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Old 07-09-2012, 07:34 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Confused with the best way - choke chain or positive method for dog to dog aggression

Hi guys, I'm currently not sure what to think so I hope if anyone experienced can give me some light on the matter.

My dog is currently 1 year old, and is dog reactive/aggressive. He likes the ones he knew since he was young, but then he reacts and is not friendly towards stranger dogs. The problem was lack of socialization (meeting more new dogs and not just sticking with a few known dogs), and a few bad experiences (some dogs tried to attack him or ran towards him barking and all aggressive).

It's not that he's in the red zone (attacking to hurt and destroy), but he is not afraid and tries to exert control and tries to grab and bump to other dogs, and barks with a mild aggressive posture. Some dogs tried to approach, and he would try to grab them by the back. It is not leash reactivity, as he does that with or without leash.
If another dog doesn't like, they either go away and my dog tries to get them, or they might fight. It happened once, he got into a fight, but again, it was not that kind of kill fight and no one got hurt.

Anyways, long story short... So I wanted to train him out of this, but it's not easy since I can't have a controlled environment for the training. I wanted to do gradual approaches to other dogs, by controlling his reactivity level, but I can't simply ask random strangers to stay still with their dogs, that are often reactive as well (but the difference is that mine is a +30kg dog while theirs are usually little guys lol).
So then I've got a trainer. He did not reveal the methods he use, as he said that he would need to understand how my dog is first. Although I already expected that it's most probably the use of correction collars or positive methods. But we still gave it a shot, since it was recommended by a neighbor that dealt with his dog's escaping problem that the dog is happy walking off leash after the training.

So then we talked to the trainer. He tested our dog to see how bold he is by using possibly scary objects, and he concluded that our dog is a confident one.
But then he also proceeded with all the dominance theories and how dominant our dog is and blablabla.

The trainer uses combinations of corrections and positive methods. I myself use positive methods and use corrections when it's necessary, so I'm ok with that.

I have hopes that the trainer could help provide a training environment in which we could do gradual approach to other dogs thought, and not really using much corrections, since I'm hopping that through positive approach it can make it possible for my dog to regain the interest to play with other dogs again.

But well, and so our trainer put a choke chain on our dog. I was not very surprised, since other owners in the training camp also has choke chains on their dogs. But to my surprise... The first jerks the trainer applied to my dog were... well... very harsh in our point of view (if I remember correctly, he used both hands and give the fast strong jerk/releases).


I'm not afraid to correct my dog when necessary (jerks, and so on). And he's also bold and often corrections doesn't mean much to him. He's the kind of dog that would often challenge his boundaries, but not aggressive towards humans and not easily affected by corrections.
But the 3 jerks the trainer gave were very hard to watch, I know how the choke chain corrections are done, but never saw it that harsh. My partner spoke to the trainer right away that he was not ok with that.

But the 3 jerks were very effective. My dog isn't traumatized, but he clearly learned that it meant business and proceeded to walk along side with little reaction or interest towards the surroundings. I could see that while he was not in fear, he knew he better not do much (sniff around, walk away or take interest at other dogs).
After these 3 harsh jerks, he basically didn't really need jerks anymore (although still got one or another lighter jerks after).


But honestly, I'm confused. I did not expect it was that harsh. My father who worked in the police department said that it was even harsher in his work place when training police dogs, with prong collars (although they use positive methods for training too).
I'm not a soft person, I do use strong corrections on my dog when necessary too. And I do know that corrections are not going to traumatize dogs if well applied and according to the dog's temperament. They are not fluffy creatures and can learn what not to do with aversive, I know all that.

Also, I know that it can be much faster this way. Teach dog that he must repress his reaction, so that later it can be possible for him to actually interact with another dog. And unlike positive method, this is something to teach him that it's not just up to him to decide.

But I'm not sure... is it really that way? Before, I've pictured a more positive way, and even if corrections are involved, not that harsh at least.

We are going to continue with the training, since we can't find more ways to effectively deal with the reactivity. Both me and my partner agree that although it was so harsh and we don't pay attention to all the dominance theories (for example, once he put a fist in front of the dog's muzzle, my dog looked at him with ears up, kind of like "huh??", and he said dog was challenging him by staring *sigh*), our dog is strong and was not traumatized but learned it meant business effectively and fast.


But I just wanted some opinions on our situation. I'm confused, I think that I've been kinda confused ever since I've started reading all the online articles and different opinions and philosophies online!
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Old 07-09-2012, 07:46 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I would prefer to see a prong collar used instead of a choke collar. There are a lot of studies which state the choke collar can cause physical damage to the dog.

I used a similar type of training when my dog was dog aggressive and although it worked, in retrospect I wish I would have tried a different method first. She was very dominant towards other dogs but very handler soft. I was o.k. issuing harsher corrections if she was going after another dog because it seemed to snap her out of it but my trainer would give very aggressive corrections if she so much as pulled on leash which I felt was overboard. Please be careful with this type of training because it could potentially make your dog worse if done incorrectly. I was lucky but I've heard of the reverse occurring as well.
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Old 07-09-2012, 08:00 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Here is my feeling on this kind of training. What you have done is train out an obnoxious behavior, but you have not addressed the underlying cause of the behavior which is your dog's attitude/feelings toward other dogs.

Training out a behavior with corrections is the easy route and it works for a lot of dogs. I wonder how it affects the bond people have with their dogs? I don't imagine it strengthens it. I think it is a matter of personal preference in how you train your dog.

I have a dog reactive/aggressive dog too. We worked with a private trainer for a year, and she had non-reactive dogs that we worked with. After a dozen sessions, we got to a point where we could continue with training on our own, using dogs we saw in town (who were in their own yards or on leash with their owners). We rewarded avoidance, eye contact with us, basically any behavior that was NOT barking/lunging/growling.

Niko is just a dog who does not like and will never like other dogs, and we are okay with that. All we want is for him to be okay to take out in public where he may see other dogs. You may have to accept that your own dog has his own limits, and may never be a good fit for a dog park.

I personally don't like a lot of things that your trainer did, and would look for someone else. But like I said, training your dog is a very personal thing and what works for some people will not work for others. It all depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your dog. For me, a relationship that involves fear and pain is not one I want.
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Old 07-09-2012, 09:23 AM   #4 (permalink)
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With the right dog what he did was fine....how do you know if it's right type? The dog will respond positively with no negative after effect such as cringing. Many all positive people have a problem with this, but the future of strong or dominant dogs that are not controlled is often dismal with incidents. I am not saying this is the only way to approach this, but with right dog( and a good trainer can read the dog to know), this is very effective ( as you saw), very time effective thus allowing you to progress on to other training.
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Old 07-09-2012, 09:47 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by fuzzybunny View Post
I would prefer to see a prong collar used instead of a choke collar. There are a lot of studies which state the choke collar can cause physical damage to the dog.
That is actually one of our worries. Our trainer said that dog's neck is harder than humans, which I agree, but I don't think that their neck is really that strong as they are also made of flesh. Also, I've read articles that talked about the damages it could be done by long term use. Although on the other hand, it seemed that my dog just needed a few jerks, and then fewer lighter jerks to know that it meant business, so hopefully we won't need to use that when the reactivity is gone.

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Originally Posted by fuzzybunny View Post
I used a similar type of training when my dog was dog aggressive and although it worked, in retrospect I wish I would have tried a different method first. She was very dominant towards other dogs but very handler soft. I was o.k. issuing harsher corrections if she was going after another dog because it seemed to snap her out of it but my trainer would give very aggressive corrections if she so much as pulled on leash which I felt was overboard. Please be careful with this type of training because it could potentially make your dog worse if done incorrectly. I was lucky but I've heard of the reverse occurring as well.
Yeah, fortunately, my dog reacted well with this type of correction. Good thing is, he's strong that even the harsh corrections won't get him traumatized, and he's human friendly. At the 3rd very harsh jerk when he reacted towards 2 dogs that were near him, he backed away a bit from the trainer, but was not in fear of him after. I guess that we are lucky that his temperament is that way. Many dogs might get traumatized, or get really aggressive and even bite the handler.

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Originally Posted by Good_Karma View Post
Here is my feeling on this kind of training. What you have done is train out an obnoxious behavior, but you have not addressed the underlying cause of the behavior which is your dog's attitude/feelings toward other dogs.

Training out a behavior with corrections is the easy route and it works for a lot of dogs. I wonder how it affects the bond people have with their dogs? I don't imagine it strengthens it. I think it is a matter of personal preference in how you train your dog.

I have a dog reactive/aggressive dog too. We worked with a private trainer for a year, and she had non-reactive dogs that we worked with. After a dozen sessions, we got to a point where we could continue with training on our own, using dogs we saw in town (who were in their own yards or on leash with their owners). We rewarded avoidance, eye contact with us, basically any behavior that was NOT barking/lunging/growling.

Niko is just a dog who does not like and will never like other dogs, and we are okay with that. All we want is for him to be okay to take out in public where he may see other dogs. You may have to accept that your own dog has his own limits, and may never be a good fit for a dog park.

I personally don't like a lot of things that your trainer did, and would look for someone else. But like I said, training your dog is a very personal thing and what works for some people will not work for others. It all depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your dog. For me, a relationship that involves fear and pain is not one I want.
Actually, I've explained the method I would use with my dog to our trainer, in hope that he could consider it. Although it would be hard to convince him, I mean, he's the professional trainer that used methods that has always been working, and in his eyes, we are probably the soft owners that couldn't deal with our own dog and are just too shocked when we saw such correction.

He talked about how it is not only flowers in the nature, in which I've often said so myself when I talk about corrections, but I want to believe that when there are other ways we could use the other ways.

Just as you said, the underlying issue is the one we should target. Although I also understood that first we teach him to repress all the reactivity and then we socialize him. But then we could also do the gradual distance shortening, with the help of treats so that he gets more and more used to other dogs so that he won't need to react like that.

But I don't know what to think. It did work with him, in terms of telling him it was not appropriate. It's also probably much faster than the gradual approach. But it's still hard to process and accept the whole training session that happened...

I know that it won't damage our relationship, since he knows what he's corrected for and we won't be doing that all the time of course, and good thing is he is strong. But even so... I'm so confused! And to think that this is the kind of training police dogs gets... It's not that I didn't know about it before, it's just the strength of those jerks that got me in shock!

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Originally Posted by cliffson1 View Post
With the right dog what he did was fine....how do you know if it's right type? The dog will respond positively with no negative after effect such as cringing. Many all positive people have a problem with this, but the future of strong or dominant dogs that are not controlled is often dismal with incidents. I am not saying this is the only way to approach this, but with right dog( and a good trainer can read the dog to know), this is very effective ( as you saw), very time effective thus allowing you to progress on to other training.
The first jerk happened when my dog reacted and wanted to jump and barked to other dogs, and he still tried to go to other dogs (although with less intensity), and then a jerk happened again, and then he still seemed focused on them and the third jerk happened and our dog backed away with a bit of fear towards the trainer. But then he didn't fear the trainer after that, although he stopped reacting and stopped wandering off and paid more attention to us. I could see that he was a bit like "I better be careful" after the jerks, although he wasn't much affected.

It seemed that it worked well, although I'm not sure what to think about it. Yet we are still going to the trainer since we have no more ways to deal with this, and since he learned well so hopefully we won't need harsh jerks to correct him (the trainer also seemed to understand that we can't accept such harshness easily).

But I probably won't use this collar again after the reactivity is solved. I don't care if he might not be perfect in terms of obedience, as long as we don't have serious issues like this one, it's all fine.
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Old 07-09-2012, 12:10 PM   #6 (permalink)
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We went to two different trainers that used a prong collar. The prong, when popped correctly is very effective, but like you, I felt very uncomfortable with the strong jerks. We were told our dog is also very strong willed and dominant. Being that your dog is 1 year old and in the adolescent stage, this might be good for now.

For us, as our dog became older, I believe the prong made our dog more dog reactive. She always had to wear it during training, but at training the dogs were not allowed to meet and greet, so of course I automatically pulled our dog back when one approached, therefore associating an uncomfortable pull with meeting a dog. A couple months ago, when our dog turned 2, I started a lot of positive reinforcement on walks. We used treats (her regular kibble) and lots of praise as we approached people and dogs and passing them successfully. I also took the advice from others on this forum to feed treats even when another dog was far away to associate it with good things. Then I took of the prong off, continued with training and now she can happily meet and greet other dogs. Some dogs get reactive with her, but ours is not initiating it.

Just so you know, the training with treats would not work when she was younger, she had no motivation for treats. So in the end, I'd say it has to do with the individual dog, but with continued positive reinforcement (it takes longer), I believe your dog an lose the choke collar.

One of the members on this forum gave a reference to a book that helped us quite a bit: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
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Old 07-09-2012, 12:22 PM   #7 (permalink)
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We went to two different trainers that used a prong collar. The prong, when popped correctly is very effective, but like you, I felt very uncomfortable with the strong jerks. We were told our dog is also very strong willed and dominant. Being that your dog is 1 year old and in the adolescent stage, this might be good for now.

For us, as our dog became older, I believe the prong made our dog more dog reactive. She always had to wear it during training, but at training the dogs were not allowed to meet and greet, so of course I automatically pulled our dog back when one approached, therefore associating an uncomfortable pull with meeting a dog. A couple months ago, when our dog turned 2, I started a lot of positive reinforcement on walks. We used treats (her regular kibble) and lots of praise as we approached people and dogs and passing them successfully. I also took the advice from others on this forum to feed treats even when another dog was far away to associate it with good things. Then I took of the prong off, continued with training and now she can happily meet and greet other dogs. Some dogs get reactive with her, but ours is not initiating it.

Just so you know, the training with treats would not work when she was younger, she had no motivation for treats. So in the end, I'd say it has to do with the individual dog, but with continued positive reinforcement (it takes longer), I believe your dog an lose the choke collar.

One of the members on this forum gave a reference to a book that helped us quite a bit: On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
Thanks for sharing! Actually the trainer told us to give him treats before the choke chain, but our dog was not giving much attention to it. We used chocolate treats for dogs, that we use it at home, but maybe coz we were in a new place, and my dog also vomited before the training (he can't stand car rides - just like me!). He probably thought that since the dog did not care for me nor the treats, he had to use choke chain.

Before going to a trainer, I've tried corrections which worked a bit, but then we switched to using ham as treats do get his attention. It kind of worked, depending on the distance. But well, the problem was that we couldn't have other dogs controlled so that it was so hard to train on the walks. I've suggested it to the trainer, but well... guess he doesn't have his own dogs nor he would change his methods that always worked for him.
But as long as the reactivity gets better, we can have chances of meeting other dogs soon (group training sessions) and then he might be able to meet other neighbor dogs then.

About the book, actually I've got it some days ago. Found it on a local library and couldn't believe they have more books than Cesar Millan's lol. Although I don't agree with a few things in the book, as it sounds as dog is always trying to say "calm down!" and is always stressed. I would think that sometimes the signals are like "I'm friendly!", sometimes more like avoidance for being uncomfortable. For example, a person can sometimes touch his/her own arms and crossing them (as if feeling cold) when feeling stressed. This is a signal that shows stress, but the human is probably not saying "calm down!". Also, the book is very strongly against corrections, and makes it sound like any correction is really bad and damaging.
I feel that many signals I actually noticed, although the way I see them is slightly different, and not as black and white and depends on the whole body/situation.
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Old 07-09-2012, 12:44 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Gretchen View Post
For us, as our dog became older, I believe the prong made our dog more dog reactive. She always had to wear it during training, but at training the dogs were not allowed to meet and greet, so of course I automatically pulled our dog back when one approached, therefore associating an uncomfortable pull with meeting a dog.
You just identified the reason for your problem....it wasn't because she was wearing a prong collar, her association was caused by the way the collar was USED.

A subtle change would have made a difference: Instead of pulling your dog away and creating an association between the collar and the approaching dog, move behind your dog and call him. He'll either turn and move towards you (YAY good boy, here's a treat!) or continue looking towards the other dog....if he doesn't turn in your direction when you call, THAT'S when you use the leash and collar and bring him to you. Do what you need to do to get your dog's attention off the approaching dog and on to you. You can then reward your dog after he gives you attention. First few times might be difficult, but the more you do this the quicker and easier it comes!

OK better get back to work......
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Old 07-09-2012, 12:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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About the book, I do have a hard time with "nevers and always" like never use a choke or prong correction. Every situation is unique. But we did find it fun to watch our dog's behavior, like when she sees a dog approaching to suddenly put her nose to the ground and smell, definitely does not like the direct approach, and we were able to see, although too late, that our first trainer totally stressed her - she put out all the body language. That really made me feel so bad, that I put her through that, plus she would occasionally get diarrhea. I don't think your dog is always stressed, just may be putting out signals to make sure the other dog is calm.

What may also work is having your dog around a real confident, powerful dog. Our trainers promised to do this with our dog, but never followed through. Dog on dog correction. As I said, our girl is very strong and dominant. One night, my husband and I needed to bring a present over to his friend. His friend has a 10 year old black male, GSD, 125lbs. Well trained, calm and confident. We brought our dog and in an instant, she was totally calm, almost submissive, no reaction to meeting the friend and his wife. After a while our dog wanted to go back in the car. This almost seems like what I've seen Cesar Milan do on his show, taking a dog into his pack of dogs. At first I thought that was crazy, but in a well controlled situation, may be useful.
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Old 07-09-2012, 01:09 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Gretchen View Post
About the book, I do have a hard time with "nevers and always" like never use a choke or prong correction. Every situation is unique. But we did find it fun to watch our dog's behavior, like when she sees a dog approaching to suddenly put her nose to the ground and smell, definitely does not like the direct approach, and we were able to see, although too late, that our first trainer totally stressed her - she put out all the body language. That really made me feel so bad, that I put her through that, plus she would occasionally get diarrhea. I don't think your dog is always stressed, just may be putting out signals to make sure the other dog is calm.

What may also work is having your dog around a real confident, powerful dog. Our trainers promised to do this with our dog, but never followed through. Dog on dog correction. As I said, our girl is very strong and dominant. One night, my husband and I needed to bring a present over to his friend. His friend has a 10 year old black male, GSD, 125lbs. Well trained, calm and confident. We brought our dog and in an instant, she was totally calm, almost submissive, no reaction to meeting the friend and his wife. After a while our dog wanted to go back in the car. This almost seems like what I've seen Cesar Milan do on his show, taking a dog into his pack of dogs. At first I thought that was crazy, but in a well controlled situation, may be useful.
Yeah actually, I can intuitively tell most of the time what dogs are feeling whenever I look at them, but after reading about calming signals (before buying the book), I became more attentive to what dogs does. (this is in contrast to my capacity of reading cats lool I do not understand cats at all!)

Actually, he got a small correction from a stray dog before, but it was a good thing as he wasn't afraid but stopped being too impolite in his approach. But now he would get into fights, once he did with another confident dog that did not like his reactivity.

But yeah, if we could bring him to a pack of calm dogs then it could help a lot. I always find Cesar Millan's pack amazing!
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