Person petting German ShepherdGrooming and Equipment

Positive associations of the equipment and dealing with resistance.

“A slip collar is such a magical piece of equipment with its hostility diffusing capabilities (through extended corrections), I can’t imagine working on aggression without it. I tell owners of hostile dogs that the slip collar and leash are the best form of bite protection. So usually the first task on the training agenda is getting a high-quality collar on the prospective student. Always think of introducing your dog to equipment as a conditioning process. As best you can for as long as you can, build an association between the equipment and something genuinely positive (for a defiant dog this usually means something more than just praise). My mainstay for positive associations is food. If a dog has an appetite, you can’t beat food as a motivator. Associating the training collar with a daily walk or play time is also a solid plan. When you bring out the leash and collar (or muzzle, harness, nail clippers, or crate for that matter), bring out the good stuff.

Let’s say you’re in Larry’s position and you did your best to make putting on the collar a positive experience, but your dog still strongly resists. Now what? Here’s what we do at the training center. Make a loop of you leash by putting the snap through the handle and sliding the handle down the leash until you have a loop much larger than your dog’s head. Utilizing positive association, calmly and discretely slip the leash loop over the canine student’s head. The snap end of the leash now acts as the handle head. The loop should be tightened until it’s comfortably snug, making sure the dog cannot forcefully remove his head but that he has free airflow. From this point, the dog can be handled almost as well as if he were wearing a slip collar. Before I begin any instructive handling, though, I want to place an oversize slip collar on the student. If I’m working with a formidable dog like Rouge (Redbone coonhound from previous articles), I may select a collar two or three, sizes too big to begin with. I want placement over the head to be quick and easy, but the collar can’t be so large as not to function (fast closing and opening action). Placing collars on and off should be part of every dog’s daily life. It’s often prudent to begin and end the collar conditioning session using the leash as a noose. A handler may do this for as many training sessions as it takes to reach a dependable comfort and safety level.

For Larry, lesson number four was a revisit to the grooming control exercise that we partially covered at the onset of his instruction. On this revisit however, we centered our effort on handling Rouge’s head rather than avoiding it like we did in the beginning. By this point in training, Larry had been practicing the grooming exercise for weeks (everything but head manipulation since she wasn’t a fan of being touched on and around her head). Rouge was accustomed to being placed in a stand and holding still while having her body brushed and toweled. So this is where lesson four began, with the easy and familiar. I wanted Larry to make sure he set Rouge up for an early reward just like we did with the crate training. An easy and positive beginning to an aggression control session should be the standard approach. We also desire a positive finish where success and reward leave lasting impressions. This approach to hostile control work helps immeasurably in the digestion of the sometimes not so pleasant central portion of training.

To facilitate quick action, I had Larry holding the short, loose leash in his left hand. The brush was in his right hand as he began brushing Rouge’s neck and working up towards her head. As soon as the brush reached the point between her ears, Rouge turned to snap at the brush. Larry, being well practiced now, instantly applied a short extended correction (a tight leash and collar for only a few seconds with Rouge’s front feet remaining on the ground) using his left hand only. The purpose of the extended correction was to tighten the leash at a forty-five degree angle up and forward to lock Rouge’s head in place. This allowed Larry to safely hold her body in place while continuing to brush her with his right hand. It was a very important at this moment in training that the brushing of her head continued while her body was held virtually still and properly positioned. If the brushing of the head had been aborted even briefly, Rouge’s aggressive action toward the brush would have been rewarded by the delay. By the same token, if Larry would have retreated with the brush to another easier part of Rouge’s body, she would have registered this as a victory also. The thrust of our training exercise was to clearly demonstrate to Rouge that she could no longer give orders as the team captain, and from now on, Larry was not going to back away from her head because she insisted on it.

Anyone managing a similar hostile situation when grooming or manipulating a dog should keep in mind, in early training we’re not interested in thorough brushing, nail clipping or ear cleaning. Our concentration is on behavior shaping and moving the student ever closer to safe and appropriate conduct. Thorough grooming and meticulous collar adjustments will come later when the dog’s improved behavior allows for it. Like a piece of pottery, no matter how eager you are to finish a vase with glaze, you must be patient and thoroughly prepare the clay or else you’ll end up with a failed project instead of a beautiful product.

Because Larry had weeks of diligent training preceding this exercise, Rouge’s aggressive protest was only half hearted, and the risk of injury to the handler had been greatly reduced. With only a couple of short extended corrections, Larry was able to lightly brush Rouge’s face, lift her ears, adjust her collar (everything that before training triggered an aggressive reaction from Rouge). Though the strong minded Redbone didn’t like the grooming any more now than she did earlier in their relationship, she was simply more tolerant and more willing to defer to her team leader. Larry couldn’t have asked any more from her at this stage of training, which is why I encouraged Larry to give her a few well received treats along with some soothing praise. So even though Rouge was still not a star grooming student, she was at least manageable and behaviorally speaking, moving in the right direction. After several rounds of grooming (pushing Rouge’s tolerance a little further each time) that were separated by stimulating periods of play and obedience exercises, we ended with a very successful, and positive, lesson four. I didn’t need to see Larry and Rouge again. They were on a fast track to a balanced relationship, so they finished up their training at home.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

We talked about how to groom and how to condition the equipment for an aggressive dog but now I would like to discuss how to do it with a happy rowdy dog, a much more common occurrence. You’ll take a very similar approach to introducing the collar and equipment by making it as positive as possible, there are some differences though. Here is how I would work on putting a collar on a happy rowdy dog. First I’ll tell him “good boy” and/or give a treat. Then with the slip collar on my right wrist as if it was a dogs head I’ll gently but firmly grasp the dog’s jowls in my right hand to keep the head moderately still. Then slide the collar off my wrist and over the dog’s head. Remember to praise your dog afterwards. Our goal is always to be smooth and quick while minimizing any resistance, no matter the dog’s disposition. I recommend repeating this process quite often until it is easy to take the collar on and off. To find proper fit for the slip collar, measure your dog’s head at it’s widest part, rounding up to the nearest collar size. With younger dogs make sure to be aware of their growth and resize the collar as needed.

As soon as you get a puppy it’s a good idea to introduce the leash as soon you get them home. Letting them drag the leash around the house like a second tail (as long as you are watching them). If you didn’t have the luxury of getting your dog as pup then here is how I would introduce it. First I would let them drag the leash around the home while they’re supervised, praising them when they behave normally. If you’re walking them for the first time and there is resistant or if they like to put on the breaks then here is what I would do. Quietly pump the leash (slowly and calmly tugging the leash then giving slack back to the leash in a repeated fashion while continuing to walk). Take your time while watching for any movement under the dog’s own power, as soon as that occurs praise lavishly. With most small dogs picking them up in your arms is a great reward. In fact a lot of small dogs resist walking just so they are picked up (which is to be avoided, instead pick them up for good behavior rather than for bad behavior).

Teaching grooming control is such a good idea. Having a dog who stands still as you brush them, trim nails, clean ears, and bathe them is such a joy. To teach proper grooming etiquette to a happy rowdy dog it’s best to hold the leash in your off-hand near their head. Grasp the leash fairly close to the clasp while keeping it loose. Your other hand should be holding the equipment you are using (i.e. the brush). Calmly and pleasantly position your dog broadside in front of you after saying the command “stand” and then treat your pup when they’re maintaining that position on their own, repeat the command “stand” only when they are in the broadside position. For dogs who are determined to sit during the process, slide the brush under their belly raising them up into a stand position, keep your brush under them if needed. Taking your time, go about using your equipment, taking many short breaks. With the brush, slowly go over the entire body. If the dog wiggles out of position use the hand containing the brush to bring them back into position, no commands or sharp language is needed, use a leash and collar “bite” to neutrally indicate any wrongdoing. Once the position is regained then calmly repeat the command “Stand” followed by “good boy”.

I completely agree with Mr. Duffy’s assessment that slip collars are magical. For us dog trainers they are the collar of choice, but we will recommend a leverage collar for clients that may need assistance on their corrections. For a list of different collar types purchase the Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog book or go to our website when our online store opens up in a few weeks. Make sure you use all training collars in their proper fashion (i.e. never tether a dog outside using a training collar) and if you’re unsure on how to use a piece of training equipment feel free to call Duffy’s Dog Training at 812-948-2120 or schedule a lesson.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer