Posted by: Linda Trunell | April 22, 2014

Climbing Back Up A Slippery Slope

I love working with dogs more than anything I have ever done.  The downside is sometimes the dogs I see break my heart.  I met a dog last week that made me want to cry.

I had a few minutes before my class started and I was standing near the front of the store.  A man came in with a young female German Shepherd.  She was wearing a choke chain and a prong collar.  The leash was attached to the prong collar.  The man stopped and told the dog to sit.  The dog was pulling a little and looking back at the door where the man’s wife was getting a shopping cart.  The man gave several harsh commands in German and immediately jerked the leash after every one.  The dog finally sat.  It was obvious to me that she wanted to stay near the woman but every time she moved he corrected her again.

The woman came over to me and asked if I could help her with a muzzle and a new choke chain (the dog was getting too big for the one she was wearing). I managed to control my emotions and they followed me to the aisle where the muzzles and collars were.  I explained that a dog should be introduced to a muzzle slowly and with positive reinforcement and I asked her why she wanted a muzzle.  She said the dog had lunged and bit a friend of hers “for no reason”.  She was now afraid to have the dog around people without a muzzle.

I asked her to tell me more about the incident, knowing that dogs do not lunge and bite “for no reason”.   She said they go camping regularly with friends.  They were sitting around the campground and a friend reached for something near her and the dog lunged and bit him.  She said the dog had never done that before and now she was afraid to have the dog around people.

I asked her more about the dog and found out she was about 15 months old and they got her when she was about 4 months old.  She was a fearful pup (not socialized during the first four months).  They took a puppy class at our store with another trainer and learned clicker training and positive reinforcement.  The woman said the dog did very well in class and was comfortable with the other pups and people.  They did not continue the training classes but they did have a trainer come to their home to work with the dog and she also used positive reinforcement methods.

The man decided when the dog was about a year old that he wanted to have her trained for “protection”.  They went to a private K-9 “trainer” who used the choke chain.  The man said the trainer constantly jerked the leash and shouted commands at the dog in German.  When he actually hung the dog, they decided not to go back.

They did continue to use the choke chain and German commands.  The dog began acting aggressively towards people in the home and the woman said she could no longer have visitors. The woman said she could not control the dog on a walk using the choke chain so she started using the prong collar.

As we were talking, the dog lunged at one of our groomers who was just walking by.  Again, the man jerked the leash and shouted at the dog.  I was really getting upset but I knew I had to remain calm and not alienate them by sounding confrontational.  I told him that the prong collar and all the corrections were not helping to stop the behavior and were most likely making it worse. The man asked me why and I explained that most aggression is fear-based and the aversive training was probably making the dog even more fearful.  I explained how she may be associating the painful leash jerks with the other people and was reacting to keep them at a distance.  He agreed that made sense and asked what he should do instead.

No No No

I suggested they stop using these methods and go back to the positive reinforcement methods they started out with.  I recommended a front-attach harness to give the woman more control when walking the dog.  They agreed to try one and I took one from the shelf and adjusted it.  As I was handing it to the woman, the man took the prong collar off and the dog bolted.  He began to chase and yell at the dog.  The woman called the dog’s name in a pleasant tone and she returned and sat at the woman’s feet.

The woman put the harness on the dog and walked her around a little.  She agreed to buy it and left it on the dog.   We talked about going back to the non-aversive training to make the dog feel safe again and give her more confidence.  The woman said she still had a clicker and would start using it again.  They decided not to buy the muzzle and the bigger choke chain yet.  They thanked me for my help and I asked them to call me if I could help in any way.

My heart was aching for these people and this young dog.  They were not cruel or stupid.  They loved their dog and were trying to be responsible owners by training her.  Unfortunately, they were given bad advice from someone they thought was a  “professional”.

They started down that slippery slope of training the dog with corrections which were becoming harsher as the behavior became more troublesome.  This poor dog was suddenly being treated differently by the people she had grown to trust.  Instead of being rewarded for her good behavior, she was constantly being screamed at (in a different language, no less) and being hurt when she didn’t comply.  No wonder she became fearful and started lashing out.  She had no idea what to expect from them anymore.

I hope that they will be able to climb back up that slippery slope to the place where they started and to rebuild their relationship.

Dog training is not a regulated profession.  Anyone can call themselves a trainer and use just about whatever methods they want.  There are “trainers” who intimidate, choke, shock, push, poke, kick or even hang a dog by the leash in the name of training.  It is being done every day.  Please be sure you know what methods and tools a trainer uses before you let them near your dog!  Do not just ask for references.  Ask to observe an actual training session and if they won’t agree to that – run.

The Pet Professional Guild is a good place to start when looking for a force-free trainer who uses science based training methods.


Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,




  1. Oh my word! I was so sad when I started reading this and I am so glad you were there to help them and that beautiful furry kid Linda. Bless you for being such a great trainer and person hon. Trainers that use those cruel methods for training dogs should be aware if I am around because I will do the same to them. It sounds as if this dog is very protective towards the woman and that must be the reason why she went for the man. Simba is the same with me. They tend to bond with only one person and will only allow that person to do things that no one else can do and if they feel that person of even their territory is threatened they will bite and no harsh handling will ever fix that. You’ve done a great job there and I wish there were more like you around. Great post! 😀 ♥ Hugs ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fingers crossed they will go back to the positive reinforcement and they will use the new harness instead of the prong & choke collars

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is so heartbreaking. I am so glad that you were there to be able to talk to them, though, and that they were willing to listen to you. Aversive/discipline-based training is unfortunately still so widespread, and I especially see it prevalent in the German shepherd community. I’ve started distancing myself from our German shepherd rescue (where we got our two girls and who we’ve fostered for), because of their advocacy for shock collar training and prong collars. Yeah, that kind of training produces results — but not the results you want. Instead, you have a fearful, aggressive, and reactive dog that you’ve cowed into submission. Dogs deserve better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So heartbreaking, and yet so familiar. I’m glad you were there to show them a better way, and I hope there’s a good outcome for the pup.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad you were there to help the dog. Collars and leads can be quite confusing.

    I recently see a lot of marketing done on Lasso dog collars – see – They look like choke style colours but all sold as decorative items for dog walker. Not sure if they are better or worse than choke chains because of the material, although I have been told that they could be worse because chains would slip loose easier.

    No matter what, it is easy to confuse a regular consumer like me! :/



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