Do Unto Others: Intimidation in dog training

I’ve been having a thought lately, brought about in large part by the behavioral work I’ve been observing at the Canine Center in Austin, and it goes a little like this:

If I bully Fido, Fido will bully others.

Popular religious thought seems to agree with this concept (“Do unto others . . .”), as do popular parenting theory and our criminal law framework. So why are so many of us still bullying our dogs?

A friend recently shared with me an article about a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science concerning the outcomes associated with confrontational and non-confrontational behavior modification techniques in dog training. The study surveyed 140 dog owners seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist, asking what methods they had attempted to improve the problem behavior in the past and what the result of these methods had been.  In summary, the study found that the more confrontational tactics — jerking the collar, yelling “NO!” at a dog, performing an “alpha roll,” and squirting the dog in the face with a squirt bottle — were more likely to trigger aggression than non-confrontational tactics.

Here are a few interesting data points. Of the owners surveyed who used the following tactics to “correct” undesirable behaviors, the following percentages saw aggressive responses from their dogs:

  • 31% of owners who performed an “alpha roll” on their dog
  • 43% of owners who hit or kicked their dog
  • 15% of owners who yelled “NO!” at their dog
  • 20% of owners who sprayed their dog with a spray bottle
  • 30% of owners who stared their dogs in the eye until the dog broke eye contact

By contrast:

  • 2% of owners who used a food reward for good behavior; and
  • 0% of owners who used a “look” / “watch me” command

Surprised? We weren’t.

It seems that the big myth floating around that continues to support bully behavior toward dogs is that behavioral problems are the result of a dominance imbalance between owner and dog, and only by properly dominating a dog can an owner regain the dog’s respect, and consequently, good behavior.

This is simply untrue.

Science has proven that the overwhelming majority of aggression in dogs stems from fear and related anxiety problems. When we treat fear by creating more fear, we aren’t solving anything at all. Only by addressing the underlying fear and teaching a dog to change its mind can we change the undesirable behavior in a reliable way. Fear-based training — intimidating a dog into suppressing a fear response — may change the outward response in the moment, but doesn’t address the root issue itself. Makes sense, right?

But there’s more: research has also shown that dogs that are trained using only positive reinforcement are less likely to develop future behavior problems, while those that are trained using punishment are more likely to develop fear-related responses to other things in the future. So by using intimidation tactics to treat behavioral challenges, we might not only be eliciting aggressive responses, but also setting ourselves up for future failure, too. Quite the icing on the cake.

When we choose to employ a training program in which we jab our dogs in the neck, reach for the spray bottle, or jerk them by the collar, we are building a relationship of intimidation with our dog. We are telling it: “Do what I want, or else.” But if the dog improves its behavior, we have to wonder — have we fixed the underlying issue, or have we created a scenario in which our dog is simply too afraid of what we as owners are going to do in order to act upon its instincts? I’m not sure about you, but this isn’t the kind of relationship I want to have with my dogs.

In contrast, when we use rewards-based training to lessen undesirable behaviors, we are saying to the dog “Here’s what I’d like you to do instead, and I will reward you handsomely.” It has a nicer ring to it. And when we combine the rewards approach with relationship-based training — in which our dog learns that we are fun, gentle, trustworthy, and will keep them safe in all situations — we can start to see real progress, real fast.

When Chick was much younger, he had some scary run-ins with off-leash dogs, and for years afterward, he lived in constant fear of being attacked. In Chick’s case, the fear manifested itself as stiffening, staring, growling, lunging, barking, and jumping on leash when other dogs were around. Confident of our ability to “fix” Chick’s behavior, we yelled and barked right along with him, jerked him by the collar with all our might, and searched pet stores for more imposing leash-walking tools to really show him who’s boss. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were essentially telling him: “You’re scared of that? Well you’d better be even more scared of us!” Our intimidation tactics did occasionally stop his tantrums in the moment, but the whole while, we were shocked that he didn’t automatically learn how to relax.

Eventually, Chick became so dog-aggressive that we gave up our methods and went to see a real trainer. We threw away our pinch collar that day, and never looked back. Rather than hollering and physically hurting our dog, we learned to earn his focus in all situations, and how to help him relax in moments of uncertainty. It took hours and hours of practice and months — maybe years — to undo all of the fear we had created. And still there are times — if an off-leash dog comes flying right up to his face — that Chick can lose his cool. But with hard work and positive, relationship-based training, we’ve helped Chick become a dog who can go anywhere, and helped ourselves become the people he can trust, no matter what.

For the full text of the 2009 study, click here.

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66 responses

  1. This is a fantastic article this week. And that jumper on Sir Chick, well now that jumper is the bees knees – I dont know another dog who could carry it off that well. The chick, the face, the buttons – it just works!

  2. this is incredibly informative. while reading, i realised how often i told a dog i used to dogsit “no” (i never hit him or stared him down or sprayed him though- i’d never resort to violence- so counterproductive!).
    i have a question though: for example, i remember when i was walking the dog (a fun boxer boy) and he would tug on the leash so hard when he saw other dogs because he wanted to play with them, so i would give a firm pull and say no!. and then id tell him to sit, and when he did, i lavished him with praise (petting only, he was too much of a treat-hog).
    was my behavior in that case wrong, correct, or half/half? :)
    x
    ps: chicklet in the sweater- adorable!

    • Regarding the pulling Boxer… Your behavior did not address the problem at hand, you are still being reactive and not proactive. Decide what it is you’d like him to do when he sees other dogs, be specific. If I were handling this dog I would mark the presence of the other dog, “yes!” and treat, then back up and call the dog to me and end with a sit at my side or in front, treating the dog for staying in position as the dog passed. Think about what I’m setting up here… Over time when this dog sees other dogs he will mark that they are there, then look at me for direction on what to do.

      A correction alone does not tell the dog what you want him to do, therefore you continue to get the incorrect behavior. You’d have to punish every iteration of the incorrect behavior to make any kind of head way. Remember there is only one correct response, so show the dog what it is and reward, reward, reward!

      The next time you come across this situation think about how you can be more proactive and set the dog in question up for success.

      Proactive, not reactive. Happy training!

  3. I remember with my first Golden, who has a tremendous Alpha dog, the obedience trainer telling me to yell my commands at her to get her attention. We’d tell her sit and she would just go do what she wanted. It worked, and eventually I could give her the hand signals. I don’t think it changed her attitude towards others though. BOL – it startled a few people at first.

    Sam

  4. Bullying and abuse beget bullying and abuse – sad and true. When we got Bentley, at nine months, he had been chained outside for several months and we are certain he was hit or chased with a broom plus something associated with soda cans . As a result of being chained, he is a jumper. It has taken almost 3 years to subside those behaviors and fears. As the study stated, it was through proper training and rewarding…telling him NO falls on deaf ears because he became conditioned to being yelled at in just 9 months.

    Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, who now lives in Austrailia, teaches Human Animal Bond sessons around the world. As he asked me when I was talking about Bentley’s barking – is it because he is a dog or is there a fear? I had not thought about it like that before – once I identified the difference (someone knocks at the front door – and he barks – he’s being a dog, guarding his castle while barking and cowering when I am sweeping the porch – it is fear) – it made all the difference in how I managed him.

    One tatic I employ while walking him is to gently use the word “focus” when I want him to ignore other dogs – and it works MUCH better than jerking the chain, telling him NO, etc. and I enjoy the walks much more as well.

    Humans need to learn that animals are much more like us than different – they want to loved, cared about and respected – and in turn, they will give us years and years of joy.

    Thanks for sharing this study with us! Hi Chick and Doodle!

  5. Reading this gives me hope for my dog. He is afraid of people and dogs but goes to dog daycare and is fine there. He is 10to mos old and we’ve found a positive trainer, I need more confidence in myself while training him. My trainer is helping me with that. Thank you for this blog and for the extra hope you have given me. I did not realize Chick was reactive. My hope is I can help Enzo not be afraid. I will never go back to training with choke collar, I saw it set my boy back. I just didn’t know any better until I found my trainer.

  6. This is a really powerful post. Not because you share data or statistics (although as an analyst I love that!), but because instead of preaching out to the world you come down and tell us “Hey, it’s ok, I’ve done these things too. This worked better for us. Want to try it?”.

    As a person who feels occasionally like I am the only one out there in blogland who loses patience and makes bad choices, I so love the honesty that comes from you guys. Let’s face it – me being overwhelmed with guilt isn’t helping anything, now is it?

    Thanks for being awesome!

  7. I had a young 9 month old GSD who was fearful of strangers. At 70 lbs, having a barking, lunging dog reacting to most people was a problem, especially since I live in town around a gazillion kids. I had worked hard to gently socialize and train him from 8 weeks.

    The only local trainer was ex- military, a self- perceived “GSD specialist” so we started his obedience class. He used classic dominance techniques, alpha rolling, hanging, etc. Night one he hung a dog who bit him drawing blood (by hanging I mean suspending in the air with only hind feet on ground).

    He liked to grab Gilly from me and force him around the room. The first time I watched him dragging my visibly terrified dog around (tail tucked, signaling submission in every way) I thought working with him was going to be the best or worst thing I did. I was at wits end and saw no alternative.

    In the middle of our month of classes, Gilly bit my male friend whom he knew, the first male he was in contact with after the trainer (no injury and it was very much a one time stay away from me bite). His first bite. After consultation with vet and another trainer friend, I euthanized him, the most agonizing decision of my life.

    This Trainer, instead of helping, pushed my dog over the edge.

    Since then, I found a truly expert, positive methods trainer for my dogs 2.5 hours away. She worked with me on my other dogs and helped me process the tragedy of Gilly and that idiotic trainer.

    So, I have personal experience with how dominance training, instead of helping, worsens the situation with a fearful dog. Kathy

  8. Thank you so much for this beautifully written blog. It eloquently explains how our chosen training methods impact our relationships with our companion animals. I hope with all my heart that this opens the eyes of some people who (while I know are well intentioned) are using outdated and hazardous training methods. Thank you so much.

    I look forward to all of your posts.

  9. Great post – I’m a new dog owner to a gorgeous goldendoodle pupp and am finding my way through the different training techniques. We’ve found that rewarding good behaviour with treats and praise works best, coupled with puppy ‘chil out’ time for when she’s so excitable that she appears to not be as in control of her actions as usual. Great reading :-)

  10. Wow, Thank you so much for this article. I am a first time dog owner. I adopted a papillon from a shelter 5 months ago. she is 2 years old, weighing 9 pounds. She is very scared of just about anything that moves, and she crouches low to the ground if I walk towards her very quickly. It seems as though she thinks that she is going to be hit. I love her dearly, and have showered her with love each day. She seems to be getting better and that she understands that I love her so much. I love reading your posts!! I am grateful to have found this site. :)

  11. Great post!

    I also think people go for intimidating methods because they think they’ll work faster. After all, standing quietly 20 feet from a scary person or dog clicking and treating is so passive. It must not be working and it takes so long.

    My current foster Cherie has taught me so much this past month. But I’ve learned nothing more than how relatively quickly consistent work with a fearful dog can improve her life. I know we would not be seeing the results we are if I pulled her away every time she barked at someone or dragged her over to confront a scary object.

    Now I’ve got to share this post far and wide. It needs lots of attention. Thank you for writing it.

  12. What a great post. And, it comes at the right time too because I’m trying to undo some behaviors I’ve noticed one of my dogs has picked up.

  13. This is an awesome post. Our trainers are all positive-only and the results we see with Ray are amazing. Each day Ray grows into a happier, more confident puppy.

  14. Thank for sharing. This makes so much more sense than the methods that many teach us are appropriate methods of training our dogs. Do you have any particular books that you would recommend for further reading?

  15. Love this post! Dealing with an extremely fearful dog in Polly, I have to be so careful about the way I approach her to do what I want. Even slightly raising my voice causes her to pancake to the ground, and it took her weeks before I could move my hands around her face (playfully) without her flinching. Obviously, Polly hasn’t experienced much positive reinforcement in her life, so it’s my job to show her what that’s like. She’s already learned several commands and looks to me for assurance when she gets scared. I count that as a victory intimidation could have never brought about!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Our dog is a lot like Chick WAS – fearful on leash and very dog-reactive. We’re working on it using positive reinforcement, and your blogs give us the perseverance to keep at it with our boy. Sometimes it seems like it’s a never-ending uphill battle, but we have to be consistent.

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  18. hello, I really love your blog and I run a web page, I was wondering if it was okay to post your blog on my website. I will also post on my Facebook fan page. I have over 401,000 fans and of course I would give 100% credit, people will love this and your fans will grow. please let me know if this is ok. thank you for your time. Richard

    Sent from my iPad

  19. Love this! Thanks Aleks!!! I don’t know how you do it, but you seem to always write about what I need at the moment. We have a new dog park in our community and we have a dog that (sadly) is not a candidate to go there, but we still have hope for him. He is big (155 lbs) and goofy, very reactive and a scaredy-cat. With the impending opening of our dog park, I have been thinking a lot lately about how to get him over his hurdle. Your post gives me some really great direction! Thanks again!

  20. thank you for this post! I love reading your blog by the way. but really today’s topic really stands out for me. I feel like i’ve tried my best with my dog, but i fear saying “No” too much or raising my voice. I definitely need to try to find a trainer. I’ve done my best for the last couple of years, but there are just some problems i cannot fix, almost exactly what you said about your dog, is what i’ve found to have issues with mine. I don’t want to harm my dog so prong collars are out of the question. Better start researching trainers in my area….

    • My beagle, Toby Keith, is a rescue. He had a horrific life pre-me….which resulted in what I call “run amok syndrome”. He had been tied up with hogs in a hog pen, fed 1 loaf a bread a week (eat it all up,no more until next week kinda dealio), etc. A past neighbor grabbed ahold of Toby – slipped on a prong style metal contraption in a blink of an eye. I was speechless, worse yet, getting it off him was difficult. Long story short – Toby doesn’t respond (much at all) to pain, or food for rewards. When I take his spikey thing off he pouts – it’s part of his neck ornaments, I guess. He doesn’t flinch much anymore, still breaks out of the yard, but I’m so happy to see him when he returns to the front door – all I can do is smooch is head……..

  21. I have a feeling the same could be applied to children as well.

    The idea of punishing a dog for not doing something right before even teaching the dog what that right thing is has always kind of baffled me. It’s not fair to just expect “good” behaviour unless one has actually shown the dog how. It’s like your boss yelling at you for screwing up the year-end financials when you thought you were the office janitor.

    Dog training is difficult and it takes a lot of practice to do it right. I would much rather get it wrong and give my dog too many treats for bad behaviour than get it wrong and punish her for something she doesn’t understand. As this study proves, that is not only damaging to the dog and our relationship but it can also be dangerous.

  22. What an awesome post! It is beautifully written and the information and advice are priceless! I, too, did many of the same things with my Suki that you did with Chick…only to find I was making everything worse for her (us, really). It wasn’t until we found Lee that I began the journey to relationship building and effective communication. What a difference it makes! Thank you for getting this out there.

  23. Wonderful post!

    Like you, I wish I’d known about other training when I first got Elka. We didn’t take intimidation training far, thankfully, but it’s one of those mindsets that can be hard to get out of. Being bigger and tougher than your dog is a self rewarding behavior, I guess. That is one MAJOR re-do I would enact, if I could do it over again; clicker training from the start!

  24. I would just like to add this thought. What about us? When we bully or intimidate our dogs, what effect does that have on our spirit, our attitude and our treatment of others in our sphere – our children, spouses, friends, co-workers? I offer that it hurts us deeply and diminishes not only the beauty of the relationship we could have with our dog, but with everyone.
    I initially stopped using “dominance” techniques with my dogs some years ago, without knowing any replacement techniques like clickers and so on. I simply didn’t like how it felt in my heart to see fear and submission in my dog, and so I decided to be her friend instead.
    Suffice it to say that over the years, a succession of rescued dogs has been able to thrive in our family because we love them. Because we never hit them, threaten them, alpha roll them or in any way treat them like beings unworthy of feeling safe and respected.
    Thanks for your site and your thoughtful article.

  25. What a fantastic post! This gives me much to ponder. Over the years I have tried different approaches to accomplish what I perceive as appropriate behavior with my dog(s). I was a “NO” girl and shamefully, I didn’t realize Cayman is deaf. Of course, I found many unwanted behaviors to be only masked when the same scenario was again presented. Through the years I have found the only way of accomplishing long term ‘good’ behavior is by using positive reinforcement. For Cayman this is done with food (his true motivator), sign language, and repetition. Not surprisingly through this process I have also learned much about myself. How I effect Caymans behaviors either positively, or negatively by my own response to these situations. Quite a learning experience for us both! I appreciate your insight into the dog world, and always enjoy reading your posts.

  26. Wonderful article! Thank you! I had trouble with one of my danes who started bullying others at the off leash dog park last year. Your article struck home with me as in one of those instances it hit me that he learned that behaviour from me….as I had become more directive/physical (alpha rolls) (ok bossy!!!) at home, he did the same at the park. :(

  27. We all make mistakes as new dog owners, we can only hope that we learn from it and don’t do too much damage, right? The first book that we read when we got our first dogs was the Monks of New Skete – which was all about becoming the alpha. It never felt right to me, and I was so happy when I finally read “Don’t shoot the dog” by Karen Pryon. Positive reinforcement is the best way to build trust and respect – I wish we could do it with everyone we come in contact with! (it works on husbands too!!!)

  28. I attended a dog behavior class with my basenji and had signed up/paid for 6 sessions. The female trainer had numerous initials behind her name and was so highly recommended that I thought I had struck gold. WRONG! In just one class, the trainer threw one dog out the door, alone, because it showed teeth to its owner. Then a few minutes later a duck tolling retriever started to bark. She grabbed the dog by the collar and forced it into a small, unlit closet. I was speechless and my basenji was frightened for the remainder of the class. We never went back. I didn’t even ask for my money back. What an archaic, and more importantly, cruel way to work with a dog. Thanks for reminding everyone that reward based training builds a more successful relationship for you and your dog.

  29. This is such a great post!! I’d love to hear more about your techniques for ‘earning focus.’ Are there any good ones for dogs that aren’t food motivated?? :-)

  30. I am sad to say, that in my early days of dog ownership, I did use some dominance techniques. I got my first dog over 14 years ago (and happy to stay he is still with me). He’s a German Shepherd mix, so the first book I read was the Monks of New Skete and learned about the alpha roll. Roger was just 4 months when I got him and was fully of crazy puppy energy. So when his nipping or jumping bacame too much, I tried the roll. Well, I think the dog thought this was the most fun he ever had – he was always so playful with other dogs, so I think this became a fun wrestling match with Mommy! Needless to say, I didn’t keep it up.

    However, my next situation was the perfect storm of bad information mixed with frustration. I had a hard time in Roger’s first year with him jumping on me and others. A couple I met at the dog park was working with a trainer for their dog, and he told me that she was like a drill sergeant and recommended giving a knee to the dog’s chest to keep them from jumping. Well, it seemed ridiculous to me, but one day when I must have been feeling at my wits end, Roger jumped and I grabbed his paws and gave him the knee. I knocked the wind out of him. I immediately burst into tears. I felt like the worst human being alive. From that moment forward, I vowed to do better. I was lucky in that Roger was just a very balanced dog and that he calmed down so much by the time he hit a year. My main technique with him was a lot of walking and a lot of play time with other dogs. It helped him get his puppy energy out, and he was so well socialized. He may be the most balanced dog I’ve ever had, and I’ll take that lesson of finding kindness and caring over aggression and violence in training a dog.

    P.S. I have a pittie who I do have a pinch collar for. I use it as “shoulder insurance”. While she is a very good girl on leash, there have been moments of surprise when she pulls unexpectedly (usually after a bunny I didn’t see or a cat in a garden apartment window). I try to pay very close attention to what she sees that could trigger a lunge, but now and again am caught off guard. This basically just keeps my arm in it’s socket for these rare occaisions – I’ve never looked at this a domiance/intimidation tactic. Are pinch collars always bad? Would love your thoughts.

    • Have you tried using a head harness? My dog Badger has always been extremely stubborn, so I never used a prong or choke collar because I was afraid that he would injure himself. I use the Gentle Leader with my two dogs; there’s also the Halti and probably more variations. It has completely eliminated the “pulling my arm out of its socket” and the “friction burns from leash slip” problems I used to have. Just about the only control issue I still have with them pulling on-leash is when going down stairs with both dogs racing to the bottom.

      • We like head collars in conjunction with martingale collars, using a double ended leash. We still train walking on the martingale, but use the head collar to gently turn a dog’s face to the side before it gets focused into a hard, inappropriate stare. It works great for some of the more reactive dogs. I would hesitate to use it as a stand alone because it can put a great deal of pressure on te dog’s neck, which is not healthy, orthopedically.

        Typed by my trained monkey. Please excuse tybos.

  31. “Popular religious thought seems to agree with this concept (“Do unto others . . .”), as do popular parenting theory and our criminal law framework. So why are so many of us still bullying our dogs?”

    Because “popular religious thought” is so heavy on the whole humans were given “dominion” over animals…and whether those people meant it that way or not when they made that stuff up…dominion and domination are essentially the same thing according to all the online dictionaries I just looked at before typing this thing…and in the ways that they differ might be confusing for people who don’t really know how to think for themselves.

  32. And Kristina and I have been working with Bigwig on his barking and lunging and everything using the command that K came up with “Nice Face” and he has been doing much better…until they get too close and he can’t handle it anymore…but e are making progress. I don’t think he will ever be a nice boy that I can take to the dog park but I think I can have a dog that doesn’t scare everyone in the neighborhood!

  33. Highly recommend “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Ruugas. She gives great insights and tools for working with our pups that fits right in to what we’re talking about here.

  34. You’ve really struck a nerve for me here. A few years ago I hired a dog trainer, paid an ungodly sum for a ‘lifetime’ package, barely used his services then called him back recently after a few years of struggling on my own again. This time, working with him I realized what I hadn’t been attuned to originally…my gut instinct didn’t like his methods and I resisted them unconsciously due to their negative affect on my relationship with my dog. Only now have I put a name to those feelings. Now, I see more dialogue about this, particularly via FB, and I am SO thankful. My instincts now have found their voice and too I know I am not alone. I guess I’d thought ‘a dog trainer is a dog trainer, is a dog trainer’…that they all knew and taught the same information. Man was I WRONG. Naíve? Perhaps. Lazy? mmm…maybe. Have I learned my lesson? Hell yes! Now I share this message with others in the hopes of preventing them from committing my same egregious error. Now, I hope to undo the damage and strengthen both myself and my dogs before they die of old age. Thank you for sharing your experience and how you’ve learned from it. Bless you and Chick.

  35. This is so helpful and makes it seem so obvious all the things people do wrong – and yet doesn’t make me feel too bad, as you’ve done it too! I only wish I had been more aware and able to handle properly training our dog when he was with us. We lost him a couple of years ago at age 14 and he was leash-aggressive with other dogs his whole life. If I had been able to properly train him with rewards he could have had more fun with other dogs and people. He certainly had lots of love from us, his parents, but he was never a dog who could “go everywhere” which would have been lovely for him.

    I will be certain to train our next dog properly so they can have a more enjoyable life.

  36. I don’t think there is any one sure way. We had a pittie who we tried training with treats etc. & she tried to take over the whole house. Dogs in the wild form a “pack” why wouldn’t we create a “pack” at home? How does the Alpha dog in the wild deal with other members in the pack? They are BRUTAL! This doesn’t mean as humans we need to be brutal by any means, but a firmer approach is sometimes needed with bull headed dogs, or those with a strong prey drive that can be a danger to other animals. A pinch collar with a bully breed is needed with some dogs to keep your arm in your socket I do agree! :) They have very strong necks it’s OK as long as they aren’t in them for long hrs at a time…….

    • I happen to not agree. Different methods work for different dogs, yes, but the difference is the specific reward or consequence, not whether we use physical pain and intimidation or not. We see the hardest cases in Austin come through the Center where I work, and we have never had to resort to choke collars or other painful tools to help a dog or group of dogs.

      If you haven’t had luck with pack management using positive methods, I would consider looking for a different trainer. You will be surprised at what you can accomplish!

      Typed by my trained monkey. Please excuse tybos.

    • Marla, we’re not dogs, and the dogs know we’re not. Humans show their leadership status to dogs by controlling the resources, not by being brutal. This is something I figured out on my own years ago, and it’s always worked for me. I do have some professional help with the finer points now, but the trainers I’m working with at the Canine Center use those same principles.

      I also disagree that prong collars are necessary. I have an American Bulldog mix, and when I adopted him last year he weighed 95 lbs and apparently had zero leash training. I tried an Easy Walk front-clip harness in two different sizes and neither fit him properly, so all I’ve ever used with him is a martingale collar. I’m a middle-aged woman with some joint problems (and I’m not exactly tiny, but not very large either) and even with all his pulling he never hurt me or pulled me over. If he had, I probably would’ve tried a different brand of front-clip harness or had one custom made if necessary.

    • If a murder of crows and a flock of sheep end up in the same fenced area, what do you call all of the collective animals? Do you now have a murder of sheep? A flock of crows? Or do you just have a group of animals?

      The same applies to pack theory. 1) it’s outdated and has been disproven. Dogs within a pack operate with a family hierarchy. 2) When you get dogs and humans in the same room, we do not all become a pack. We are humans, they are dogs and we become a collective group of animals. We do not adopt behavioral traits any more than a sheep learns to fly like a crow.

    • Ditto with the other replies. Wild dogs actually do not form traditional packs, and while displays of aggression can be found the leaders are not brutal at all. Bullies are brutal, leaders are kind and cunning. I have never seen a dog that wanted to take over a household. However I have seen dogs try to take food (instinctual), get up on high places (which are usually cushiony and comfortable, so why not), pull on the leash (humans walk slow and how do they know what we expect from them and why should they listen?), etc. Nothing to do with dominance or plotting world domination. Simply being a dog.

  37. Thank you for sharing this!! I will be passing this along. It’s things like this and shows like the dog whisper and dogs in the city, that help us learn a new trick. Because it is not fixing the dog, but fixing OUR behavior!

  38. Thank you so much for this perspective and the attached article. when we first brought our rescue Diamond home she was so will-full and anxious we knew that a trainer was in our future! We looked all over for someone who used positive training techniques and finally landed on one with a great reputation, we paid for 6 sessions up front and thought we would be good to go… it was the WORST experience of my life. he was all about the prong collar, forced correction and the ‘alpha voice’ he verbally berated me for not being able to make her do what i wanted… i stopped going after 2 sessions, didn’t bother to ask for my money back and wrote a scathing review on the internet to hopefully help others avoid falling into the same trap i did… talk about false advertising… Diamond is doing so much better now that we’re working towards obedience with positive reinforcement and i’m much more confident in my ability to help my dog succeed, without being a bully.

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  42. Love this blog…I definitely need help in positive training for my pit/rotti who is about 4 as the men in my household have only used the “be afraid of me” method and she has been scared and has bitten someone. But I know she is a good girl and know she is trustworthy if only she could trust us. Anyone have a trainer or contact in Suffolk County NY that I can contact that can help with this positive training method. I also need help with this as sometimes when I am showing my own dog affection and she makes a noise I get scared and am unsure if she is growling or just moaning that she loves the attention. I know that sounds pathetic but since she has bitten I am weary of her sometimes.

  43. What about other postitive rewards for good behavior, scratch on the head, telling him he’s a good dog? there are the “oh crap I ran out of dog treats!” or how to curve treats enough to keep the dog at a healthy weight.

    • A reward has to be motivating to the dog, not what the human might think is nice.

      My previous dog was heavily motivated by verbal praise. My current dog could not care less and wouldn’t lift an ear to hear it.

      Most dogs need treats, some dogs need toys, some dogs need praise, but no dog needs to be told what to find rewarding.

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