Fashion & Dynamic: It’s Not Just About What You Wear, But How You Wear It

Equipment and Your Dynamic with Your Dog

By Holly Stover and Eric Allport


How do you fix aggression? Can you fix aggression? What practical steps do you take to address such a big problem? In last week’s blog, Aggression Part 1 Teamwork: Communication and Trust, we discussed how important communication and trust are in this process. We used Hank, our current Board and Train, as a case study. Come along with us as we delve further into this all too common issue.


“I Don’t Think That Does What You Think It Does”

Hank came in with a pinch collar. His family was ahead of the game by realizing that a lesser collar would afford them little control when Hank went into one of his fits. He’s a big boy. It still wasn’t enough. They were trying, they just needed help. With most of the aggression cases we encounter, and we see a lot, the first thing I see is:

  • A  dog on harness trying to pull their owner across the floor to me like a champion sled dog.
  • A dog on a flat or martingale collar choking themselves out trying to pull their owners across the floor to me.

I don’t care what you’ve heard or how you feel about training collars. Equipment matters. It matters a lot.

Hank the Pit smiles for the Camera

“He used to just chokes himself out pulling so hard on the collar, so I got him a harness.”

This is a common refrain. I understand where people are coming from, no one wants to see their dog choking. There’s a huge disconnect here, though. “When my dog aggresses (bad), they go crazy. They pull so hard (also bad) that they cause themselves discomfort. So, I am now using a piece of equipment that allows them to pull and go crazy more comfortably (very bad).”

We use harnesses for training protection dogs, narcotics and tracking dogs, certain types of service dogs. If I trained sled dogs I’d certainly use one. That’s it. Why? Simple. Because harnesses teach a dog to pull. The entire purpose of their design is to restrain or to allow a dog to pull more than they could bear if the pressure were all placed on a collar, and to do so comfortably. With an aggressive dog, this restraint creates more aggression and perpetuates the very cycle we are trying break.

“But I have an Easy Walk harness!” No, sorry, still a harness, still built to restrain. It’s built to restrain in a fashion that makes it easier for the owner to not get pulled down the block, and usually fails to do even that. Contrary to rare anecdotal cases, it fails miserably more often than not. If I had a dollar for every dog I’ve seen in a side or front buckle harness, pulling sideways down the street with blissful abandon, I could retire today and go start a Pit rescue.

Haltis can cause serious neck injuries in a spastic dog with an inexperienced handler and afford no correction because of the same danger. With flat buckles, martingales we almost inevitably see dogs wearing these come in just as if they were on a harness. Except their choking, standing up into the collar to pull harder.


A Common Connection

Often people use this equipment because that’s what everyone else uses. Or because that’s what the puppy trainer said to use, or what the clerk at the pet store recommended. In a lot of cases though, when looking at the equipment a dog has on, you can get a glimpse into the mindset that has, consciously or unconsciously, guided the dog through its life from the other end of the leash.

Why do so many use ineffective equipment? Because the perception exists that dogs should just be dogs. It’s mean to make them do stuff they don’t want to do. It’s cruel to cause them any discomfort or stress. Somewhere, somehow, dogs magically became immune to a simple natural law. Decisions have consequences. Good and bad.

This world view will make any equipment useless. Even pinch collars when used to simply hold the dog back, become wholly inefficacious. We regularly get dogs in who have mastered the art of pulling on a pinch collar like a sled dog on the final stretch. Where we see success is when clients realize that there needs to be drastic change, not just in the dog, but in them. These are the clients we choose to work with. They will put in the work, they make astonishing 180 degree changes in the dynamic they have with their dog, and it creates sustained, below the surface change.

If You Change Your Dynamic, You’ll get Dynamic Change

We talk so much about structure, expectations, boundaries, and consequences that those who haven’t worked with us might think that’s all we’re about. Not true by a longshot. But it’s a rare client who needs help learning to do the fun stuff with or be more lenient on their dog. Most of us have that down pat. It was a long time ago, but my first several months when I started training, I was there. I was afraid to correct a dog. I half stepped it. And the results showed. Yes, we teach the dog. Yes, we reward. Training should be fun, I want every dog to want to learn. And if you set the right standards, send the right messages, from the very beginning, you’d be amazed at how little correction is required. But I’m telling right now, you can NOT reward or coddle bad behavior away. It doesn’t work like that.

How does this address aggression? Because no matter what sort of behavioral problem you are experiencing with your dog, the relationship you have with them lies at it’s very heart. You are training your dog every second they are awake and in interaction with you. The question is, what are you teaching them? Everything you let them do, everything you don’t let them do, it’s all communication. And you can’t communicate that it’s all good to do what they want with no consequences 90% of the time, and expect them to listen that 10% of the time when the chips are down. It will end badly 100% of the time.  

The small moments, the seemingly unrelated ones, imperceptible occurrences in the passing of the day, these are where our bond with our dog is established. Your dog pulling you out the door when you take them for a walk. Barreling out of the crate as soon as you open it. Pulling you towards that dog and barking. Barking at company when they come over. Playing keep away with their toy. Making you chase them to get them to come inside or go to the crate. It all adds up. And with a dog who has any inclination to aggression of any sort, this adds up to bad news. In the beginning of this series we talked about Hank, the reactive Pitbull. Here he is working on a prong and e-collar with Eric’s Dad. Hank had worn a prong before,  but it’s not just about what you wear but how you wear it.

Putting it all Together

If you have an aggressive dog, you have a responsibility to them as well as any dog or person who may end up being the target of that aggression. Appropriate structure, a LOT of it (which we will discuss in this series) will play a huge part in it. As will training, counter-conditioning, and drastically changing your dynamic. But please get rid of the tools that aren’t working, that are making it worse. Educate yourself about appropriate training collars and how to use them appropriately. Check out our blog “What are E Collars and Why Do We Use Them?” Learn how to effectively stop the cycle and start teaching your dog better options. Don’t just put a pinch collar or an e collar on and think it will fix everything. The tool is just that, a tool. It helps you get the real work done.

 

 

Eric has been helping owners regain their lives and enjoy their companions for 10 years. Eric's experience runs from rehabilitating aggressive dogs, tackling the toughest behavioral challenges, and training service dogs, to training narcotics dogs and hunting dogs. As well as anything in between. A Michigan native, Eric learned his craft apprenticing under two long time trainers in Colorado and went on to teach dozens of other trainers as well as countless pet owners.

4 responses to “Aggression Part 2 | Fashion & Dynamic

Posted by Eric Allport

Thank you, Jeff! Can’t say how much our whole team loves working with you, Cindy, and your pack. You are doing amazing with Loki and I’m so glad that helped with Thor.

Posted on June 27, 2018 at 9:41 PM

Posted by Eric Allport

Thank you, Emily. We are so thankful to see how K9 Heights Family members pour so much into making these huge turn arounds! You have been a blueprint for success for everyone who is striving to fix the dynamic with their dogs.

Posted on June 27, 2018 at 9:39 PM

Posted by Emily Felicelli

Seconds into reading this blog, I has visions of my own past experiences with the wrong equipment! We bought a harness (truthfully, a variety of them) to keep one dog from escaping (Dakota, the Husky) instead of considering equipment and tools that would stop her from escaping all together.

With the other dog (Caesar, our German Shepard), we made the decision to try a retractable leash to give us that extra opportunity to hold our ground when he started to pull. Nope. Didn’t work. He won every time.

It was so easy for us to make those choices to buy the ineffective tools because, truthfully, we didn’t know any better. What was even easier, though, was the transition to the ecollar and the pinch collar and to learn how to use them appropriately from the K9 Heights team.

Changing the dynamic DID result in dynamic change! So very well said, Holly & Eric. Now, we have the tools we need to address and correct the offending behaviors instead of trying over and over again to work around them. I couldn’t agree more with the points in this blog and I couldn’t be happier with the positive results we have experienced since embracing the new tools!

Posted on June 21, 2018 at 5:55 PM

Posted by Jeffrey Smith

Great info in this blog been working my dog thor the way eric showed us because he was pulling on a prong eric taught us the right way to correct the problem now i enjoy walking and working with my dog
thank you
Jeff

Posted on June 21, 2018 at 2:14 PM

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