On Using A Training Collar For Aggressive Dogs

One of my web site visitors writes:

Dear Adam: I have trained my non-aggressive Rottweiler on a pinch collar, and I have also been trained on how to properly use one. I like pinch collars a lot and feel they are a good training system if used correctly.

Now, I’m not saying I am a professional, however I was told by a trainer in my area that you should never use a pinch collar on an aggressive dog for fear of re-directed aggression, and that a pinch collar could aggravate the dog more… in turn, leading to more aggression. He suggested that a head halter is the best tool for an aggressive dog. Could you please help me on this one?

I am helping a friend train a Pit Bull Terrier and she wants to use a pinch collar. I did take a 6 week class in dog training and used a pinch collar, but was told not to use one on an aggressive dog. I value your advise. Please email me directly if you can.

Thank you, Kayo’s Mama

Dear Kayo’s Mama: Thank you for your e-mail. It’s a good question. First, let me throw out my standard disclaimer and suggest that in any situation where you’re dealing with a potentially dangerous dog that can inflict injury and damage, you should first consult with a professional dog trainer in your area that has experience fixing aggression problems in dogs. With that said, let me go on to address the issue.

Whenever a so-called professional dog trainer say things like, “Never use… blah, blah,blah” … my hackles always go up. Why? Because it’s usually because they are parroting some piece of advice that they’ve heard somewhere else, but don’t really understand WHY the advice they’re giving out either works or does not work.

The problem with the advice you’ve received in this specific instance is that it focuses on the TOOL, and not the BEHAVIOR. And once you understand the behavior… and what motivates that behavior… only then are you in a position to solve the problem. Now, it really depends on what TYPE of aggression your dog is displaying as to what TYPE of TOOL (I.E., training collar, etc…) that you’ll need to use. In general, the pinch collar will give you the ability to make your corrections much more motivational (more meaningful).

So the question now becomes: Given the type of aggression that the dog is exhibiting… should I be giving a correction or not? And are the corrections that I’m currently giving my dog meaningful? Now, there are some types of aggression that will require that you give your dog a correction in order to extinguish the behavior. And there are other types of aggression where giving the dog a correction will make him more aggressive. I don’t have the time or space to go into the various types of aggression and how to fix them, here.

BUT THE ISSUE IS: IF I NEED TO GIVE MY DOG A CORRECTION… WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO MAKE THAT CORRECTION MEANINGFUL? And the answer to that question depends on a number of different factors:

1.) Your current relationship with the dog that you’re training.

2.) The temperament of the dog. Does he have a hard temperament or a soft temperament?

3.) The circumstances that the dog is being corrected under. In general, the more motivational the distractions are, the more motivational your correction will need to be.

4.) Your handling skill.

5.) The dog’s current training level. Now, there are some dogs that all you’ll need to do is to give a stern look and whisper the word, “No!”… and that will be more than a motivational correction. With such dogs, there’s probably no need for anything more than a buckle collar. But other dogs will insist that you show them that the word “No!” has some meaning behind it! And the way to do this is to use a training collar which is appropriate for your dog, given the 5 factors listed above.

In most cases, a properly sized and used pinch collar is the most effective way to do this. As for the advice about using a head halter: In general, this will get you nowhere in terms of eliminating the behavior. Why? Because the head halter is simply a mechanism designed to RESTRAIN the dog. And with all forms of physical restraint… once you lift the restraint, the dog will continue to do the behavior. My approach to dog training is to actually TEACH the dog to make a decision.

If he makes the right decision, then he gets something positive. If he makes the wrong decision, then he gets something negative, and then the OPPORTUNITY to make the RIGHT decision so that he can get the praise and reward. But with the head halter, the dog is not being allowed to make any decisions. He’s simply being restrained. However, there is one caveat to this bit of advice.

The skilled professional trainer will sometimes choose to use what’s called a “Halti”… which is like a head halter, in CONJUNCTION with other forms of behavior modification. But the way it is properly used is NOT AS A RESTRAINT, but rather as an “on-the-fly” muzzle to prevent the dog from biting the handler. Since this usually means working multiple leashes (one on the halti, one on the training collar… and in some cases, one on a back-tie) this technique is usually reserved for the experienced dog handler/trainer.