Can we openly talk about prong collars and other methods to train a good walker? No judgement zone.

I’m concerned about Henry’s walking skills lately. We’ve done as much as we can to get him to be a good, slower walker but its just not happening. He will be 2 in February and I’ve only had him get away from me once, but once was enough. As the weather gets colder, my arthritis is acting up already and I’m worried about walking him. Last winter I only was able to walk him a handful of times because of how hard he pulls, but we practiced as much as we could in the yard. This year he is much bigger, stronger, and despite all we’ve worked on over spring and summer, he is no closer to being a good walker. 

We’ve tried all types of harnesses but Henry is an escape artist and gets out of most of them. He pulls his elbows together and backs out - which allows him freedom in under 3 seconds despite the harness fitting properly. We are currently using a Kong one and its the only one he can’t get out of (i’m open to all recommendations for harnesses tho). We’ve done positive reinforcement and treats on walks, but he ignores treats when he is out and about. High value treats can sometimes bring him back to focus, but its kind of a lost cause on him. Our trainer last year that we worked with all winter couldn’t really get him to slow down, but that was also a group class with distractions.

So that brings me to thinking about prong collars. I’ve never used one but read up a LOT on the proper way to use them. I’m on the fence about them because I tend to not like any type of walking strategy that uses the neck for fear of hurting him (that even goes for flat collars). But I also don’t like the possibility of Henry running off if I can’t control him. So I feel its on me to be responsible and think about the “what ifs” instead of being too picky about what we use. I’ve only ever seen one dog wearing a prong collar correctly in all of our outings, and that dog was a very large doberman who was walking beautifully. The collar was up high, not too tight or too lose, kept its position when they were walking, and you could tell the dog was highly trained to ignore distractions because he left Henry alone and did not pull once.

I wanted to try a halti style one with Henry but i’m worried about him pulling his face too hard to one side and hurting him. Eventually I’d like to work up to that.

I feel like at almost 2 years old, he should be walking much better. And maybe its time to change our method because walking him could result in a dangerous situation. I think the ONLY thing holding him back from progressing further in our service dog journey is his walking. He does everything else great especially at the store with kiddo, but his walking and pulling is too much. 

So tell me about your journey to having a good walker. What do you use? Do you like prong collars and the results they bring? Any recommendations for prongs or better harnesses or techniques?

For harnesses, I highly recommend the Perfect Fit harness for all escape artist dogs. It’s incredibly adjustable (you’re buying three separate pieces to literally make a custom harness for your dog), so you can fit the neck as tight as a collar if necessary while still supporting the body. Their website shows tripod dogs wearing the harness without any problems. To help with pulling, get the chest piece with the front attachment ring, so you can attach your leash to both the front and back of the dog to get extra steering power when necessary. (If you’re in the US or Canada, you can order one through CleanRun: Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

Between a prong collar and a head collar, the head collar is by far your best option. It’s not painful for the dog, so you’re not risking behavioural fallout. (Fallout generally takes the form of fear or aggression triggered by whatever your dog previously found interesting or enjoyable and pulled towards but can also become fear of the outside or of being handled.) It does take a week or two of training to help most dogs accept wearing a head collar, but it’s usually pretty smooth sailing after that. Some dogs even accept them immediately with no training, but don’t count on that. For head collars, I think the best one is the Gentle Leader. It’s not as bulky as a Halti, and it tightens immediately as the dog pulls instead of tightening through a martingale, so you get a slightly higher level of control. It also goes directly around your dog’s neck, so if he slips off the snout loop, you’ve still got him on the collar bit. Head collars also often have a calming effect and might help your dog tone down a bit. You also have the option of using a head collar and harness together. When I was first training my puppy to walk with a Gentle Leader, I had a leash attached to his front-clip harness and another attached to his Gentle Leader. If I thought my puppy was going to lunge, I’d just feed out the harness leash so he wouldn’t hurt his neck as we turned away from the trigger. I’ve also walked some dogs with a leash on the harness but a head collar without a leash to get the calming effect of the head collar without the pressure of the leash causing an aversive reaction in the dog.

From a training perspective, it sounds like food isn’t a good motivator for your dog. A lot of clicker trainers aren’t very practised at using alternative rewards because most dogs work for food. It sounds like that’s where your training has been hitting a snag. What I would recommend is: 1. Get your dog on a tool (preferably a harness or head collar) that will help you control pulling so you can get from point A to point B on a walk without any training; and 2. Start training in your house to get a foundation going with your dog. Focus on capturing eye contact and working around distractions in the environment. Start with food on the floor since that’s easy to control, then move to toys, forbidden items, interesting scents (if you have any dog friends, ask them to wipe their dogs’ bums with a paper towel and put it in a zippy bag for you to use in your training, or you can go wipe fire hydrants and sign posts to collect your own samples),* etc., until your dog can perceive any distraction you can find and reorient to you for a reward. (Let me know if you’d like some specific exercises to work on, and I can dig up some tutorials and videos for you.)

For rewards inside, start with really good food (e.g., chicken, bacon, cheese, eggs, etc.) and special, “just for training” toys if your dog enjoys playing. Then you’ll start rewarding your dog with access to the things he wants for first complying with you. You can start with his food dish: Have your dog on leash and put his dish on the ground, ask your dog to follow you away from the dish and give you eye contact, ask him to sit and focus with you, and then release him with his release cue (maybe something like, “free,” “go see,” or “get it”) and allow him to go to his dish and eat a bit. Do this exercise with small bits of his meal so you can get in more repetitions per training session. When your dog is great at waiting to be released to his food dish, toys, and interesting scents in the house; you can take this into the yard. Remember that every new place you train is like teaching a new behaviour. Work on focus work, and then moving away from distractions you’ve placed out and any your dog finds on his own, and then work on actual leash walking with focus on you for the reward of being released to the environment. When your dog is great with all that in the yard, move onto the side walk but stay close to home until your dog gets more practice. When you dog is fluent at walking in front of your house, you can start moving farther away and to busier areas.

I hope that helps. If you have any questions on what I’ve said or just in general, please let me know. Good luck!

*Dog trainers are so gross. Or maybe it’s just me, and I’m a weirdo who collects dog pee smell.


anyone out there well-versed in dog behavior who would like to help me out and get my dog’s attention on Me whenever she sees a dog that exacerbates her prey drive? dogs are her biggest concern, squirrels and humans don’t seem to activate it at all, but if she sees another dog she goes to hurt and i have tried whole slices of cheese to try and direct her attention anywhere but on that dog but she does Not care 

and it’s making walking her a real pain and she’s already had a big scuffle with another dog in the neighborhood. i don’t want her hurting herself of hurting another dog and if i can’t find anything i can do asap i’m going to have to convince my parents to get some kind of professional behavioral training for her because of this. :/ 

It sounds like you’re doing the right thing (trying to associate other dogs with yummy treats from you), but you’re making it too hard for your dog. Start farther away from the other dog, so your dog can look at the other dog and then look away without becoming fixated. If your dog can’t look away even for cheese in front of her nose, you’re way too close; so just back up and try again. Once your dog is happily looking at the other dog then back to you for a treat, you can take a step or two closer. If your dog gets stuck looking at the other dog at your new distance, back up and try from a little farther away. You may even want to teach your dog to walk away from other dogs by finding a distance where she can turn away, approaching that distance, calling your dog, marking (with a clicker or by saying “Yes!” when she turns to you), and feeding her as you’re both walking away.

The trick with counter-conditioning is going at your dog’s pace. If you push her to get too close too quickly, she’ll react to the other dog and set back your training. If instead you take the time to cross streets or go up driveways to avoid getting too close to other dogs, your dog will learn to feel relaxed around other dogs much more quickly.

For a quick, easy-to-read resource, I highly recommend Feisty Fido by Dr. Patricia McConnell. This book outlines a few different methods for counter-conditioning as well as training some emergency procedures for getting your dog and yourself out of a tight spot safely. It also includes a great little resource section in the back for if you want a more in-depth protocol, information on counter-conditioning, or information about reactivity and aggression in general.

We met up with Rocky and his handler to do some D/CCing in the park today. Maulkin was really fantastic and almost completely ignored Rocky. He did give a little bark at Rocky’s handler when she came up to say hello before we started working, but he warmed up to her quickly.
We also got a few bonus dogs: A dachshund on a Flexi that pulled towards us on the way to the park, a small mutt on a Flexi that kept pulling their owner towards us, a medium-sized spitz dog (maybe a Icelandic Sheepdog?) on a Flexi but well-behaved, and a GSP off leash but well-behaved. Neither of our dogs reacted, though Rocky became a bit fixated on the GSP and the little dog that kept pulling their owner around. (Rocky was about 100 ft closer to the walking path, so bore the brunt of the park dogs.) We met up with Rocky and his handler to do some D/CCing in the park today. Maulkin was really fantastic and almost completely ignored Rocky. He did give a little bark at Rocky’s handler when she came up to say hello before we started working, but he warmed up to her quickly.
We also got a few bonus dogs: A dachshund on a Flexi that pulled towards us on the way to the park, a small mutt on a Flexi that kept pulling their owner towards us, a medium-sized spitz dog (maybe a Icelandic Sheepdog?) on a Flexi but well-behaved, and a GSP off leash but well-behaved. Neither of our dogs reacted, though Rocky became a bit fixated on the GSP and the little dog that kept pulling their owner around. (Rocky was about 100 ft closer to the walking path, so bore the brunt of the park dogs.)

We met up with Rocky and his handler to do some D/CCing in the park today. Maulkin was really fantastic and almost completely ignored Rocky. He did give a little bark at Rocky’s handler when she came up to say hello before we started working, but he warmed up to her quickly.

We also got a few bonus dogs: A dachshund on a Flexi that pulled towards us on the way to the park, a small mutt on a Flexi that kept pulling their owner towards us, a medium-sized spitz dog (maybe a Icelandic Sheepdog?) on a Flexi but well-behaved, and a GSP off leash but well-behaved. Neither of our dogs reacted, though Rocky became a bit fixated on the GSP and the little dog that kept pulling their owner around. (Rocky was about 100 ft closer to the walking path, so bore the brunt of the park dogs.)

Ugh, Scuzzy got into the freeze dried fish while I was in the shower. He chewed up the bag and spilled fish everywhere. Poor Maulkin was so freaked out, he was hiding in the bedroom (as far as possible from Scuzzy and his mess) and started showing appeasement signals as soon as I entered the room. That automatic, unsupervised leave-it was very, very hard for him; and he did such a great job! I wish he wasn’t sick so I could pay him properly for it.

Maulkin had a rough morning today, but I think a pretty good day overall. His first little upset was early this morning when we were walking to work. We take a shortcut through the park and past a nursery so we can avoid traffic along the busy roadways.* The walkway along the nursery is very narrow, so when we saw a woman with a young child and a baby in a carriage, I called Maulkin off the path and had him sit until they passed. I decided not to feed Maulkin because he’s usually amazing with children and incredibly tolerant. Unfortunately, while Maulkin was happy to just watch the kid bounce along and squeak about the doggy, he got upset when the kid’s mother started talking to him. Maulkin barked once without breaking his stay, and I was able to redirect him into a down easily and he maintained it quietly while the mother and kids passed. I don’t think he would have barked at all if I’d CCed him instead of just having him wait, but I didn’t consider how stressed he’d still be from our visit to the behaviourist yesterday. (He was really shaken up!)

At work, he barked a bit when my co-worker and her dog came in, but he redirected fairly quickly and was able to train with me without greeting either of them. Later on, he also barked and rushed a dog and client who came into the waiting area when we weren’t expecting anyone. He needed more help getting away from them. My co-worker actually had to body block Maulkin from getting out the door to investigate the new person and dog, and I had to pull him probably a dozen feet away before he redirected and could move with me on his own. Not a great response for sure, but at least part of it was that I was so startled, too.

Our way home was much, much better! At the park, there’s a set of stairs that goes through a wooded area between the park and the residential area where we live. When we turned to go up the stairs, we startled a shepherd mix who started barking and lunging at us quite ferociously. Maulkin immediately came away when I called him, I think without any tension on the leash. He wasn’t able to focus on me (I was also out of treats; so I couldn’t CC, lure, or reward anything), but he did follow me away and downed when I asked him without barking at the other dog. When the other dog was moved across the park, I was able to direct Maulkin to sniff in the trees and he calmed down quickly despite the other dog still barking at us. On our walk through the residential area, we ran into the same mother and children from the morning. The kids were being very loud and screaming about the doggy, and Maulkin seemed pretty interested in them. Just by coincidence, we turned down another road before they passed by. I would have crossed the street to avoid them otherwise, since I didn’t have treats and thought the mother would be on edge after this morning and would trigger Maulkin. The last big distraction we passed was the pomeranian at the end of the block. He was fenced this time, thankfully, but was barking incessantly at us. As per the behaviourist’s recommendation, I had Maulkin sit and fed him delicious treat pouch dust for tolerating the pom. One of the pom’s owners walked past us as I worked Maulkin in front of their driveway, and I was able to say hello without Maulkin barking. (So good!) I think the difficulty level we were at was too challenging, especially since I didn’t have any real rewards, but Maulkin did really well. I’m going to have to set up CC exercises specifically for working around the pom in the future.

*Mostly, we’re avoiding off leash dogs from the apartments across the street. Ever since that one dog ran across all four lanes of traffic to chase us into a field, I’ve been leery of taking Maulkin down that road at all.

Maulkin’s muzzle training is going fantastically despite my lax efforts. He gets really excited when I pull it out and shoves his nose in immediately. He also seems comfortable wearing it on his own and will perform basic obedience in it. (I haven’t asked him for anything harder yet, but I suspect he’d be fine.) I’m going to keep CCing very slowly inside until Maulkin’s comfortable enough to pant wearing the muzzle. (Maulkin’s incredibly pressure sensitive, and the weight of the muzzle makes him a bit uneasy still.) Then we’ll start again outside.

Maulkin was extremely reactive to other hikers during our hike yesterday. He didn’t seem fearful or frantic (he was eager to greet the one person who passed us closely and otherwise just seemed excited), but I was only able to redirect him during one of four reactive episodes. The strangest part was that he alert barked at a couple as they approached, politely greeted the woman when she spoke to him, and then alert barked when the couple moved away. I could see that if he were being fearful (“I’m afraid, so I’ll bark to scare you off. I’m too afraid to bark when you’re right here. I’m still afraid but brave enough to bark and drive you off when you turn your back.”), but I really don’t think that’s the case. I asked my mentor about it, and she says she’ll have to see what’s going on to offer a diagnosis.

Maulkin’s also been alert barking at people passing our apartment when we’re out on potty breaks but otherwise is great passing people during walks. I’m pretty sure he’s barking in our yard because he thinks it’s his job. I’ve been trying to play LAT as soon as people appear before Maulkin can react, and then redirect him without rewarding him if he does react. I think it’s helping. My mentor recommended just letting Maulkin bark and ignoring him, and rewarding him when he’s quiet so he learns I’m not paying him for barking. I haven’t tried it, because I don’t really like the idea of him barking. Maulkin’s naturally very verbal, so I feel barking will be incredibly self-reinforcing if I just ignore it (certainly more reinforcing than food, at least). I may try setting up a crate outside so I can send him to bed when he barks but let him out to play LAT when he’s quiet. All I need is more free time and for the neighbour’s kids to not harass us when we’re outside….

It’s a completely different experience walking with little Viola compared to Maulkin. Even though Maulkin is well-trained and ignores people when we walk, there are always people (especially kids and teens) who jump out of our way or even scream when they see us. With Viola, people run up and try to kiss her and make a fuss even when she’s barking and lunging at them. Viola happens to be overwhelmingly friendly and was never taught self-control around strangers, so she’s not a danger. But her behaviour looks like any other type of reactivity, and it amazes me people find it endearing just because she’s small.

I’m thinking about adding ribbons to Maulkin’s ears when we walk to make him look less intimidating. While I don’t want people running up to him, I don’t want them running away screaming, either. He takes it all in stride, but I find it really frustrating.

Maulkin holds his breath when I ask him to freeze. That’s a little more frozen than I wanted….

oodsandpoodles/all-kinds-of-dogs, sorry it took so long, but I finally got the video made! The idea is to turn parallel to the dog when they see a distraction so the dog knows you’re changing direction, and then reward them for choosing to move away from the distraction and towards you.

In the video, I teased Maulkin with one of his favourite toys before tossing it under the camera to use as our distraction. You can see how he disconnects from me as we approach and keeps moving forward after I’ve stopped. After I stop, I pivot on my left foot (you should pivot on whichever side you walk your dog) and step behind the dog so my shoulder is aligned with his spine. When Maulkin’s leash goes taunt, I can step back and feed out the slack so I’m getting farther from him but he’s not getting closer to the distraction. (There’s a pretty decent example of that at 0:25.) When the dog turns towards me even the slightest, I mark (Using “Yes!” in the video.) and then offer him a reward at my side so he has to walk away from the distraction to get it.

Maulkin’s obviously already trained for this task, so I actually kept signalling him to get the toy so he’d walk ahead. If he were untrained, he’d probably lunge at the toy for a while, then stand at the end of his leash staring, and maybe try to go for the toy again before eventually glancing back at me. That’s pretty normal behaviour for an untrained dog, especially if they’re used to getting ahead by pulling, so expect that the first few times you try this exercise. If your dog seems fixated on the distraction and doesn’t glance back at you after 30 seconds to a minute, call him away (you can apply gentle, constant leash pressure if necessary, but try not to tug or jerk on the leash), and try again but stop at a much farther distance from the distraction. You can also make this exercise easier on the dog by rewarding with something better than your distraction (so if you’re using a few pieces of kibble as a distraction, try rewarding with chicken). After a few approaches and retreats, Watson should start glancing at the distraction and then back at you for a reward. When you reach that stage, you can try switching up the distraction, moving to a different room, or approaching the distraction a bit closer (though always keep outside of leash range, so your dog doesn’t lunge out and grab whatever you’re using before you can stop him). If you find yourself telling your dog to “leave it” or you just feel nervous, you’re too close to the distraction and need to progress a bit more slowly.

If you find a treat or toy Watson will take outside, you can start using that as a distraction for set-ups outside. Once he’s had a little practice, you can start using this technique on anything Watson’s finds distracting. Keep an eye on his ears and tail especially during your walks, and you should be able to tell exactly when he’s focused on a new distraction. When that happens, you can switch into this activity until you’ve regained Watson’s focus so he won’t be able to pull you forward. You might also find it helpful to have a walking cue and a release cue so you can use environmental rewards. So for walking, you might tell Watson, “Let’s walk!” and then when you see something you think he might want to approach, stop and wait for him to look at you, and then say your release word (mine is “go sniff!”) and indicate to Watson he can go check out the interesting spot. If he’s not interested in treats outside, using a release word will allow you to reward Watson for walking with you.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Please, let me know if you have any questions or if this exercise is still unclear. I might be able to get a video with an untrained puppy on Wednesday if necessary.