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. 🙂
Last 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/rollerblading/biking alongside their people. So cool. I guessed over the course of the week I saw at least 100 or more dogs.
The 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 on 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.
It 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 nearby 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.
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.
I know this is an old Blog, but I have just read it and I have learnt a lot.
I live in Australia and I have a dog that has recently developed an aggression toward dogs on leads.
I’m convinced that this was due to him (desexed) being attacked by dogs on leash that were in an “Off Leash” park.
I know I should be using treats and affection to guide him out of this current problem, but the Owners of dogs he has shown aggression to, expect me to imediately discipline my dog. That’s where my problem really lies.
My dog really loves our locel “Off Leash” park, and insists on going there very day.
He has lots of friends there and results in getting lots of excercise.
However, as well as the aversion to dogs on leads, he has recently extended that to being aggressive to one or two dogs that have enetered the park “off leash”.
BTW, we luckily see very little, if any, pinch collars, and only a few head collars.
Happy to say that no local dog club would accept a pinch collar, and certainly not a prong or electric one. I feel a lot of the pro-prong comments haven’t grasped the fact that “popping” a collar isn’t the basis of training. In my head training involves changing behaviour, well if the prong is such a great tool why is it so often used for life? Is it not the aim that your dog will enjoy walking by your side, or within close proximity? The leash is the safety belt, mandated by law, but the control comes from your relationship with the dog. Most animals, including us, are far better learners and make better decisions when they aren’t being threatened and controlled by pain. Even without ethics, it just makes no logical sense to me.
I agree with you in many fronts however with large powerful dogs a head halter can actually damage the spine when they lunge and in some cases the nerves on the muzzle. I use a balanced harness coupled to a flat collar for most walks. My boy is 80 lbs I weight 110 so when he goes into a power lunge with intent he can and has taken me down into oncoming traffic. I have changed my timing of walks to walk after kids are in school and before they get out. I also have learned to shorten walks when he is either in an edgy mood or if we have a few stressors to avoid trigger stacking. We do 5 long line walks at the State Park a week. I do have a well fitted Herm Springer collar and take him out 1-2 times a week for 15-20 minute training walks he is spot on engaged and I have yet to have to use for than a finger lift to redirect him. I spent 3 weeks letting him wear it with me at his side in the house, he showed no stress or avoidance when putting it on, whereas when we had tried a head halter he ran for the hills and pawed at his face refusing to move. When it comes down to it any collar even a leash can be aversive if improperly used and the safety of the dog in question as well as those walking him or anyone in the vicinity is the highest priority.
Choosing appropriate places and times to walk fitting whatever is used properly and knowing how to best handle the equipment and dog reading your dog and being aware of your environment and dog are what are most important. Sometimes I see people setting their dogs up for failure which truly breaks my heart.
I wish anyone using anything other than a flat collar would only be able to do so through either vets or certified trainers and taught how to properly fight and use equipment. I see soooo many dogs with ill fitting harnesses impending proper movement and loose prongs sitting way too low on the neck.
I chose a Gentle Leader for my cockapoo living in Manhattan, since I was concerned that my children (ages 8 and 12 at the time we got him) might not understand letting the leash loose at first. The analogy of a halter on a horse vs a rope around the neck made sense to me. I thought of it as a good choice because he always walked magnificently on it.
However, as I think back, every time I got it out, he hid under the coffee table. Once it was on, he was at the door and eager to go.
I was recently listening to Ivan Balabanov interviewing Michael Ellis on his podcast, and they remarked on how aversive the head collar is. “Dogs really hate it!”
This was true, and I didn’t pay attention to it because it resulted in loose leash walking in a dense urban environment. I am glad that my daughter quit using the thing when she went to college and he didn’t have to suffer it for the last 8 years of his life.
My current German Shepherds jump into their prong collars joyfully.
Any suggestions on what to do when the dog is not interested in the treats offered but still pulls to get to the other dog? This method worked really well with passing walkers, joggers, and cyclists, but my pup will still pull if there is another dog. I’ve tried upping the value of the treats, but no luck. Thanks!
Susan, the link you gave to the article on spanking in children is broken. It leads to a 404 error.
I started training with check chains when I was 15 years old. Prong collars are illegal to import into my state in Australia, some specific dog shops/trainers import the parts and assemble them in state, which is legal, but due to the ban I have never seen a prong collar in use. Check chains, however are common. Thanks to the patience and guidance and example of my fellow instructors in my dog training club, I began to use food. Only for the retrieve in competition obedience, but all agility was done using positive reinforcement. When I moved, I moved to an area where the only dog club was positive reinforcement based. I continued my journey, learning more about dog behaviour and why the various methods worked. I have now been a force free trainer for almost 20 years. I have no intention of going back. The only time I use force with my current dog is when we are blindsided by people with dogs coming around a corner/visual obstruction. My dog is reactive, some anxiety and also frustrated greeting. If people pop out, I will drag my dog away to a distance she can get back in the think and learn zone. Then we start behaviour modification. I have learnt, after 2 of these experiences, to assess where I am planning to walk her to make sure that there is no way for dogs to surprise us without being seen first and that we always have enough space to move away from other dogs. The one thing that worries me now, is uncontrolled, off leash dogs. I hope that eventually I will be able to help her cope so she can walk politely past other dogs at around 2m, but if she never can, that is okay too. I suffer from anxiety, and there are some situations that I will never be able to cope with. I won’t force my expectations on my dog. Being a cross-over trainer, I have a great deal of sympathy for owners who have been told to use check chains/prong/shock collars/bark collars. They are doing their best. There is no way, IMHO, to use these devices humanely. If a trainer is using them humanely, they have basically trained the dog to the stage they don’t need the device. And most good trainers actually have the skills to train using any method – it is the mindset which needs education.
the prong collar is not the issue, its the person who is handling the dog that should not be walking the dog if they (the person) get frightened or scared when they see another dog approaching/passing their dog. They should be choosing to walk elsewhere. Prong collars are not a bad thing; whats bad is when the prong is misused.
Oh yes. This is so true. Fortunately I live where most of the time my dog can walk unleashed. Some years ago, when I adopted a very scared, unconfident, sensitive and smart Belgian sheepdog mix (Long story!) I took her to dog training. There were four dogs. Two had halter leashes and two neck collars (mine was one.) I observed that the halter dogs were calmer than the ones with neck collars. I asked the trainer about this who said, yup it’s the neck collar. I immediately bought my dog a harness.
I agree with you completely. But, I do think to be fair, we need to recognize that in that beach area, there are very few spaces in which to implement your plan. Beach houses there either have tiny yards or none at all.
I grew up in Manhattan Beach right next to Hermosa Beach and know the area well. I recently revisited my old stomping grounds with my young BC in tow. After two days, my dog and I were both incredibly frustrated trying to find even a small space where we could play together. Either no dogs were allowed, or there were loads of unsocialized, anxious dogs, or it wasnt safe. Dogs are not allowed on the beaches. I had to resort to playing with her at a no-dogs allowed park, after dark around 9pm hoping I didn’t get a ticket.
As a child, I would sneak out of the house to walk my dog on the beach before dawn, and be back in my bed before my mom knew I was gone. I got a few warnings from officers, but luckily, not any tickets. But, most people aren’t going to do that, and they are stricter these days.
Again, I agree with everything you said, and I’m incredibly sad for all of the dogs in that area who never get to experience how good life can be. But society rarely considers the well being of their canine citizens when deciding on ordinances and laws.
My husband and I were brought in families using negative discipline with our dogs. We have treated each dog we have owned together better with each consecutive dog.
Yet When frustrated, we can resort to yelling at our current dogs. Two of my 3 dogs ‘slink’ around my husband. My role in our family has been to ‘protect’ the dogs. We walk away.
I have learned how important positive reinforcement and we both use it as often as possible. The negative behaviors we’ve used in the past seem ingrained in 2of our dogs.
How can we/are we able to help our 2 dogs reframe how they see us?
I see the same thing in my neighborhood. Most dogs are walked on prongs and the owner yanks it as soon as they see another dog approaching. In most cases the dog still reacts to the approaching dog. When I was working on my dog’s reactivity, I made it a point to walk in areas where there weren’t as many dogs. I wore a treat pouch and gave my dog treats as he watched dogs from a safe distance. He has made so much progress, and I’m so grateful for the help of a great trainer.
Susan, you read my mind- I needed some info on leash aggression! My boy was fine until an aggressive dog came at us off leash (he was on leash) and attacked his buddy. We have been working on it, but he fixated and it’s been a challenge. I am going to try dropping treats and keeping him busy (he loves using the ol’ sniffer)..thank you!
I will be reading this article and the others later today
this link in the article is not functioning anymore ;( fyi
Prong collars! Was working my dog in an old people’s home when along came a group of people and dogs from some local facility. Prong collar on one I remember! What a thing to put on a dog when old people are going to pet it! pinched fingers and worse! Always a flat collar – the old people would grip it sometimes. No danger to the dog.
I had a problem with my dog being aggressive on leash, and took her to see Dr.. Deborah Horwitz. Dr Debora suggested the problem was her not being able properly to read the body language of other dogs on leash, suggested I take her away from the path, and ask her to watch my face while I fed her “class A” treats. Worked miracles and while she still was anxious sometimes around other dogs, mostly she was OK. I took her to a dog show wearing a red bandana. Other people kept their dogs away and after a day or two, she relaxed when she realized all the other dogs were properly trained and wouldn’t lunge at her or get excited. Off with the bandana and I had no problems. Reward based training and kindness worked all the way.
Years ago my JRT had a scary experience with a large dog at an agility class. After that she became very reactive around other dogs and was a problem in an obedience class I was taking with a different trainer. That trainer noticed Eartha was lunging and growling at the other dogs in the class so he asked if he could try something. He put a prong collar on her ( a thing I regret allowing to this day) . She stopped lunging but walked along side him in mincing steps as if afraid to make a misstep. An onlooker remarked how amazing it was that she was suddenly “behaving”. For a targeting exercise that night, my normally eager to learn terrier was unable to take part as she was so inhibited. I cried for what I let happen to her that night and we never went back to that class again.
I have a lot of difficulty accepting the prong as the culprit in you scenario, rather than the ability of the handler to train correctly.
For instance, if you took the same scenario of becoming heavy handed with the leash, jerking on the face and scolding and applied it to a dog in a head harness, you would still have poor handling, communication and lack of desired motivation to inculcated the desired behavior.
I am so curious about the subject of prongs. We love our head halter and also use harnesses, but have periods where our dog wears away his hair in these two otherwise wonderful tools. As his hair wears so does my confidence and then we are in real trouble. He does not drag us down the street (as much anymore! broke! my husband’s knee pulling last March) and we consistently work on walking, but he is an overexcited dog and excellent contortionist. Even though the darting and pulling is much less–leaders and harnesses wears away at his hair after a few weeks. (I’m hoping in a couple weeks his winter coat will provide him much better protection and we will be back to halti and gentle leader 100 percent. We did not have any problems until he fully lost his winter coat!)
For now we use the prong size for a smaller dog (ours is 70 pounds). We never pop it–ever. If he starts to pull we rely on training commands such as switch to stop it or speed up the pace for him. We treat the collar as gently as possible to not cause any bad feelings. He is extremely reactive to medium and large dogs (on low dose prozac which has helped tone the extreme nature of it down a bit), but reactivity began last winter at 10 months. We assume it is mostly genetic (60 percent border and aussie, and lab for size) and we didn’t try prong til hair loss started in July. We never tighten or correct at reaction to dogs. His reactivity has been improving– though we avoid tough and tight spots. We keep a loose leash and ask for a heel. Lots of success with occasional setbacks.
My trainer says that just wearing the prong might make him feel internally upset (she does not recommend use of it and I totally get that!)– but it seems to me that he is in a place where he can respond to me better and behave more safely. There are no signs of the damage or the rubbing sores harnesses and leader caused this summer. Our walks are happy and free–usually he roams his 6 feet of leash freely without pulling. He seems explorative, sniffy, and teachable to me. He also definitely pulls less than he is willing to pull in harnesses and head leaders– so he doesn’t cycle to more and more excited state of mind while walking. His eye contact and check in are excellent.
I feel like everything is headed in the right direction. I know my dog very, very well. Could the prong be bothering him in ways I can’t see–through just the passive correction of it being on? And what choice do I have–til we get him all furry in December 🙂
I LOVE this! I am one that, in the past, used prong collars. But no more…this article makes so much sense and I will continue to use positive reinforcement, games and helping my dog to make good choices!! Thank you Susan for all you do!!
Thank you Susan, a very good article, I was taught, about 12yrs ago that I should make it more painful for my dog to show leash aggression than to walk calmly past the other dog. Needless to say he got worse and lasting harm had been done before I met someone who could show me better. Even at the time I was sure it was fear that was making him reactive but you trust those who call themselves trainers.
I hope that, nearly 5yrs on from this article things are changing but still meet to many people who think force is the way to go and want to treat aggression with aggression
I do not use prong or chock collars but I did try an Halty head collar. Did lots of counter conditioning to it and my dog hated it; she hates anything on her face. So honestly I’m thinking that a prong or choke would be much less aversive for her than a head halter. Fortunately, she no longer needs ” control” , she walks nicely on leash.( and IS dog reactive.
I got a puppy, who from very beginning was dog aggressive. Big dog little dog no matter, he would see a dog 100 feet away and go into a frenzy. I spoke to several dog trainers and got a variety of suggestions from just ignore it to use a prong or choke collar and string him up. None of those worked actually making situation worse. Then I bought a book called “click to calm”. I would click him between the ferocious barks and give him a treat. Eventually he would see another dog and look to me for a treat! Also he loved to play ball so I carried one with me and show it to him and he forgot about other dogs. He didn’t have any doggie friends until years later and I got another puppy, who he loves. I agree with you violence begets violence.
I done recallers since my new pup Sheltie 3-4 months. It been awhile since I had a dog. I started this because puppy classes were limited with covid and than I found recallers online program. He very active all boy full energy and early sipping chewing etc. I started walking him early since he had so much energy. With patient he learned not to snip chewing improved. I am able to do, the with-me and treats and or distraction and have build trust to draw his attention at me plus sometimes I do it’s with a search game or sit or change directions whatever situation makes sense. He rarely will bark does not growl much I am Working on him not pulling a leash and with recallers techniques such patting my knee hip and encouraging maintain the side hip zone area. He does most of the walk. He come along way with not pulling as often. . After reading above I’m going add more fun games he loves tug so,I do that and i do a counting to three with search throw.
I taken him few classes to,get use to others. Recently he a had his first dog park so he could run and it was for small,dogs. he surprised me he was very good with other dogs and try to get them to chase him. He never took their toys or showed aggression. Rarely bark but had a so much fun just running freely and when callled he came to me. Thanks to recallers and the games have has help me so much and we still have more to learn he almost 9 months now but I so happy with his progress Love him
I am sorry, but there is never a time when dogs or any animals should be hurt or harmed… Humans, try the prong collar on yourself…. The methods described by Susan work very well, like all good stuff it takes time.
What a great article. Unfortunately, I am one who uses a print collar with my Aussie. He lunges at squirrels and birds and can literally pull me off my feet. The harness does no good and the prong collar is the only thing that is working so far. Is there a better collar/harness to use when we walk? We walk on paths with lots of open space, and he does not lunge at other dogs.
Hi Valerie, a Head Halter can be great, Susan has a podcast with video with all the details on how it can be conditioned for our dogs to wear and how it sets up success. Here’s the link for you:
Awsome article !! Just love your positive suggestions, and we are actually doing as you suggest giving the other dogs as much space as we can and throwing out kibble for a search refocus for Mack. It really works and he tries really hard to disengage with the other dogs, but they all are small happy dogs who seem to be afraid of our Mack ……….will we ever be able to shorten the distance with oncoming dogs and just walk on by ???
Great article and much appreciated. I am a prong collar user on my Pit. She is a puller as well as dog reactive. She is EXTREMELY dominants and territorial. We have made progress with her reactive ness but if another dog throws off negative body language or gets mouthy, she becomes unglued. She has been attacked 4 times by dogs unrestrained in a public place. She can back a dog off in 10 seconds while on leash and never use her teeth. I am aware that she is much worse when on leash but I have to have control. She is a rescue and came to me with this problem. I can walk her out of it now for which she receives a huge amount of praise. I do not react negatively when she’s reactive, just praise when she’s not. This dog absolutely loves people and this is truly her only vice, aside from no control on her tongue lol. I would greatly appreciate you input and am willing to pay for your time. I have had many dogs all competing in agility as well as fosters and this is the first dog I’ve encountered like this.
I have a young Pom puppy and she is full of it. I have learned to stop the activity when she escalates or tries to bite me.I am trying hard to read her behavior order to redirect her.Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. Crating her helps her calm down but I don’t know if its the right thing to do. Sometimes her biting behavior seems aggressive tome.She reminds me of an out of control toddler.
The link is dead. Here is another to the actual chart: