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Hey guys! I've had a hard time recently researching different training methods without being bombarded by the positive only/force free crowd. To me, a balanced approach that includes both positive reinforcement and corrections makes a lot of sense, logically. However every online post that details this method of training comes with an insane amount of comments from those who call it abusive and cruel. Honestly, it's kind of hard to sift through the information without feeling awful for even looking at it in the first place, due to the way that positive only proponents react to it

SO, what do you guys think? Are training methods other than positive only as stressful and awful as some people make it sound?

Disclaimer: I am truly not looking to start a fight or an argument. I know that this is a subject a lot of people are pretty passionate about, and I have my own personal opinions about the situation as well. I'm just looking for any opinions or evidence that pertains to both sides of the issue, from those with much more experience than I have!

Thanks in advance!
 

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A balanced training method should never be "awful or stressful".The dog is rewarded for obedience and corrected for refusing to obey a KNOWN command.How else to make things clear to the dog?My two cents:)
PS:Never read internet comments/avoid headaches,lol!
 

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No they are not or at least should not be stressful or abusive but many people start with corrections and much quicker than truly necessary. I use and ecollar and prong although i havent used the prong in a while since electric is so much more convenient. Anyway lets say you want to teach a heel command the best way to do it is to use positive methods to build that behavior up until it looks amazing until the behavior is exactly where you want it there is no need for corrections. Once you are there and the dog can do it perfectly with no distractions you can begin to introduce corrections and distractions as well as a higher value reward to reinforce the comand on the dog and that way they know exactly what you want when they are corrected.
 

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A balanced training method should never be "awful or stressful".The dog is rewarded for obedience and corrected for refusing to obey a KNOWN command.How else to make things clear to the dog?My two cents:)
PS:Never read internet comments/avoid headaches,lol!
So true- they only ever frustrate me, really! I agree with you though. It just seems like every time that is mentioned, there are a hoard of people that cite articles saying that positive only is science-based and the only humane method of training (no matter what the correction is). It would be nice to find an article or study supporting balanced training.
 

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All dogs are different. You need to know the dog in front of you. I've used many different things, but never anything that was extreme. Most of it was positive. Midnite required me to think out if the box. I learned a lot with Midnite.
 

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Positive Only pretty much works ... as long as you don't have a dog with serious issues. As long as you ...never have a dog that ... starts pack fights, jumps and lunges at ... perhaps this person but not that one (people issues) or is ... seriously dog killing aggressive. The PO works out fine!

But if one does have a dog like that ... an honest "PO" trainer will tell you "I can't help you." The dishonest ones will drain your wallet and when they fail, ... tell you your dog is broken and he is best "PTS." Sorry it did not work out maybe choose a better dog next time. OK ... I added the last part ... but that's the net effect. :p

Balanced Trainers reward good behaviour and punish bad behaviours! PO trainers ... only reward the good and ignore the bad or you know ... redirect. Or as I want to say a take can take a treat and still bite the crap out of someone! :surprise:

When I finally came across, my first dog with serious issues (people) with my first "GSD." I did not even bother with the "PO" crap. I had a zero bite policy and I had to get it right, out the gate. I managed to solve my dogs problems by simply showing him what I wanted. I did use a muzzle for a bit ... but I also managed his space and kept people out of "space."

He got that and once I better understood what he looked like when he was good, I dropped the muzzle. Rocky will never be a "Therapy Dog" but he is safe in public and with company in the home. And with "Rocky" I fixed his "people issues" and he never received a single correction for untowards behaviour towards people. And I did it by aggressively protecting his space! He simply was not given the opportunity to go over the top. But although I did that ... I did not understand how (I'm not a Pro) hmm although I am kinda wordy.

So back on pointe "Leerburgh" and "Who pet's my puppy or pet first" I'd always allowed strangers to pet my Boxer and my Bandog but with "Rocky" what if ... I said "NO???" And the second thing I already knew ... was how to walk a dog on a loose leash, and I use a SLL. But the walk, I never thought about it ... it's just something I do. But for my dog and his people issues ... that's all I needed.

Back on pointe ... I finally had a trainer explain to me ... what I do??? Larry Krohn ... I think David Trainer ... introduced him?? But I missed that thread but another member mentioned him again?? A "balanced trainer" as is "Jeff Gellman" this guy who I knew of first.

Solid K9 Training aggressive dog rehab, dog anxiety - Rehabilitation and Family Dog Training if you have "issues" he has tons of info but he talks a lot about solving issues and he's a great help for others but he doesn't really address me.

And then I saw "Larry Krohn" mentioned again??? So I went to his web site. :
Dog Training Bowling Green, KY, Nashville , TN, - PakMasters

And I saw ... "Positive only Balanced Trainer???" Well what "exactly ... does that mean???"
Being curious I found his Youtube page and he explained to me ... what I did ... "Walk Your Dog." He talks about the "E-Collar" but hang in there ... he also explains what he does first ... "Walk Your Dog."


Welcome aboard. :)
 

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Not only is Positive Only actually impossible, it is unnatural. When I see my dogs correct each other if play gets a little out of line, it is quick and clear and then over. It's not the handler loosing their temper and beating the dog to "teach them to know better". People will also find that no treat will trump chasing the cat or meeting the other dog. It is not cruel to firmly say, "this far and no further".Otherwise you can spend an entire year trying to find the "trigger distance" while you and your poor dog won't be going on long walks and adventures.

Also, withholding treats and rewards is technically a negative. Perhaps the better name would be "Reward Based Training".
 

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Don't be too overwhelmed by all the conflicting information. What is important is that you train your dog. Balanced training works. Positive only also works. Balance training may yield faster results. There may be limits to positive training, but it is sufficient for most pet dogs. Some dogs may train better with one method over the other, but consistency is what matters. Pick a method that you are comfortable employing. Stay consistent and spend a little time training each day and you'll have a great dog.
 

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Dogs are pack oriented animals and in pack structures negative feedback and corrective actions are taken to ensure cooperation and peace within the pack. Simple as that.

I like the idea behind PO, but it doesn't work with every dog. My WL girl is a perfect example. I love her to the moon and back, but when she was younger she was a stubborn little brat. PO wasn't working and her mouthy behavior from the puppy stages wasn't going away and she was starting to get snappy with people. That was a behavior that needed to be stopped. She was also getting very stubborn with recall, and that to me is dangerous if you can't rely on your dog's recall. So I started training on an e-collar for recall and a prong collar for the snappy behavior. Both issues cleared up quick, and honestly I think I've only buzzed her maybe 5 times in her whole life with the e-collar. Once she understood, she understood and just having the collar on was incentive. And, of course, I continued to reward good behavior even with the collars on. Once I felt she was reliable, I stopped training on them and she's been great ever since. It's so much better for the dog to get those behaviors corrected fast so that the dog knows what is expected, complies and lives a happy life because the handler doesn't have to deal with bad behavior.

All this said, I do believe in PO only until the dog is of an appropriate age to understand that some of their behaviors are undesirable. And, of course, with a young dog always be aware of fear stages and be careful to do any corrections during those stages.

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This is not a force free forum, you'll find that a lot of people on here use 'aversive' tools such as prong and E collar.

I've had a lot of issues on two 'dog forums' that are force free, they do not make this very clear upon signing up though.

My opinion is not every dog is the same, I've had dogs so timid that force free was the only way to make progress, but then I've also had dogs that needed consequences to learn the proper way to behave. Positive only trainers and owners don't realize that not all dogs will behave when shown the correct behavior, some dogs know how you want them to act yet choose not to, they aren't robots. Some of these dogs need corrections. Except in the eyes of positive only owners/trainers saying 'no' is the same as setting fire to your dog.

Every tool I use on my dog I use on myself first, I personally to not think that E collars or prong collars are painful, slightly uncomfortable? Sure, but if it means my dog doesn't lung at other dogs or run into traffic, it's surely worth it. These are effective tools on my GSD, but my last dog would have been forever traumatized by forceful tools.
 

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There actually is science based studies on when positive only training will fail at a certain point,if you wanted to research it here's one link:https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instinctive_drift&ved=0ahUKEwidh6_euJjTAhUB3IMKHZJNB8gQFggcMAE&usg=AFQjCNF-6hpiyu_4x3w2IP-hAXOTaqRApQ

You can also Google "the four quadrants of learning theory".There's more science for ya:)
The article on instinctive drift is interesting to me - and encouraging! - because so many people will scream that science says force-free is best.

Regarding operant conditioning, yes, there are quadrants. It's never made sense to me to ignore two or three of those quadrants; learning theory is based on the ideas of reinforcing and extinguishing behavior. It seems many people are unable or unwilling to see that positive punishment is not inherently abusive; it is, at its core, adding something to the dog's environment that makes a certain behavior less likely in the future. That's a textbook definition of positive punishment.
 

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Short answer (notthatshort): People jump on whatever bandwagon sounds best to them and use it to try and sell their training methods. 'Purely positive' play on the feelings of people while 'balanced' try to convince them that it's not effective in every case. Both are against what a lot of older training methods relied on and all of them are based on the behaviourist movement in psychology. Basing your decision on what someone calls themselves is an easy way to throw money at someone who doesn't know what they are doing. You're much better of talking to a trainer about the specific things you want to achieve, whether it be learning new behaviour or dealing with issues that have shown up and basing your judgement on how knowledgeable they are on the subject and the methods they outline to that specific question.

I will say one of the biggest reasons 'balanced,' and the reason behind it, use of aversive methods is controversial doesn't come from trainers but from regular people trying to use these methods themselves and not being effective in their use. Not everyone is a dog trainer and using things like prong/e-collar, choke chains etc is an easy way to create very bad and potentially dangerous behaviours in a dog if done incorrectly. (Typically occurs when people are bad at timing and create fear of a particular thing or are simply far too harsh and physically hurt their dog which can result in all sorts of behaviour). Generally speaking people who are ineffective in say clicker training wont create new dangerous behaviours, they will likely just have a dog which doesn't pay attention to them. (Obviously this isn't exactly safe either but it's not the same level as creating a fearful or aggressive dog.)
So my general recommendation would be to avoid using these methods unless you're prepared to get professional advice alongside it.

Long answer (likereallyreallylong) There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to operant conditioning which is basically what most dog training is still built on. It is also incomplete as there are many other components to learning that are not accounted for, namely cognition, at least in humans though very likely in dogs as well. One area that strangely seems missed comes from Bandura who added two components to classical and operant conditioning to create social learning theory which basically demonstrate that people learn behaviour through the presence of others doing that behaviour. (Classic example: Bobo doll experiments,
) I would imagine that dogs, being social, intelligent animals also use these methods. The point is that though there are many dog trainers that are effective in a number of ways, understanding learning and the communication between people and animals is not fully understood yet, there simply isn't concrete science to state one thing is definite. It's a developing field and honestly quite a long way off completion in my opinion. So trying to find an absolute answer in scientific literature is a wasted effort, there isn't one. Instead in these situation the best bet is too look at as much evidence for all sides as possible and make a decision based on your own judgments of what sounds logical and reasonable. If people demand that science says differently, then it's pretty reasonable to ignore the person because they're only trying to confirm their own agenda at that point. Science doesn't as far as I'm aware anyway, have an absolute answer yet.

So with that in mind and going to what I said about finding as much information as possible and then making your own judgments, I figured I'd share a few thoughts starting with some clarity over conditioning.

Difference between classical and operant condition: Classical = Learning through association of two events. (Eg. Pavlovs dog, behaviour already exhibited, salivation when food presented. Presented bell alongside it, dog associated two together so when bell was rung the dog salivated even when food not present).
Operant = Learning through consequences of behaviour. (Eg. Skinners box, rat pushed a lever by accident, got food, learnt quickly to continue pushing to receive more food).

Primary rule of operant conditioning: When behaviour is reinforced it will be repeated when it is not it will be extinguished. Different reinforcement times will have varying effects on this. Eg. Behaviour that is reinforced constantly will create minimal work for animal therefore resulting in slower learning curve and will extinquish very quickly without reinforcement. Variable interval reinforcement where reinforcement is given at an unpredictable amount of time will have the fastest learning time and slowest decay, longest time before extinguishing.

Skinner stated 3 types of operants that occur after behaviour. Neutral operants (Have no effect), Reinforcers (Increase probability of repeating behaviour), and Punishers (Decrease chance of behaviour being repeated).

Reinforcers come in both positive and negative. Positive reinforcement = Addition of a positive event after behaviour. (Usually a food reward, eg skinners rat and lever again). Negative reinforcement = Removal of an unpleasant event after behaviour. (Skinners box also used an electric shock through the floor which stopped when the rat pressed the lever, it quickly learnt to press the lever to stop the shock).

That's the basic outline of operant conditioning and the basis of dog training. So let's consider these on a practical level in relation to dog training specifically.

First observation is that negative reinforcement is almost never used in dog training, at least I can't think of a case where it would be used and see little to no reason why it would be used. On the other hand positive reinforcement is used by basically everyone. Which leaves punishment and the old argument which divides 'purely positive,' and 'balanced,' trainers. However this argument seems very strange when you actually break down operant conditioning as these do two completely different things. If the argument was between positive and negative reinforcement it would make sense but it's not, it's between using a reinforcer and a punishment. However we already established that reinforcers increase the chance of a behaviour occurring while punishers decrease it.

"Then obviously balanced trainers are right because if I want to decrease a behaviour like barking then I need to use punishment."

Well not necessarily and that's not a good indication that 'purely positive,' trainers aren't actually using punishment without really thinking about it. The obvious example to me is with jumping behaviour. Positive trainers will typically from what I've seen tell you to pull away, turn around, basically avoid or remove yourself from the dog, this is punishment as dogs like your attention obviously. Then follow it up with reinforcing positive behaviour of being on the floor.

So the real argument shouldn't be about the use of punishment but the type of punishment being used. I believe this has led into people trying to break up punishment in the same way as reinforcers are, with positive and negative. I honestly feel this becomes redundant, there are different types of punishment, they all aim to achieve the same goal, decrease the chance of a behaviour occurring. If it is not doing this, it is not a punishment to that dog, so whatever works for that dog is what is the punishment.

I say keep it simple, there's no reason to over complicate things. Negative reinforcement is generally impractical and not needed, so we use positive reinforcement to form new behaviours. Punishment comes in different forms and the level will depend on the dog, often simply removing a reward is enough, you use this to reduce behaviour. Test different reinforcers and use what works for your dog and that you are comfortable with, makes the most sense.

So why do so many people fail to stop their dogs pulling on leads, barking at other dogs etc? Why do scientific papers keep coming out saying punishment is bad both for humans and dogs? And why did I recommend not using aversive methods without professional consultation if punishment only reduces chances of behaviour occurring and not creating new ones?

Main reason I think people fail is because they don't know what they're doing, they assume that punishment, say pulling on a choke chain will simply fix the issue. Problem is as I've said earlier, behaviours need reinforced throughout life otherwise they extinguish and appropriate types of reinforcement are needed to retain learnt behaviour. So first people just pull on a choke chain for example, that might initially stop the behaviour but now what? Do they reinforce the new walking? No, they just keep tugging on the lead and the dog doesn't really learn anything new. A correction needs to be followed up with an instruction which is then reinforced periodically throughout life in order to work correctly. Walking a dog on the leash should be pretty easy, as it's a very self reinforcing thing as the dog gets to go out and explore etc. People still fail however because they don't make that initial association and teach the new behaviour, they just keep trying to stop the old. Of course the dog also becomes used to the pattern of being pulled and pulling back and the whole thing turns into a classically conditioned experience.
If you use punishment to stop a behaviour, you have to follow it up by reinforcing the behaviour you want the dog to perform otherwise the whole effort will be in vain.

The main reason science has published a lot of negative views on punishment comes from the cognitive movement. They've shown quite effectively now in child learning and development a key difference between what is known as authoritarian and authoritative teaching styles. Authoritarian parents will set rules and boundaries and importantly will tell their children what to do, 'because they said so.' Because they are the adults, in charge etc. The key difference with authoritative parenting is explanation and communication over why those rules exist and why the child should follow them. Understanding and explanation is crucial and it's been shown a large number of times that authoritarian parent's children typically develop negative behaviours else where, often don't wish to tell their parents problems and wont follow the rules when parents aren't present or wont catch them. Where as authoritative based children continue to follow those rules because they understand why and show better development in basically all areas of life. (Note there are other styles such as permissive which also have negative developments for other reasons, authoritative has been shown to be the most effective across the board for child development). Dogs are cognitive creatures but we can't explain why they can't run across the road to the squirrel to them, we have to show them as best as possible but we simply don't speak the same language. I think it's reasonable to suggest that trying to be as authoritative and less authoritarian as possible with our dogs is beneficial but this isn't always realistic.

This also leads onto why I say getting professional advice is important. It's very easy for a forceful behaviour to develop things such as mistrust or fear in the owner, it's difficult to explain why the dog was punished and if the timing was off or the level of punishment was beyond necessary then the dog may not know how you will respond to it in the future. This is likely why marker training has shown to be so effective as it is relatively easy for the dog to understand exactly what you want. And combined with positive reinforcement, there is little fear of the dog developing fear or uncertainty to you. It sees you want it to do a certain behaviour, in reward it gets food or it's toy etc so it chooses to follow. The cognitive component is a lot easier to manage with positive methods and punishment can lead to side effects that were not expected and potentially problematic. Especially if the person doing them is not a dog trainer or have a lot experience with it and just goes and buys the products without learning how to use them properly and in particular the correct timing of these products.

I realise this is really long but I hope it's useful in clearing some things up. Personally I haven't used any major aversive methods since I was young, I've not found a need to use more than a verbal no or stopping my dogs from chasing things etc and then training the appropriate behaviour for that time. Patience is definitely important as well as consistency, I do strongly recommend people to have at least one or two sessions with a good trainer and by that I mean one you've asked specific questions and considered the best answers based on your own reasonable judgment. Dogs like people are all different and different approaches are needed for each dog, you just have to find what suits you and your dog in the most minimal way possible I think.
 

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This is not a force free forum, you'll find that a lot of people on here use 'aversive' tools such as prong and E collar.

I've had a lot of issues on two 'dog forums' that are force free, they do not make this very clear upon signing up though.

My opinion is not every dog is the same, I've had dogs so timid that force free was the only way to make progress, but then I've also had dogs that needed consequences to learn the proper way to behave. Positive only trainers and owners don't realize that not all dogs will behave when shown the correct behavior, some dogs know how you want them to act yet choose not to, they aren't robots. Some of these dogs need corrections. Except in the eyes of positive only owners/trainers saying 'no' is the same as setting fire to your dog.

Every tool I use on my dog I use on myself first, I personally to not think that E collars or prong collars are painful, slightly uncomfortable? Sure, but if it means my dog doesn't lung at other dogs or run into traffic, it's surely worth it. These are effective tools on my GSD, but my last dog would have been forever traumatized by forceful tools.
I so appreciate your insight! I especially love that about this forum- there are so many people with so much experience and information to share, but I have never felt attacked or inept for asking questions or having a certain opinion. It is such a wonderful community. I agree with you- to me, it just makes sense to use a balanced method of both positive reinforcement and corrections if that's what the dog needs. I'm a member of a German Shepherd Owners page on Facebook, and I recently had a pretty intense conversation with a force-free trainer who wasn't very happy when I suggested using a prong collar or e-collar to correct a dog who continuously jumped on people, to the point of injuring a child. You would have thought I had said to just put her down!! Whether or not to use training tools absolutely depends on the dog- it's just so hard to reason with people who are determined that you're abusive for cruel for even suggesting them, even if you do try them out on yourself first (we have that in common)! To me, a little discomfort is a small price to pay for the safety of your animal and those around you!
 

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Not only is Positive Only actually impossible, it is unnatural. When I see my dogs correct each other if play gets a little out of line, it is quick and clear and then over. It's not the handler loosing their temper and beating the dog to "teach them to know better". People will also find that no treat will trump chasing the cat or meeting the other dog. It is not cruel to firmly say, "this far and no further".Otherwise you can spend an entire year trying to find the "trigger distance" while you and your poor dog won't be going on long walks and adventures.

Also, withholding treats and rewards is technically a negative. Perhaps the better name would be "Reward Based Training".
I agree with you 100%! Just hard to articulate that to those who have it set in their minds that "reward based" is the only humane way!
 

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I so appreciate your insight! I especially love that about this forum- there are so many people with so much experience and information to share, but I have never felt attacked or inept for asking questions or having a certain opinion. It is such a wonderful community. I agree with you- to me, it just makes sense to use a balanced method of both positive reinforcement and corrections if that's what the dog needs. I'm a member of a German Shepherd Owners page on Facebook, and I recently had a pretty intense conversation with a force-free trainer who wasn't very happy when I suggested using a prong collar or e-collar to correct a dog who continuously jumped on people, to the point of injuring a child. You would have thought I had said to just put her down!! Whether or not to use training tools absolutely depends on the dog- it's just so hard to reason with people who are determined that you're abusive for cruel for even suggesting them, even if you do try them out on yourself first (we have that in common)! To me, a little discomfort is a small price to pay for the safety of your animal and those around you!
You might be surprised but I've run into quite a few 'positive only' trainers/owners who truly believe that if a dog cannot be trained with positive only methods it must be defective and euthanized. So... Killing a dog is better than saying no and using a tool to cause minor discomfort in result saving the animal's life? Is dead really better than being corrected?

Skewed ethics is the problem here, but I guess we're all entitled to our opinions, it's sad animals have to suffer as a result of some opinions.
 

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You might be surprised but I've run into quite a few 'positive only' trainers/owners who truly believe that if a dog cannot be trained with positive only methods it must be defective and euthanized. So... Killing a dog is better than saying no and using a tool to cause minor discomfort in result saving the animal's life? Is dead really better than being corrected?

Skewed ethics is the problem here, but I guess we're all entitled to our opinions, it's sad animals have to suffer as a result of some opinions.
LOL ... I am not surprised by that by and large a lot of that group are on BoxerWorld..

I was Gunther on there ... it did not go well. I'm still a member but not an active participant. The mode there is by and large ... if a cookie won't fix your dog ... PTS, will!

It did not well go for me there, the final straw was when I told some too, that if he did not even want to "Walk his Boxer???" Then perhaps he should reconsider rehoming his Boxer and getting a BullDog??? >:)

That ... was to much for them. Still even with BullDogs ... there is the skateboarding thing at which BullDogs seem to excel ... I don't know what that's about???
 

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LOL ... I am not surprised by that by and large a lot of that group are on BoxerWorld..

I was Gunther on there ... it did not go well. I'm still a member but not an active participant. The mode there is by and large ... if a cookie won't fix your dog ... PTS, will!

It did not well go for me there, the final straw was when I told some too, that if he did not even want to "Walk his Boxer???" Then perhaps he should reconsider rehoming his Boxer and getting a BullDog??? >:)

That ... was to much for them. Still even with BullDogs ... there is the skateboarding thing at which BullDogs seem to excel ... I don't know what that's about???
They are moving without having to actually move, they aren't a breed that likes much physical activity :p

I've always been the type to adjust my ways more than expect my dog to adjust itself. Especially with matters such as exercise, a dog needs exercise end of story! There's no way around it unless your was a stressed out potentially unstable dog because of excess energy. Even if it means using a prong collar to get that dog exercised!
 
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