BEHAVIOR navc clinicians breif.january. 2003
ANSWER OF THE MONTH
Debra Horwitz, DVM, Veterinary Behavior Consultations, St. Louis, Missouri
We have several clients who are trying to contend with uncontrollable dogs, both on the leash and off. Some of these have sent their dogs for obedience training to no avail. What do you recommend?
Unruly dogs often cause their owners great distress. Despite traditional obedience training classes, they may still jump on people, bark incessantly, and defy commands. The owners often make inadvertent training and reinforcement errors. After struggling with the problem, yelling at their dogs and using choke collars, they usually resort to isolating the pet to avoid precipitating situations. Because they spend so much time away from people, these dogs often do not have the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior.
Head collars are extremely effective in helping owners to regain control. Like halters 01 horses, these devices encircle the head and muzzle. The Gentle Leader® was developed by Dr. R. K. Anderson, a veterinarian and professor/director emeritus of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the University of Minnesota, and Ruth E. Foster, past president of the National Association of Dog
WHAT TO DO
Apply a head collar
Use collar and lead when walking dog
Leave collar and lead on dog whenever at home and awake
Intervene immediately to redirect unacceptable behavior
Reliably and consistently intervene
Instructors. The collar uses a dog's natural instinct to follow a leader
to evoke behaviorally appropriate responses. One strap goes behind the ears
over the back of the neck, simulating the pressure that a mother exerts in controlling
her puppies. The second strap encircles the nose and simulates how a lead dog
may grasp the muzzle of a subordinate dog in its mouth, eliciting submissive
of such collars is that they recognize the natural instinct of dogs to pull
against pressure. When a traditional choke or flat collar pulls the dog back,
a response contrary to the desired one; the dog continues to pull forward. Head collars exert pressure on the back of the head; thus the dog will pull backward against the pressure and stay by the owner's side. They allov owners to control where the head of the do£ goes and thus the dog, making them feel empowered and able to begin training and changing problem behaviors.
Use in training
Unruly and disobedient dogs are fitted with a Gentle Leader head collar to be left on at all times when the owners are home and awake. A 10-foot indoor lead that comes with the collar is allowed to drag behind the dog for "remote control." As soon as the dog begins to engage in a behavior that is unacceptable, the owner can intervene and redirect the
behavior, and the dog will know what the owner wants it to do. The head collar and lead also allow the owner to obtain compliance with commands.
Often the key
to turning an unruly dog into a more compliant pet is to exert continuous control
until the desired behavior is reliably and consistently displayed. This is most
easily accomplished bv intervening immediately to
head off unwanted behavior. Once the dog begins to engage in the unwanted behavior, prolonged attempts at control are frustrating to the owner and do not really teach the dog the correct lesson. In fact, repetitive and
ineffective commands or reprimands may actually end up reinforcing the unwanted behaviors both by allowing them to continue and by prompting the attention of the owner, as even negative attention may act as a reward. An integral component of controlling an unruly dog entails restructuring situations so that the unwanted behavior cannot occur and the dog can learn the desired behaviors. The head collar makes this easily possible.
Finding an obedience class that uses head collars and a positive-reinforcement based training program can significantly enhance owner control.