


    • Brenda says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 9:48am

      As a dog trainer, I like to wear my business shirt whenever possible & have a dog with me. I will sometimrs go to a park where people are walking dogs & just run through some drills & play & back to drills. I get attention & see people writing down or using their smart phone to take a picture of my car to get my ph# & website. I use every event I go to as a vendor as a chance to educate dog owners in my commumity. My dogs go a long way in that education as they inspire people to educate themselves & train their dogs.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:43am

      Great comment Chris!


  19. Marsha says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 7:52am

    While intending to have my dog’s focus on a handful of treats that I toss on the ground in front of my dog … I am concerned that I also attract the other dog’s interaction into my space because there is a handful of food on the ground. The other dog may move toward my dog’s food on the ground. The other owner may be placed in a more challenging situation of trying to control their dog because it now involves food too.


    • Sherry says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 11:03am

      Not having tried this yet I would think that if you can see the other dog far enough ahead it would give you time to get the treats on the ground and your dog time to eat them and then just drop one or two for your dog who now knows they could be coming and will be watching you, hopefully, instead of other dog. Just a thought.


  20. Sally says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 7:14am

    Thanks for this timely post. I was an old-school-prong-collar trainer but now am a convert to Say Yes style dog training, and am Happily Happily working my young energetic dog in Recallers. I have adopted strategies 1 and 2, but have not tried tossing treats on the ground. My pup does like “moving RZ – reinforcement zone” so sometimes I just trot with my dog past other dogs in moving RZ style, giving treats from hip touch to mouth. I think the idea of throwing treats on the ground could be substituted for something positive your dog LOVES to do that builds confidence and keeps focus on you.


  21. Karen says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 6:25am

    Vey interesting article. I am from the UK and have a saluki who is not aggressive but unfortunately has been attacked several times by other dogs so can be fearful of other dogs when out walking. She tends to bolt if another dog she is unsure of approaches so I tend to put her back on her lead if I see her start to look worried and the give her treats if she stays with me when the other dog has gone. I wonder if I am rewarding too late and should recall her and treat her before the worry sets in??


  22. Ruth says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 5:52am

    Thank you so much for your wonderful post Susan!

    In my naivety I ignored or punished my dog’s signs that he was uncomfortable around other dogs. I then had a dog reactive dog which made me stressful.

    Through the thoughtful, conditioned use and gradual reduction of a Gentle Leader, Recaller Games (especially Collar Grab), learning about dog body language, BAT and Control Unleashed work, throughtful reflections and record keeping, and the mantras “Distance is our friend” and “any failure = the need for 10 good repetitions to rebuild the bank balance” I have a dog who walks beautifully on a flat collar and can meet unfamiliar large intact males without lunging and other reactions.

    Our walks and our interactions with the public are totally about observing, predicting and making judgements based on historic triggers, the environment and what he’s telling me through his body. I am so much more calm and confident and so is he. It is trainers such as yourself who have been instrumental in bringing about this improvement in our lives.

    I totally agree with your sentiments and welcome the positive changes made possible through education and respectful dialogue. Thank you for allowing this discussion!


  23. Anna Laura says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:42am

    100%agree so well written and described, thank you, I love your work as a dog trainer, your are such an inspiration to me,I will do my best bearing in mind your words”heart based entrepreneuts”
    I teach to use harness or flat collars, and work on a relationship with the dog, doing so off the leash first, fetch and tug, praise and treats, the owners get it at first trial, and just love it, you see it in their eyes and their smiles
    My very best regards, Anna Laura, Ravenna, Italy 🙂


  24. Anna Laura says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:42am

    100%agree so well written and described, thank you, I love your work as a dog trainer, your are such an inspiration to me,I will do my best bearing in mind your words”heart based entrepreneuts”
    I teach to use harness or flat collars, and work on a relationship with the dog, doing so off the leash first, fetch and tig, praise and treats, the owners get it at first trial, and just love it, you see it in their eyes and their smiles
    My very best regards, Anna Laura, Ravenna, Italy 🙂


  25. Sue says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:18am

    My dogs are walked on flat collars occasionally I may use a harness, but this does depend on the location of where I’m walking, I have issues with one of mine where if she thinks someone is behind us, she becomes very nervous, and the other one barks, but think this is more of a breed thing rather than an issue, I love your blogs so informative


  26. Donna says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:14am

    So glad these awful collars are banned in the UK. Pinch collars are lazy training, quick fix “aids”. all 3 of my dogs are rescues. A yorkie, I got aged 1, a Chihuahua cross yorkie, ex puppy farm, age 3 and a rehomed lab aged 6. None had any sort of obedience training or leash work. All had severe issues, – people/dog/ cat aggression. All 3 are figure of 8, head collar style trained. It’s taken a year and hard work. All 3 can be walked together now, all know the ” watch me ” command for food to ignore triggers. Pinch collars may give illusion of control, but how much better if you know your dog is choosing better behaviour. That’s real control!


  27. Elisabeth says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 3:07am

    Hi Susan,
    Keep on the good work. I live in Denmark, and here most dogs wear flat collars. Both prong collars and electric collars are illegal.


  28. WendyR says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 2:24am

    Great blog Susan! There is ample research to back the thesis that aggression/punishment causes an escalation in aggression. It saddens me that enlightenment in dog training and science-based methods are still slow to catch on. There is a better way and we all have a choice – kind, positive encouragement or punishing fear. I’m so glad for a world where you, Grisha Stewart, Patricia McConnell and Denise Fenzi lead by example.


  29. Vickie says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 1:32am

    I don’t know what they do in California, but when I lived in Georgia, I took a dog through a basic obedience class where every dog wore a prong collar. There was no popping or yanking, ever. We just gently guided the dog with the leash. I went back to a regular slip collar for obedience training, but have used the prong collar for walks and roadwork from a bicycle with great success. It’s like having power steering. The dogs don’t seem to mind it at all, and I feel it’s much safer than a head halter or slip collar for a large, fast dog with a long neck.


  30. Rosemary says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:53am

    Thanks, Susan for your thought provoking blog. I truly enjoyed it!
    I was successful with my large breed dog using the food distraction.
    Pairing a choice treat with seeing a dog worked well for us. I tell him to ‘ show me the dog’ & he gets his treat when he turns his head back to me. If necessary I break eye contact with my body long enough to get his attention.
    But I do feel a properly used small link prong collar can be the difference between a dog that gets out with his/her owner or a
    potential backyard dog. Not everyone has the natural abilities
    to be an effective trainer not access to a knowledgable teacher.


  31. Paula says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:32am

    I am shocked. I live in Carbondale, Co., a “suburb”of Aspen. We have a wonderful 150 acre park and I walk my dog off lease. (my vizsla does recall) . Prong collars are unheard of and shock collars are seen as a human failure. Colorado is one of the leading “rescue” locations. I know the area that you are talking about well in CA. It is wide open as is our area. Treat training (I am generalizing) is the cure. I am surprised how many people resist it in our own amazing dog friendly environment. ( Yes, dogs are welcome in Fendi, Gucci, and Louis Vittoun.)
    I think the most important thing is matching the dog with the family. We have had Vizslas since 1972, all of our dogs have been high energy and smarter than we are. Not the breed for a low keyed, in-active family.


  32. Lisa Lane says:
    Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 12:16am

    I tend to think that people often choose the wrong breed for their lifestyle and location,and human physical abilities.
    I don’t know what goals many humans have when they decide to bring a dog home. I have heard some trainers say things like “That breed is too much dog for her/him”. I fear that many choose a dog based on looks like choosing a trendy pair of shoes instead of choosing the dog for the right kind of relationship.Then the human tries to bend the dog to fit their lifestyle.
    Today happens to mark 15 years since I welcomed my first dog into what was previously a dog free life. When I was in college I saw border collies working sheep and asked a handler where she got her dog. She bluntly told me “You can’t have a dog like this.This dog needs a job and you are too busy”! I remembered that through all my years of apartment dwelling and my professional life as a human personal trainer in a city. Not until I was 45 years of age and finally in my own house did I revisit the idea of a dog in my life. I had just undergone back surgery and my husband had allergies. He met a papillon and had no allergic reaction. I researched the breed and found a great breeder. I got myself a “pocket border collie” I took her to obedience,agility and flyball. She weighed 5lbs.She was my gateway dog. Learning leash with her was the best way to learn without damaging my back and all the skills I learned with her translated to my subsequent dogs. Seven of my dogs have been rescued and 2 have been actual border collies. My youngest border collie has all kinds of issues with impulses to herd other dogs having spent his first year without any training and in various inappropriate homes. I carefully plot out my walks and activities. I make sure that I have the mental energy to think through all encounters on our walks. Riot has a fleecy wide custom made martingale and an EZ walk harness (he is double leashed) when we pack walk and he stays calm by my side. When other dogs approach I place myself at a safe distance and praise and/or treat his quiet passage. It takes more focus and energy from the handler not just the proper leash or collar. Knowing your dog takes time. I am convinced that the majority of pet owners don’t consider this when they enter a relationship with a dog. I have sought out trainers and tried to be the best partner for my dogs. It is very fulfilling. Thank you for this blog.


  33. Susan B says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:32pm

    I live in Northern California and prongs collars (also electronic collars) are widely excepted among the traditional dog training groups. I myself use a halter on my lab. We do a lot of training and in time she has learned to sit while people and their dogs pass by. Or course I started out by giving her lots of treats.


  34. PW says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:29pm

    SG – you have inspired me to work with my dog Spirit. He has learned to enjoy life instead of having his every move managed.
    I have been given advice and had suggestions from many other dog trainers over the years about how to “fix the problem”. The advice has ranged from using a prong collar to throwing him (and the person meant physically throwing him) into a crate and showing him who’s boss.
    Thankfully I never followed any of those suggestions. Instead, I’ve learned how to allow him to make good choices in life. And his life is now blossoming before him.


  35. Janet in Oz says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:25pm

    Hi Susan

    I walk my dog with a flat collar. Mostly she walks on a loose lead – even when we see a cat (that training is working).

    But she had a bad experience with a huge poodle cross, and now any of those she doesn’t know, if they get too close (threshold is now about 5m) or stay too long (more than 2 seconds), she scolds them and will nip if she can reach.

    These dogs are not on lead, and the owners allow their “friendly” dog to get in my dog’s face even when we have turned to leave. The first sign I get of my dog not liking an unfamiliar dog is her going into sheep dog stalk and ambush mode.

    If I can – I turn her round and go the other way. Feeding her at this point makes her more likely to scold other dogs and the other dogs try to get in on the handout – also bad. If I chuck food at the other dog – they remember and next time I see them… they’re back for more but my dog still wants to herd them away with nipping.

    Some of these dogs will scream their heads off if they get charged at even if they’re not touched – and the owners may also scream or worse – say my dog needs a good telling off. Yikes.

    If I cannot get away from these trigger dogs, I pick my dog up by her collar so her front feet are off the ground, and she can’t “launch”. I don’t feel this is helping either.

    But if I try to avoid all trigger dogs we’d never go out.

    I am making some progress in the right direction, ie if she can look at a trigger dog at a good distance or let it sniff her and stay calm and polite (they sneak up behind us – both of us think that unbelievably rude)… then I will praise her during and give her a treat after it has left.

    But if she goes off and tries to launch – she gets nothing. I don’t scold her either, just hang on.

    I think – in my area – part of the problem comes from the number of puppy mill dogs in the community that are bought by people who don’t understand what puppy mills are and why you should not get a dog from there – because they get taken away from their litter too young to learn any manners and then spend weeks on their own in a pet shop or puppy broker place.

    The owners don’t know and their dogs don’t know what appropriate behaviour and dog to dog greetings look like or how to train those. And their dogs approach in the same way as an aggressive dog does.

    I don’t see many dogs in prong collars and mostly I look at them like muzzles – a clear signal to stay well away. Because those dogs get punished by the collar for wanting to be friendly. It’s training based on fear.

    Most herding dogs are not tolerant of dogs that don’t know the proper dog to dog greeting sequence.




    • Janet in Oz says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:29pm

      “Some of these dogs will scream their heads off if they get charged at even if they’re not touched – and the owners may also scream or worse – say my dog needs a good telling off. Yikes. ”

      Clarification – they say their own dog would benefit from being scolded and nipped by my dog.


    • Wendy says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 10:20am

      Patricia Mcconnell suggests throwing the food at the approaching dog so you can get away. And one of the more cheecky commenters recommends calling the name of what you throw in order to disgust owners into controlling their dog (some cheap brand of treats thought of as near poisonous in some circles).


  36. Wendy Clipsham says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:18pm

    I’m also from Australia and thought prong colours were illegal. I would never want to use one on my dogs. Mind you I have always had small dogs and always use flat collars. I mix regularly with dog clubs and while I used a chain slip collar for a while on an unruly, wild pup, once I was taught some handling skills, I went onto a flat collar.


  37. Shelly says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:17pm

    Being that I am in Recallers, Puppy Peaks, and H360 I guess it would be safe to say that I agree with you Susan =) One thing I would like to bring up it that although I think head halters are a great training tool I believe that people should know how to properly use one. If not used properly they can cause injury to the dogs neck or delicate areas around the eyes and face. Have you ever seen a dog lunge and hit the end of the leash while on a head halter? I have. It’s looks very painful especially for large breeds like Labs. Also, I would like to point out that there are some new studies being done that show that many of the harnesses on the market actually are placing pressure on parts of the shoulder/biceps area and causing the dog enough discomfort or restriction to cause them to alter their movement. I think there are only a few harnesses on the market that allow good movement of the shoulder area and those are not the ones most people are using. And then there are flat collars which are great but even hard, repeated jerking on a flat collar can cause damage to the thyroid or throat area. I think people really need to focus on the training part that you outlined in the end of your article. Unfortunately I see a lot of people who just want a quick fix and will use the head halters and harnesses incorrectly. Just putting in my two cents worth. You are awesome and I love that you addressed the prong collar issue. It would be great if trainers stopped recommending them and better yet if they were banned completely. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the world!


  38. Gina Kantor says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 10:10pm

    I so enjoy reading and learning from you. Your approach is everything I believe in. I am passionate about building a good relationship with my dog and guiding him to positive behaviors. I am the director of 2 child care centers. I am constantly using a dog training analogy to clarify a situation with children. My staff is getting tired of hearing about dogs! I saw a post on facebook the other day of a skeleton at a desk..the saying was “Everybody waiting for me to stop talking about dogs” ! Thank you for all the information you provide to us.


  39. Kim S says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:53pm

    I am saddened when I belong to a very well known dog trai ing club that prmotes the use of prongs on puppies. I have NEVER done this and I never will. So with that being said, I will not teach a other obedience cass until thi is correced.


  40. Laurie says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:45pm

    My dogs wear pinch collars on walks. I have found keeping the leash loose, feeding treats and rewarding behaviors to be very helpful in preventing my dogs from becoming uncomfortable or barking at other people’s dogs lunging at them. It’s not the collar that causes aggressive or defensive behavior. It’s how the handler uses/misuses the leash.

    I do not believe the way I use a pinch collar creates any pain, fear or resistance. My 11 year old male Aussie is super pain sensitive, but he has never cried or seemed uncomfortable wearing this collar. However, he will scream sometimes when a finger touches his rib area (where there is no injury). I think he is imagining that someone will hurt him in a sensitive spot. He will scream in pain when he leans hard into someone’s hand scratching him behind the ear (again where there is no injury or infection). He’s just super sensitive. I know that if the pinch collar were painful, he would let me know loud and clear.


  41. Hope Clark says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:31pm

    Hi Susan,
    Thank you for directing me to this article. It actually made me feel better about my dogs reactivity and how far we have come with this issue since getting our dog in March. When we first got him he would go off the rails when he heard or saw another dog or squirrel etc on a walk. We later found out when a trainer came to our house with one of those large stuffed dogs that he does not want to attach them he wants to play with them. This was a huge relief. But still the behavior had made me feel pretty uncomfortable on our walks. Many times if I saw a dog coming I would just quickly switch my route to avoid the interaction knowing it would stress us both out. He is a tiny dog only 9 pounds but still he can be pretty loud with those high pitched barks when he is triggered! Plus the pulling even with a no pull harness! But I have persevered with our multiple daily walks and have practiced using the treats to divert his attention away from the stimulus to me. Saying “look at me” and a clicker in a very high stress situation if needed. After months of doing this most of the time I don’t have to say look at me he will just look back at me for a treat if he hears a dog barking in a yard or walks past a house where he has seen a dog before etc. But in a new situation I will have to use all those tools again to reingage his attenion back onto me helping him get through the situation without loosing it. I have tried the treats on the ground but he gets all tangled up with the leash so I just give them directly to him without even stoping the walk. I recently decided to try walking again with a friend and her dog. After a few times when we first got Raynor I gave up it was just too stressful with all the reactivity. But this time it was amazing my friend was SO impressed by his new behaivior she was actually shocked at the transformation! Now I don’t feel like I have to hide and avoid everyone and everything on my walks with Raynor! But I know there is still lots of room for improvement so Susan all this to say do you have any other suggestions or do I just keep doing this and expect that with time he will improve as he already has? Thanks so much! Hope


  42. Melinda says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:27pm

    I have used every collar that is out there. I find myself having to adjust the collar to the owner rather than the dog, which is very sad. A 70 year old man with a boisterous, young golden doesn’t like the looks of the head collar, but will walk her with a pinch and he will use it appropriately. After trying to alter his opinion, I’ve resigned myself that at least the dog is getting walked daily. I see too many people these days who won’t put in the time to do Training. They want a quick fix. Unfortunately all too often that quick fix is getting rid of the dog.


  43. anj jones says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:57pm

    This is my first site visit. Great article. Well written, you can tell “dogs” are your furbabies too! Love it!????


  44. Elizabeth P. says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:31pm

    You wrote a good, thoughtful article, but it does not fit my reality. I have a young, large, “social butterfly” dog. He wants to greet every dog we see, and he is strong enough to drag me over to them. I can turn him to me and refocus him with a prong collar. I don’t feel I am inflicting pain, at least the way I use the collar. It exerts pressure for a short time that gets his attention. No handful of treats is going to top his desire to meet another dog. In my 35 years of training and instructing, I have yet to see a dog that likes a head halter. Talk about making a dog uncomfortable! If we could interview them, dogs would say, “Get that thing offa my face!


    • Elaine says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 8:52am

      I am a practicing veterinarian. I have seen some very severe injuries to dogs (neck atlanto-occipital joints) caused by head collars. It is NOT the same as a halter on a horse. The weight ratio is reversed. Horses that catch their halters or are over restrained rearing back etc can severely damage their necks as well. The bridge of a dogs nose just below the eyes is a very very sensitive area. Watch a bitch correcting her pup -where does she grab him to get her point across -this same area and the pups reaction is usually immediate. Imaging having this sensitive area under sustained pressure. I used to fear pinch collars as well but have found them, when fitted and used properly, to be a great humane asset.

      So I am torn on this issue as many folks are promoting the use of a head collar for dogs. I use a front pull (Easy Walk) harness but I can use a prong collar and they are quite content and walk on a loose leash despite distractions. My dogs react very negatively to head collars and even when they accept them look absolutely miserable until I take them off. I should also mention that neither head halters or prong/pinch collars are allowed at AKC events.


  45. Patricia says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:23pm

    Thank you so much for speaking on this issue. I have used the pinch collar and it really doesn’t do what it is ment to do. I love your program an the positive training you teach. This blog gave me some new options for handleing walking on a leash with no dog agression. My Border Collie Mix walks perfect on a leash, but no matter how much training my Terrier Mix has she still has issues on a leash only when we are walking I imagine cause we use a pinch collar.


  46. Yukiko says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 8:03pm

    I am against all these horrible collars.

    Your observation and discription of how the handler/ owner reacts pulling the leash/ thus hurting the dog with the corrective collar was so excellent.

    Thank you so much!!!




  47. Jenn says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:53pm

    I’m sorry, but this is very naïve and the opinions are based on assumptions rather than any scientific evidence. I know of many, many dogs that went from a halti-collar or gentle leader and were “moved up” to a choker then even a prong collar due to issues with aggression.
    Prong collars if used correctly are not dog torture, and the dogs are certainly not walking around in pain. Prong collars, again, if used correctly, have likely saved many a dog from a dog fight rather than harmed any animal. And, when it comes to larger dogs, have certainly saved a few issues with humans (I have known a few people who have undergone physical therapy due to sudden jerking motions of very large dogs during walks.)
    It would be useful to research your topics further before posting things that only appeal to emotion.
    Educate yourselves: People who use prong collars are NOT mistreating their animals. Shame.


    • Jenny Haskins says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:03pm

      Here (NSW Australia) Prong collars are not allowed.
      We used to train our dogs (for Obedience) on check chains/slip collars, but over the last decade more and more people are going to flat collars.
      What is striking is the enormous DECREASE in dog aggression. Not just in Club or at trials but also on the streets.
      Partly I think that is because, with the flat collar, we are looking more to reducing conflict. we are no longer “taught” to make your dog stay and choke it to stop it lunging or barking, but we are turning and taking our dogs away from situations which make them nervous. more people are aware of the dangers to their own dog of letting the dog eye-ball another dog. More dog owners are talking to other dog owners.
      It is a much happier world 🙂


    • Gill says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:05pm

      What a dreadful view of dog training you have! Prong collars/ check chains are completely unnecessary if you train with kindness and positive reinforcement and understand your dog’s body language!
      No wonder there are so many ‘aggresive’ dogs around if they have the misfortune to be trained by aggressive owners who have no idea how to communicate with their dogs!


    • Barbara says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 11:59pm

      Aversive such as prong collars increase stress in dogs. There is published research on this. Dogs can be taught to love a head halter…just as they can be taught to love a basket muzzle.
      While there are issues with head haters they don’t compare to the issues with using a threat to control your dog.
      Punishment can work…though there are many behaviors you cannot train with punishment…but if the behavior and be trained without punishment what does that say about a trainer who chooses punishment?
      I like to think it says that trainer has not yet acquired the skill and knowledge they need to train without threatening the learner. I am a veterinarian and see daily the sad end result of punishment based training.


  48. Elizabeth says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:47pm

    As always, a good and timely post. We have a 3 yr-old GSD, who around town and at dog parks is acclaimed for his wonderful disposition with all dogs. But at about 2-1/2 yrs old he began lunging and barking at oncoming, mid- to large-sized dogs on the bike path and street near our house. At the time I had him on a Sense-Ation harness. Then, after he very aggressively went after a neighbor’s dog when we met on the street, I realized it was way past time to stop this before he bit someone.

    In desperation I got a pinch collar, learned how to fit it and tried it out briefly. On one hand it kept his behavior in check. On the other hand, I’m not convinced it accomplished anything I can’t do, and possibly do better, with the head halter that’s now our go-to equipment. And using a clicker at a new dog sighting followed by good treats has been fairly successful in starting to reprogram his response to doggie encounters.

    In the most stressful, arousing situations (such as a visiting workman) our dog seems to just ignore the pinch collar in his fury at the intruder, so there’s no point to it.


  49. Enid says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:42pm

    I have not seen an article before that puts this siuation
    into prespective so well.

    Thank You from Me and my Dog.


  50. Adrianna says:
    Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 7:22pm

    From someone that lives in southern California, I do recognize that there are still many people who use prong and choke collars. However, I do see more and more people starting to use easy walk harnesses and occasionally head halters. Throughout the media, prong collars and domination are disregarded as harmful. In fact, certain TV shows even promote the use of it.

    I fail to understand why so many people are afraid to use food in training but feel comfortable using pain. Perhaps it’s the lack of knowledge or maybe just habits that are hard to break. I don’t get mad at people who use these methods, it just saddens me that their more common that one might think. Nevertheless, I am focused on creating a R+ life for my dogs and hopefully others will follow.


    • Gill says:
      Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 9:07pm

      Well said!


    • Dara says:
      Wednesday, November 18, 2015 at 8:37am

      I think people are lazy and don’t want to train. It is much easier to put a pinch collar on a dog and head out for a WALK than it is to think about 1)what are my dog’s favorite treats 2)I have to carry those treats AND poop bags 3)I have to change my walking course 4) I can’t get in the walk I wanted for MYSELF, and I don’t have time for any other walk … etc etc. Training takes time away from oneself and puts the attention totally on the dog. It is time consuming.

      Interestingly, in rally or agility class, my dog is fine. He can be around other dogs in close proximity. That is because I am totally focused on HIM and dispense LOTS of treats. It is the same at field trials. Dogs are all on leashes and in close proximity. No issues. On a walk…totally different story. I’m lazy. I don’t “train” on my walks. I’ve known all that you have said for years. I’m lazy. So, I use a front clip harness and cross the street or go in other directions when I see the type of dog I know my dog will bark and lunge at.


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