How to Create a Reactive Dog…

I saw quite a few disturbing things happen while I was working at the expo this weekend one was from a female handler who had a young adult Weimaraner (possible mix) at the event on a prong collar. The dog was a bit stiff in his body (not in her joints but in general movement) and was a bit stressed but seemed very friendly. I saw this dog/owner when the event first opened and saw them probably 7-10 times over the course of the 2.5 hours I was there.

The dog started out interested in the other dogs at the event and I saw the handler let him greet a few dogs at first and he was very appropriate. But I saw quite a change in the dog by the end of the day and it was not a good change. I saw him actively trying to avoid other dogs and actually snapped at a few very appropriate dogs and was getting defensive as soon as another dog showed any interest. I’m sure being tired and stressed played a role in this change but the handler certainly did things the contribute to her dog starting to become reactive.

There were probably 15 or 20 times I saw this handler give her dog a series of leash pops for sniffing a dog who walked up to him, or going over to sniff a dog, or to get the dog to end a greeting with another dog. By the middle of my day, I saw this dog show obvious signs of stress and avoidance when other dogs approached appropriately–he’d turn his head, lick his lips, or turn away just trying to tell the other dog to leave him alone. The last time I saw him, he was giving bigger warnings when dogs got near (whether they were interested in him or not) and actually snap at dogs who had gone up to him (appropriately after the owner asked) on two occasions. I cannot say for sure that he wasn’t just tired and cranky but the behavior change was pretty clear and seemed based, at least partially, in fear compared to his behavior earlier in the day .

This handler’s use/timing of that tool was likely a contributing factor to the collapse of her dog’s behavior and an increase in the fearful body language. If she continues to leash pop her dog while he/she is greeting other dogs, things are only going to get worse. He will continue to connect having a painful experience every time a dog approaches or he approaches a dog and that won’t make him feel good about other dogs coming close and he’ll actively work to prevent them from coming near.

It really is easy to create a reactive dog but is even easier when using tools like choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars to deliver the corrections because these tools amplify any collar correction.

How to create a reactive dog in 5 easy steps

1. Bring your dog to a busy event with dogs, people, furries, huge inflatable dog figurines and where he/she is already mildly stressed to just exist in the space.
2. Keep the dog in this environment for an extended amount of time
3. Deliver leash corrections if the dog tries to sniff another dog without being told
4. Deliver another leash correction when you want him/her to stop greeting another dog after being told
5. Deliver a leash correction if another dog approaches your dog

I am extremely sad to say that I saw a number of “Therapy Dogs” being walked around on prong collars and receiving similar corrections from their handlers when greeting both people and dogs and that is really concerning to me. What happens when the therapy dogs starts seeing the approach of a person as a predictor of pain in their necks?

Hopefully that Weim is stable enough that this one day isn’t enough to really start down the road of long-term reactivity. But it really is just that easy to create a reactive dog, if she continues down that path, it may not end terribly well.

  1. Oh no šŸ™ I’d also rather hope that the Weim was just tired and cranky because it was the end of his day, but….it seems like one would bring one’s dog to a thing like that, on a prong, because one WANTS to correct the dog. I could just be thinking the worst.

  2. I don’t know if you realize (before I educated myself) how close I was to getting Gracie a prong collar. I shudder at that thought. It’s sad to say, the first several people I talked to about her said to use a prong collar. The disturbing part is that a couple of them own and work at pet stores and advise people that way. I lost count of when I was there how many people they taught how to use them and fitted for their animals.

    Thankfully, I found you at just the right time!!

    • I remember you asking me at the beginning of week 3 with Gracie in that first class (after the very difficult week 1 with her) what I thought about using a prong collar since people had suggested it. I remember telling you basically the same thing I wrote–using a prong collar and pain will not make her feel BETTER about being near dogs.

      I’m glad you took the time to enroll in classes and fix the behaviors that were problematic… she’s a completely different dog because of the hard work you’ve put into the training!

  3. That’s so sad. Even prior to learning about R+, I still could never understand why people would correct their dogs for enjoying the scenery and giving passing greetings to other dogs ad people. If I’m going to enjoy the scenery, why can’t the dog?

    That prong collar is also upsetting. A “properly” fitted prong looks so painful and uncomfortable. After hours in it, the dog was probably grouchy in part because of the raw skin caused by that overtight “properly fit” collar and all those endless corrections from it.

    • Y’know, I really understand why people use those tools. People have a problem… they hear that those tools offer a solution to the problem with minimal training (it hurts to pull so dogs will “self correct” and they stop pulling so hard in theory). They don’t think about the feelings/welfare of the dog only that they have a problem they want solved and have people they may think are knowledgeable suggesting those tools.

      But because they don’t know much about training they ultimately create reactivity, create a dog who can never be weaned off the collar, or create dogs who learn to live with the pain and pull through it, OR they have such a poorly fitted collar that they injure their dog.

  4. This is so scary! And THERAPY dogs being walked on prong collars?

    • It was my understanding that therapy dogs were not permitted to wear prong collars when wearing their Therapy Dog equipment (either ID, bandana, or ‘vest’). This was from a TD organization i’ve never heard of before not TDI, TDinc., or Delta. I saw 4 TDs from the same organization all wearing prongs at this event.

  5. How did you stop yourself from saying something? I was on the trail with a friend and saw a man trying to walk his pulling dog by yanking her and saying, “Walk! Walk!” I wanted to say something SO badly but didn’t want to embarrass my friend. This man needed to know that method really wasn’t going to work [but here are some ideas…].

    Maybe the only way to change things is to continue to get the word out about positive reward-based training and have all of the pet stores promote it!

  6. I had a severely dog aggressive dog who died last November (RIP, Muggsy). He had a scar on his neck from the choke chain he was dropped off at the shelter with. I wonder how DA he started out, before his former owner went medieval on him?

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