The term “aggression” refers to a wide variety of behaviors that occur for a multitude of reasons in various circumstances. Virtually all wild animals are aggressive when guar ding their territories, defending their offspring and protecting themselves. Species that live in groups, including people and dogs, also use aggression and the threat of aggression to keep the peace and to negotiate social interactions.

To say that a dog is “aggressive” can mean a whole host of things. Aggression encompasses a range of behaviors that usually begins with warnings and can culminate in an attack. Dogs may abort their efforts at any point during an aggressive encounter. A dog that shows aggression to people usually exhibits some part of the following sequence of increasingly intense behaviors:

  • Becoming very still and rigid

  • Guttural bark that sounds threatening

  • Lunging forward or charging at the person with no contact

  • Mouthing, as though to move or control the person, without applying significant pressure

  • “Muzzle punch” (the dog literally punches the person with her nose)

  • Growl

  • Showing teeth

  • Snarl (a combination of growling and showing teeth)

  • Snap

  • Quick nip that leaves no mark

  • Quick bite that tears the skin

  • Bite with enough pressure to cause a bruise

  • Bite that causes puncture wounds

  • Repeated bites in rapid succession

  • Bite and shake

Dogs don’t always follow this sequence, and they often do several of the behaviors above simultaneously. Many times, pet parents don’t recognize the warning signs before a bite, so they perceive their dogs as suddenly flying off the handle. However, that’s rarely the case. It can be just milliseconds between a warning and a bite, but dogs rarely bite without giving some type of warning beforehand.


Classification of Aggressive Behavior

If your dog has been aggressive in the past or you suspect she could become aggressive, take time to evaluate the situations that have upset her. Who bore the brunt of her aggression? When and where did it happen? What else was going on at the time? What had just happened or was about to happen to your dog? What seemed to stop her aggression? Learning the answers to these questions can clarify the circumstances that trigger your dog’s aggressive reaction and provide insight into the reasons for her behavior. You need an accurate diagnosis before you can hope to help your dog.

Aggressive behavior problems in dogs can be classified in different ways. A beneficial scheme for understanding why your dog is aggressive is based on the function or purpose of the aggression. If you think of aggression this way, you can determine what motivates your dog to behave aggressively and identify what she hopes to gain from her behavior.


Territorial Aggression

Some dogs will attack and bite an intruder, whether the intruder is friend or foe.

Dogs’ wild relatives are territorial.They live in certain area, and they defend this area from intruders. Wolves are highly territorial. If a coyote or a wolf who’s not part of a pack invades their territory, the resident wolves will attack and drive off the intruder. Some dogs display the same tendencies. They bark and charge at people or other animals encroaching on their home turf. Dogs are often valued for this level of territorial behavior. However, some dogs will attack and bite an intruder, whether the intruder is friend or foe. Territorial aggression can occur along the boundary regularly patrolled by a dog or at the boundaries of her pet parents’ property. Other dogs show territorial aggression only toward people or other animals coming into the home. Male and female dogs are equally prone to territorial aggression. Puppies are rarely territorial. Territorial behavior usually appears as puppies mature into adolescence or adulthood, at one to three years of age.

Protective Aggression

Dogs may show aggressive behavior when they think that one of their family members or friends is in peril.

Dogs are a social species. If they were left on their own, they would live together in small groups, or packs, of family and friends. If one member of a pack is in danger, the others typically rush in to help defend that individual. This is classified as protective aggression because the dogs are protecting one of their own. Pet dogs may show the same type of aggressive behavior when they think that one of their family members or friends (human or animal) is in peril. Sometimes dogs reserve protective aggression for individuals they consider particularly vulnerable. A dog who has never shown aggression to strangers in the past might start behaving aggressively when she has a litter of puppies. Likewise, a dog might first show protective aggression when her pet parents bring a human child into the family. While this behavior sounds appealing at first glance, problems arise when the protective dog starts to treat everyone outside the family, including friends and relatives, as threats to the baby’s safety. Both male and female dogs are equally prone to protective aggression. Puppies are rarely protective. Like territorial behavior, protective aggression usually appears as puppies mature into an adolescence or adulthood, at one to three years of age.


Possessive Aggression

Many dogs show the tendency to guard their possessions from others, whether they need to or not.

Dogs evolved from wild ancestors who had to compete for food, nesting sites and mates to survive. Even though our pet dogs no longer face such harsh realities, many still show the tendency to guard their possessions from others, whether they need to or not. Some dogs only care about their food. These dogs might react aggressively when a person or another animal comes near their food bowl or approaches them while they’re eating. Other dogs guard their chew bones, their toys or things they’ve stolen. Still others guard their favorite resting spots, their crates or their beds (Often, these dogs also guard their pet parents’ beds!). Less common are dogs who guard water bowls. Usually a possessive dog is easy to identify because she’s only aggressive when she has something she covets. But some dogs will hide their cherished things around the house and guard them from unsuspecting people or animals who have no idea that they’re anywhere near a valued object. Male and female dogs are equally prone to possessive aggression, and this type of aggression is common in both puppies and adults. For more detailed information about food-related possessive aggression and how to treat it, please see our article, Food Guarding.


Fear Aggression

A fearful dog may become aggressive if cornered or trapped.

When animals and people are afraid of something, they prefer to get away from that thing. This is called the flight response. But if escaping isn’t an option, most animals will switch to a fight response. They try to defend themselves from the scary thing. So a dog can be afraid of a person or another animal but still attack if she thinks this is her only recourse. A fearful dog will normally adopt fearful postures and retreat, but she may become aggressive if cornered or trapped. Some dogs will cower at the prospect of physical punishment but attack when a threatening person reaches for them. Fearful dogs sometimes run away from a person or animal who frightens them, but if the person or animal turns to leave, they come up from behind and nip. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid turning your back on a fearful dog. Fear aggression is characterized by rapid nips or bites because a fearful dog is motivated to bite and then run away. Sometimes the aggression doesn’t begin with clear threats. A fearful dog might not show her teeth or growl to warn the victim off. In this kind of situation, the only warning is the dog’s fearful posture and her attempts to retreat. Male and female dogs are equally prone to fear aggression, and this type of aggression is common in both puppies and adults.


Defensive Aggression

Motivated by fear, defensively aggressive dogs decide that the best defense is a good offense.

Closely related to fear aggression is defensive aggression. The primary difference is the strategy adopted by the dog. Defensively aggressive dogs are still motivated by fear, but instead of trying to retreat, they decide that the best defense is a good offense. Dogs who are defensively aggressive exhibit a mixture of fearful and offensive postures. They may initially charge at a person or another dog who frightens them, barking and growling. Regardless of whether the victim freezes or advances, the defensively aggressive dog often delivers the first strike. Only if the victim retreats is the defensively aggressive dog likely to abort an attack. Male and female dogs are equally prone to defensive aggression. It’s slightly more common in adults than in puppies simply because dogs need to have some confidence to use this defensive strategy, and puppies are usually less confident than adults.


Social Aggression

A dog who perceives herself as high in status may show aggression toward family members.

Animals who live in social groups, like people and dogs, typically live by certain rules in order to minimize conflict between group members. Canid species, including the dog, adopt a type of hierarchical order that influences which group members get first crack at food, the best resting spots and opportunities to mate. So rather than having to fight for access to valued things each and every time, those lower down on the totem pole know to wait until the higher-ups have had their share before taking their turn. These ordered relationships are frequently reinforced by displays of ritualized aggression. Individuals of high status use aggressive threats to remind the others of their place in the pack. The relationships between people and dogs who live together are certainly more complex than this simplified description, but it’s still important to know that a dog who perceives herself as high in status may show aggression toward family members. (This kind of behavior is sometimes called dominance or status-seeking aggression). This is why a dog might be perfectly trustworthy with one pet parent but react aggressively toward the other or toward young children in the family. Such dogs are often described as “Jekyll and Hyde” because, most of the time, they’re happy-go-lucky, friendly dogs. But if they feel that someone in the pack has overstepped his or her bounds, these dogs can quickly resort to aggression. An aggressive response is usually provoked by things that a dog perceives as threatening or unpleasant, such as:

  • Taking food away

  • Taking a chew bone, toy or stolen object away

  • Disturbing the dog while she’s sleeping

  • Physically moving the dog while she’s resting

  • Hugging or kissing the dog

  • Bending or reaching over the dog

  • Manipulating the dog into a submissive posture (a down or a belly-up position)

  • Lifting or trying to pick up the dog

  • Holding the dog back from something she wants

  • Grooming, bathing, towelling or wiping the dog’s face

  • Touching the dog’s ears or feet

  • Trimming the dog’s nails

  • Jerking or pulling on the dog’s leash, handling her collar or putting on a harness

  • Verbally scolding the dog

  • Threatening the dog with a pointed finger or rolled-up newspaper

  • Hitting or trying to hit the dog

  • Going through a door at same time as the dog or bumping into the dog

Social aggression is somewhat more common in males than in females and more common in purebreds than in mixed breeds. Puppies are rarely socially aggressive with people, but they can be with other dogs, particularly littermates. Social aggression usually develops in dogs between one to three years of age.

It’s important to realize that the complexities involved in social aggression are poorly understood and hotly debated by behavior experts. Some believe that all social aggression is rooted in fear and anxiety, while others believe that it’s motivated by anger and the desire for control. When consulting a professional, make sure you’re comfortable with her treatment recommendations. If the professional’s suggestions consist of techniques for instilling fear and respect in your dog, such as alpha rolls, scruff shakes and hanging, there’s a very good chance that your dog will get worse rather than better—and you might get bitten in the process. Punishment may be appropriate, but only when it’s well planned and limited in application. The judicious use of punishment should always be embedded in a program that’s based on positive reinforcement and trust.

Frustration-Elicited Aggression

A dog who’s excited or aroused by something but is held back from approaching it can become aggressive.

Dogs can be like human children in that when they get frustrated, they sometimes lash out with aggression. A dog who’s excited or aroused by something but is held back from approaching it can become aggressive, particularly toward the person or thing holding her back. For instance, a frustrated dog might turn around and bite at her leash or bite at the hand holding her leash or collar. Over time, the dog can learn to associate restraint with feelings of frustration so that even when there’s nothing to be excited about, she tends to react aggressively when restrained. This explains why some normally friendly dogs become aggressive when put behind a gate, in a cage or crate, in a car, or on a leash. Likewise, a dog who loves people can still show surprising levels of aggression when her pet parent lifts her up so that guests can enter or leave the home. Male and female dogs are equally prone to frustration-elicited aggression, and this type of aggression occurs in both puppies and adults.


Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression occurs when a dog is aroused by or displays aggression toward a person or animal, and someone else interferes.

Redirected aggression is a lot like frustration-elicited aggression with the exception that the dog need not be frustrated. Redirected aggression occurs when a dog is aroused by or displays aggression toward a person or animal, and someone else interferes. The dog redirects her aggression from the source that triggered it to the person or animal who has interfered. This is why people are often bitten when they try to break up dog fights. When a person grabs or pushes a fighting dog, the dog might suddenly turn and bite. Another example is when two dogs are barking at someone from behind a fence. Sometimes one will turn and attack the other. Male and female dogs are equally prone to redirected aggression, and this type of aggression occurs in both puppies and adults.


Pain-Elicited Aggression

An otherwise gentle, friendly dog can behave aggressively when in pain.

An otherwise gentle, friendly dog can behave aggressively when in pain. That’s why it’s so crucial to take precautions when handling an injured dog, even if she’s your own. A dog with a painful orthopedic condition or an infection might bite with little warning, even if the reason you’re touching her is to treat her. The improper use of certain pieces of training equipment, such as the pinch (or prong) collar or the shock collar, can inflict pain on a dog and prompt a pain-elicited bite to her pet parent. Male and female dogs are equally prone to pain-elicited aggression, and this type of aggression can occur in both puppies and adults.


Sex-Related Aggression

Intact male dogs will still vie for the attention of females in heat, and females will still compete for access to a male.

Even though pet dogs rarely have the opportunity to reproduce, intact male dogs will still vie for the attention of females in heat, and females will still compete for access to a male. Intact male dogs sometimes challenge and fight with other male dogs, even when no females are present. Fighting can also erupt between males living together in the same household. In the wild, this is adaptive because the strongest males are more likely to attract females for breeding. Likewise, females living together in the same household might compete to establish which female gets access to a male for breeding. This type of aggression is rare. It’s observed most often in reproductively intact males and less often in intact females. Dogs who were neutered or spayed as adults may still show this type of aggression. If sex-related aggression happens, the dogs involved are usually at least one to three years of age.


Predatory Aggression

Some pet dogs show classic canine predatory behaviors, including chasing and grabbing fast-moving things.

Dogs are closely related to wolves and coyotes, both of whom are large predators, and pet dogs still show some classic canine predatory behaviors, including chasing and grabbing fast-moving things. Many dogs love to chase running people, people on bicycles and inline skates, and cars. They might also chase pets, wildlife and livestock. Some dogs bite and even kill if they manage to catch the thing they’re chasing. Predatory aggression is very different from other classifications of aggression because there’s rarely any warning before an attack. A predatory dog doesn’t growl or show her teeth first to warn her victim, so predatory aggression can seem to come out of the blue. Predatory behavior can be especially disturbing if it’s directed toward a human baby. Sometimes the sound of a baby crying or the movement of lifting a baby out of a crib can trigger a lightening-fast reaction from a predatory dog. Fortunately, predatory aggression directed toward people or other dogs is extremely rare in pet dogs.


Family Members, Strangers or Other Animals

Determining whom your dog is aggressive toward is essential to understanding her behavior. It’s common for dogs to behave aggressively toward unfamiliar people. Some studies report that as many as 60 to 70% of all pet dogs bark threateningly at strangers and act unfriendly when around them. Aggression toward unfamiliar dogs is also widespread. It’s less common for dogs to direct aggression toward family members or other pets in the home. Most problematic are dogs who are aggressive toward children, especially children in the family. Not only is aggression toward children exceedingly difficult to treat because of safety concerns, the likelihood that a dog with this problem will ever become trustworthy is slim.

Some dogs are aggressive only to a certain category of people. A dog might be aggressive only with the veterinarian or groomer, or with the postal carrier, or with people in wheelchairs or individuals using canes and walkers. In some cases, it’s easy to limit a dog’s access to the people that upset her. For instance, if your short-haired dog dislikes the groomer, you can just groom her yourself at home. But in other cases, the targeted people are impossible to avoid. For example, if you have a dog who dislikes children and you live in a densely populated urban apartment building next to a preschool, it will be difficult to avoid exposing your dog to children.

Aggression toward people, aggression toward dogs and aggression toward other animals are relatively independent patterns of behavior. If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs, for example, that doesn’t mean she’s any more or less likely to be aggressive toward people.

Risk Factors

If you’re deciding whether to live with and treat your aggressive dog, there are several factors to consider because you, as the pet parent, are ultimately responsible for your dog’s behavior. These factors involve the level of risk in living with your dog and the likelihood of changing her behavior:

  • Size. Regardless of other factors, large dogs are more frightening and can inflict more damage than small dogs.

  • Age. Young dogs with an aggression problem are believed to be more malleable and easier to treat than older dogs.

  • Bite history. Dogs who have already bitten are a known risk and an insurance liability.

  • Severity. Dogs who stop their aggression at showing teeth, growling or snapping are significantly safer to live and work with than dogs who bite. Likewise, dogs who have delivered minor bruises, scratches and small punctures are less risky than dogs who have inflicted serious wounds.

  • Predictability. Dogs at the highest risk of being euthanized for aggression are those who give little or no warning before they bite and who are inconsistently, unpredictably aggressive. Dogs who give warning before they bite allow people and other animals time to retreat and avoid getting hurt. As counterintuitive as it might seem, it’s easier to live with a dog who always reacts aggressively when, for instance, every time you push him off the bed than a dog who does so only sporadically.

  • Targets. How often your dog is exposed to the targets of her aggression can affect how easy it is to manage and resolve her behavior. A dog who’s aggressive to strangers is relatively easy to control if you live in a rural environment with a securely fenced yard. A dog who’s aggressive to children can be managed if her pet parents are childless and have no friends or relatives with children. A dog who is aggressive to unfamiliar dogs poses little difficulty for pet parents who dislike dog parks and prefer to exercise their dog on isolated hiking trails. In contrast, living with a dog who has recurring ear infections and bites family members when they try to medicate her can be stressful and unpleasant.

  • Triggers. Are the circumstances that prompt your dog to behave aggressively easy or impossible to avoid? If your dog only guards her food while she’s eating, the solution is straightforward: Keep away from her while she’s eating. If no one can safely enter the kitchen when your dog’s there because she guards her empty food bowl in the cupboard, that’s another story. If your dog bites any stranger within reach, she’s a lot more dangerous than a dog who bites strangers only if they try to kiss her.

  • Ease of motivating your dog. The final consideration is how easy it is to motivate your dog during retraining. The safest and most effective way to treat an aggression problem is to implement behavior modification under the guidance of a qualified professional. Modifying a dog’s behavior involves rewarding her for good behavior—so you’ll likely be more successful if your dog enjoys praise, treats and toys. Dogs who aren’t particularly motivated by the usual rewards can be especially challenging to work with, and the likelihood of such a dog getting better is small.

Always Work with Your Veterinarian

Some aggressive dogs behave the way they do because of a medical condition or complication. In addition to acute painful conditions, dogs with orthopedic problems, thyroid abnormality, adrenal dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, seizure disorders and sensory deficits can exhibit changes in irritability and aggression. Geriatric dogs can suffer confusion and insecurity, which may prompt aggressive behavior. Certain medications can alter mood and affect your dog’s susceptibility to aggression. Even diet has been implicated as a potential contributing factor. If your dog has an aggression problem, it’s crucial to take her to a veterinarian, before you do anything else, to rule out medical issues that could cause or worsen her behavior. If the veterinarian discovers a medical problem, you’ll need to work closely with her to give your dog the best chance at improving.


Always Work with a Professional Behavior Expert

Aggression can be a dangerous behavior problem. It’s complex to diagnose and can be tricky to treat. Many behavior modification techniques have detrimental effects if misapplied. Even highly experienced professionals get bitten from time to time, so living with and treating an aggressive dog is inherently risky. A qualified professional can develop a treatment plan customized to your dog’s temperament and your family’s unique situation, and she can coach you through its implementation. She can monitor your dog’s progress and make modifications to the plan as required. If appropriate, she can also help you decide when your dog’s quality of life is too poor or the risks of living with your dog are too high and euthanasia is warranted. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to learn how to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area. If you choose to employ a CPDT, be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she has education and experience in treating canine aggression, as this expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification.


Can Aggression Be Cured?

Pet parents of aggressive dogs often ask whether they can ever be sure that their dog is “cured.” Taking into account the behavior modification techniques that affect aggression, our current understanding is that the incidence and frequency of some types of aggression can be reduced and sometimes eliminated. However, there’s no guarantee that an aggressive dog can be completely cured. In many cases, the only solution is to manage the problem by limiting a dog’s exposure to the situations, people or things that trigger her aggression. There’s always risk when dealing with an aggressive dog. Pet parents are responsible for their dogs’ behavior and must take precautions to ensure that no one’s harmed. Even if a dog has been well behaved for years, it’s not possible to predict when all the necessary circumstances might come together to create “the perfect storm” that triggers her aggression. Dogs who have a history of resorting to aggression as a way of dealing with stressful situations can fall back on that strategy. Pet parents of aggressive dogs should be prudent and always assume that their dog is NOT cured so that they never let down their guard.


Are Some Breeds More Aggressive Than Others?

It’s true that some breeds might be more likely to bite if we look at statistics gathered on biting and aggression. There are many reasons for this. One likely reason is that most dog breeds once served specific functions for humans. Some were highly prized for their guarding and protective tendencies, others for their hunting prowess, others for their fighting skills, and others for their “gameness” and tenacity. Even though pet dogs of these breeds rarely fulfill their original purposes these days, individuals still carry their ancestors’ DNA in their genes, which means that members of a particular breed might be predisposed to certain types of aggression. Despite this, it’s neither accurate nor wise to judge a dog by her breed. Far better predictors of aggressive behavior problems are a dog’s individual temperament and her history of interacting with people and other animals. You should always research breeds to be sure that the breed or breed mix you’re interested in is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. However, the best insurance policies against aggression problems are to select the best individual dog for you.



(“He” used here means “she” as well.)

Dogs are simply amazing creatures. In fact, it is said, “God did not create dogs, he already had one.” As paradoxical as that is, next to humans, dogs are a miracle of creation. The dog was created with a propensity to humans. They truly are “man’s creatures.” Of course, we want to be careful not to anthropomorphize too much. The dog is still an animal with animal traits. They are not humans is fur. The dog needs to be properly trained. One phase of that training is walking the dog. In this short writing I want to focus on just walking the dog. I could write extensively on just my preface and hundreds of articles and books have already been written on these subjects. But walking the dog is a basic and needed function of our relationship.

Why walk the dog? If I have a back yard, why can’t the dog just run and get his exercise there? First, having a dog and letting the dog just get what “we” think he needs in the large or small back yard does not build his personality, nor does it build the human/dog relationship. The whole purpose of having a dog is to build a human/dog bond. If that is not your purpose, please don’t acquire a dog. It is not to either of you.

First, consider the dog. Is he afraid, easily frightened? Is your dog noise sensitive? Afraid of people or other dogs? Know these things about your dog. Don’t force your dog into situations he is not comfortable with. This means you might need to do some desensitizing work. If that is the case for your dog, then contact a good trainer. Make sure the trainer is “force-free” in his/her approach.

That being considered, let’s think about the proper equipment. Yes, you will need equipment. I know there are owners who want their dog to be so obedient that no leash is necessary. Well, this may give you pride or machismo, but it is neither wise nor safe. Remember, dogs are still dogs. If something is little and runs fast, it demands being chased. If something frightens the dog flight is instinctual. There is just too much danger lurking about to have my beloved dog unleashed and unprotected.

What is proper equipment? A regular collar. A martingale collar, properly fitted is acceptable. If it is a martingale, the collar should be drawn to a comfortable fit, never too tight and never used as a punisher. A fixed leash, preferably no longer than six (6) feet. Longer collars, starting out, are just too much length to handle comfortable for the owner. A waist attachment is also a consideration. If a harness is used, use the easy walker where the leash clips on the dog’s chest rather than on his back. The back-clip harness just encourages pulling as it triggers a reflexive action and gets the dog in trouble. The purchase of a Gentle Leader. This goes over the snout of the dog and provides the owner leadership of his head movements which provides less likelihood of the dog’s pulling. Some people might think the gentle leader is a muzzle, or that your dog is mean. You can easily correct this misinterpretation.


Never use a choke chain/slip collar. These collars hurt the dog’s neck and can cause damage to the trachea, the nerves in the neck and the human/animal bond.

I tell my clients, “If your wife will wear a choke chain for a week and allow you to use corrections for her talking or actions, and maintained a loving, respecting and trusting relationship, then I might discuss the choke chain.” Seriously, the choke chain is 1. Dangerous, 2. Will encourage aggression. If a trainer refutes these, do not use that trainer’s services. It is a through back to archaic training methods. Also, Pet stores recommend the slip collar. Clerks are generally uninformed and are there to sell what you want.

All the above also is true of prong collars. Slip collars and prong collars are designed to inflict pain, pure and simple. As is the shock collars. Never use ANY of these on your dog. They are inhumane and serve no positive, loving purpose. As far as I am concerned, these are in line with the thinking of Rene Descartes of the 17th century. Read about his thinking on dogs and pain.

Don’t use expandable leashes.




I am often asked about Choke (or slip) collars and Prong Collars. Often, I have someone call me as a Behaviorist to help them with their dog’s unwanted behaviors. Ouse with Fido?” ne of my initial questions is, “What is your dog’s name?” “What kind of collar do you


Often the client will tell me, “A slip collar.” I need you to know I do not work with choke chains or prong collars. I collect them.” “Really! Why not?” So, I have put some of my thoughts and scientific reasons I will not work with these medieval devices of punishment and torture.

Tongue-in-cheek I will tell the husband or wife, “Put a choker or prong collar on your mate for one week and jerk on it when you need hm or her to listen or respond, and if your relationship becomes stronger then I will allow it to be used on your dog.” They usually get the point.

I know Choke and prong collars are still popular with many dog owners and ill-informed dog trainers, as well as pet supply stores. They are generally made of metal chain material which tightens around a dog’s neck when the handler pulls or jerks back on the leash. Aversive trainers will often use choke and prong collars to perform ‘corrections’, essentially causing the dog pain any time he pulls on the leash or misbehaves.

While this type of training may stop the pulling or suppress a certain behavior at that particular moment, it does nothing to address the root of the dog’s issue. Leash corrections that are given on these collars exacerbate behavioral issues such as fear and aggression.

My bottom Line is that Choke, pinch and prong collars should be avoided in all cases. Although traditional trainers disagree with the science regarding this and they tend to point to their “Results?” I will not take the risk of injuring the dog, creating or exacerbating an aggression issue, or damaging the animal/human bond.

I will try to address this by attempting to answer some of the questions I am asked by my prospective clients as to why I feel these are potentially dangerous and damaging.

Why do you feel choke collars or prong collars are not safe?
Even if used without corrections, choke collars can still cause pain, discomfort, and injury to a dog’s neck, head and spinal cord. Here are a few scientifically established facts to consider.

  • If you feel your dog’s neck with your hands followed by your own neck, you will see how similar they are.

  • The trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, jugular vein, muscles and spinal column are all located in similar places.

  • The only difference between a dog and a human neck is that under the fur, a dog’s skin layer is only 3-5 cells thick, while the top layer of human skin is denser, 10-15 cells thick.

What kind of injuries can or do choke collars cause?

Most trainers have not studied the anatomy of the animals they work with. This is why a Certified Animal Behaviorist, or a Veterinary Behavioral Technician should be contacted to make sure one’s beloved animal is getting the best effective and safe treatment, which in fact, may require medication therapy as well as behavioral therapy.

The average dog owner does not realize the thyroid gland lies at the base of the neck just below the larynx close to where any collar sits. Just one yank can cause injury to a gland that controls many of the body’s vital functions.

  • Studies show that the gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash and becomes inflamed.

  • When this happens, it is ‘destroyed’ by the body’s own immune system which tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells.

  • The destruction of these cells leads to hypothyroidism, which causes loss of energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss, ear infections and organ failure.

Consider this as well. Choke collars also affect other areas of the body including the eyes.

  • Another study reveals that when force is applied to the neck via a leash and a choke collar, pressure in the eyes is significantly increased.

  • This type of pressure can cause serious injury to dogs already suffering thin corneas, glaucoma, or eye injuries.

  • The same study was done with dogs that were wearing harnesses, which had no impact on eye pressure when force was applied.

I often ask clients or traditional trainers, “Do you know how prong collars work?”
Prong collars function similarly to choke collars, except they contain metal spikes on the inside that dig into and ‘pinch’ a dog’s neck if he pulls on the leash. Prong collar advocates believe that the ‘pinch’ action mimics the teeth of a mother dog grabbing a puppy’s neck during a correction.

There is no scientific evidence to back up this claim however, and it’s unlikely that dogs make a connection between the pinch of a collar and a correction given by a mother’s mouth, especially as no canine ‘mother’ is physically present. These trainers also claim this is how Wolves correct their pups. This has been totally debunked. Also, your dog is not a wolf and never will return to its wolf ancestry.

Can you give me some good reasons why prong collars should be avoided?
Dogs walked on prongs are also constantly subjected to pain and discomfort, which creates fear, anxiety and aggression on walks. Dogs that are already reactive on leash can become even more reactive due to frustration from collar discomfort.

  • A 1992 study of 400 dogs concluded that pulling and jerking on the leash (with any collar) is harmful to a dog’s neck and throat.1

  • One of the clearest correlations was between cervical (neck) damages and ‘jerk and pull’.

  • 91% of the dogs who had neck injuries had also been exposed to jerking on the lead by the owner or been allowed to pull hard on the lead for long periods of time.

If these collars cause pain, why does my dog still pull?
Dogs cannot or do not tell us when they are in pain. They put up with near strangulation because the drive to pull forward overrides the pain at that moment, but the after effects are serious and long lasting.

Are choke and prong collars humane if used properly?
Even though it is proven that choke and prong collars contribute to neck, back, and spinal injuries as well as other issues in dogs, there are many who still believe that if used correctly, these collars are humane and effective tools that cause no pain or harm. Really? As I said earlier, put them on your mate for one week then come back to me and tell me this. Also, what is “properly.” If one is angry “properly” will be different than “properly: when one is not angry. Properly is relative.

  • Depending on what your personal definition of humane is, it is hard to argue that if something has the potential to cause such damage it should not be considered humane or safe.

  • Any device that constricts around a neck, be it the neck of a human or canine, is dangerous and has the potential to do real harm.

  • Try applying a small amount of pressure to your neck and experience what a dog goes through when force is applied to any collar.

What other options do I have to stop my dog’s pulling?
There are more effective, gentle, and humane alternatives to using a choke or prong collar on your dog.

  • Find a great force-free, fear-free trainer to help you teach your dog to walk on a loose leash, to sit, to heal, or to leave-it without punishing or instilling fear in the dog.

  • But mine is a large breed dog.” Size is not an issue. I train horses in the same force-free, fear-free manner and always avoid aversive methods.

  • Consider a regular harness or a chest-led, no-pull harness such as the Positively No-Pull Harness or a Gentle Leader (similar to a bridal on a horse) to stop pulling without causing your dog pain or fear.

Avoid the “quick fixes” some trainers promise. I can make an animal do anything I want it to do, but I cannot “make” my animal love me. And if I use aversive methods to get the behaviors I want I can get the animal’s obedience, but I can guarantee you will not get its love






Begin with dog’s nose touching palm of hand.

Good for moving the dog to a wanted stimulus or away from unwanted stimulus



Teaching the dog to orient to you with eye to eye contact.

Use a cue that is not everyday words. I use “focus.”



The dog begins understanding words or motion or hand-signals for the desired behavior.


Offering behaviors

Dog offers behaviors, i.e. a default behavior where the dog automatically sits in front of a person.



Dog can be cued to go to his “place,” or “matt,” etc.

He goes, sits or lies down and stays until a release word is given.



1. The reward is not high enough.

2. The reward is not often enough.

3. The dog is confused and doesn’t have a clue.



3 Ds

Distractions are everywhere!

Duration: “sit” means stay sitting.

        The click ends the behavior, but don’t forget

        that every behavior that occurs between the

        click and the delivery of the reinforcer is


Distance: No matter where you are you want him to respond.


Precision: Knows what and how.

Latency: Time between cue and response.

Speed: Quickness of performing behavior.


The dog does the behavior immediately upon

perceiving the cue

The dog does not offer the behavior without

being cued (doesn’t “throw” the behavior at you

during training sessions)

The dog does not offer the behavior in response

to some other cue

The dog does not offer any other behavior in

response to the cue


  1. The reward is not high enough value

  2. The reward rate is not often enough

  3. The dog doesn’t have a clue what you want.

                 He/she is confused or conflicted



By James Turner

Several years past, when I took my animal training and behavioral program my teacher, Julie Shaw, asked me (in front of the whole class) “What is the importance of a cue?” I had to trust it was not a question to trick me up because Julie always set us up for success. But it did rattle me. I mean, I stood there with my dog, leash in hand, everyone focused on me and I was about to be embarrassed. I dug deep into the training Julie had already given me and, somehow I found three thoughts which I expressed and hoped they would be what she was looking for. When I was finished Julie sat back and said, “You should write something about that.” Wow, Julie, my teacher, the best of the best in the animal behavior world, said that to me. Me, a student. The novice of my class. Everyone else in my class had dog backgrounds and for them, I felt this was a refresher course. For me, well, what does a former pastor, therapist, and law enforcement person know about four legged animal behavior? I felt like I had “behaviorally stupid” stamped on my forehead.

Well, I have written on several different subjects since I graduated, and I did graduate “the most improved student” in Julie’s classes. Now, I’m telling you, one did not graduate Julie’s class easily. She was no push over. To graduate Julie’s class gives one high standing in the Karen Pryor Academy. Julie told me one time, “I will not graduate you if I cannot feel confident to refer someone to you. You will be a reflection of my making a referral.” I thought, “I’d never graduate.” Well, I did and I value every challenge Julie gave to me.

So, cues. My answer. Pet owners do not always realize the importance of the words they use with their pet. Our words carry more importance, both negative and positive, than we realize. Do you know, you should never use your pets name in a scolding manner? If Fido does not like his bath and you have everything ready, you should never call, “Fido, come here.” then turn on the hose or put him in the water. Guess what Fido is going to do when you call his name three hours later? Run to you? Think again. He’ll run from you to under the bed or behind a chair, or he’ll crouch low and almost crawl to you. Then what do I do? You slowly walk to Fido and gently lead him to his bath place, reward him before you begin, during and after. Then you can say his name, “Fido, go play.” Never use his name in an aversive way.

But this is not about a pet’s name. Primarily it is about words. In the human world words have meaning and consequences. In the dog world it is no different. This is so important because dogs have a predisposition to humans. It is proven that dogs would rather be with their owner than with their counter. Dogs understand us, they come to understand our words and how we are feeling. They interpret that slight raise of the eyebrow or furrow of the forehead. Their behavior is often the result of how and what we speak. Now, I’m not going to write anything new, anything we trainers do not already know, but I do hope that I can give a different flavor, a fresh importance or awareness to pet owners.

So, what is a cue? A cue is any action, verbal, visual or auditory sound that produces a corresponding behavior Fido performs. Some cues are intentional, others are not. Often I have a client believe that their verbal cue is eliciting a particular behavior only for me to help him or her realize the real cue is a movement. When a dog performs a behavior when new do, say, or sound something, it is because that dog has paired that behavior with that word, sound, or action. When a dog sits when I say, “sit” it is because I have successfully paired the action of sit with the word. The word doesn’t matter, the pairing does. So I could just as well say “pepper” or “banana.” I could capture Fido’s sitting, reward that, and Fido repeats the sit. Now I could begin using the word “banana” when he sits. Banana then becomes the cue for sit. Someone can tell Fido to sit and Fido looks clueless. The friend asks you, “Can I have a banana?” and Fido sits.

But what I am more interested in here is not the definition of a cue, but rather the transaction of the cue. What does a cue express? What is it about the cue that the animal wants to respond to? The operative word here is “want.”  Some cues can be ominous and foreboding. Fido can perform a behavior out of fear or out of respect. I can train either as the boss or a partner. I can make a dog obey anything I say, but that is not the criterion. So my thoughts here are strictly and solely a force-free philosophy and perspective. These thought will not fit into a traditional or balanced training outlook. And, if you are an owner, but not a trainer, I want you to understand that if one advertises themselves as a “positive” trainer that does not mean they are a “force-free” trainer.

Here are the three dynamics of a cue. Others could list five or eight. I am not trying to be psychologically thorough here. I am not writing for a behavioral journal. This was my attempt, in class, to grasp the concept of a cue and its importance, because the cue is not just a passive transaction. Something happens when a cue is given to Fido and I hope that something is not just about “getting” a behavior but is something very good for both the one giving the cue and the one receiving the cue.

So, “Jim,” Julie asked, “What is the importance of a cue?”

First, when I give a cue it expresses to Fido that I have CONFIDENCE he CAN perform it. Therefore, I know and Fido knows that he is familiar with the behavior for which I am asking. I also know Fido has confidence he can perform it. When I give the cue I know Fido is mentally moving into familiar territory. This is the value of Operant Conditioning or Behavioral Modification. We first train the behavior. When Fido is offering to us that behavior 8 to 10 times a minute, all depending on the difficulty of the behavior, we then begin pairing a word to the behavior. All communication flows in a loop, from me to Fido and back to me.

Because I know Fido knows the behavior when I pair with it a word, visual or sound, then when I offer the word I have confidence Fido can do it. The only reasons he might not is 1. Physical, 2. Mental. If he is incapable of performing the behavior then I need to change what I am doing. If I persist I will set Fido up for failure. If Fido won’t sit I need to figure out why. I need to take Fido to the vet and find the reason. I cannot persist in a behavior that is causing Fido pain or discomfort. Ruling out physical or mental conditions then I have look at what I am or am not doing. I am either not being clear enough, my reward is not high enough, or my reward rate is not often enough. The sure fact is, the problem is not Fido so don’t punish Fido. Like my good friend, Dave Thatcher says, “Roll up a newspaper and with it, hit yourself.”

When I give a cue, if I have properly set the behavior up, there is a MUTUAL CONFIDENCE THAT FIDO CAN PERFORM WHAT I ASK.


Second, there is a TRUST that Fido WILL perform it.

He now trusts I will not ask him to do something he cannot perform.

By the time the cue is introduced I have worked out all the imperfections of the behavior. Most of those imperfections have been mine and I have corrected my poor communication or faulty expectations. There is no, “I want him to sit and…” I work out what is not clear communication on my part. I have worked out what is rewarding and what is not. Fido decides what is rewarding, not me. So I have to really work to understand Fido. I have figured out what works for Fido and what doesn’t. I know him and he knows me. He knows I am fair and correct myself. Because he knows that Fido begins to correct himself. He may begin to lay down when I say “sit.” On his way down he suddenly changes his movement and pushes himself up into a sit. I didn’t have to say, “No no,” or “Uh uh.” When that happens I get a big smile, give him 4 or 5 treats, a lot of praise, and he sits looking at me with a big smile and sometimes celebrates with a few spins. I never see Fido crouch with ears laid back, mouth closed, embarrassed and fearful. We party together.

So by the time I introduce the cue I not only have confidence that he can do it. I TRUST that he WILL do it. This is why this method is so enjoyable. Fido responds because he wants to, often times Fido can’t wait for the cue. I have seen Fido get so into the training that he literally shakes waiting for me to give the cue. His eyes are bright, his mouth is open, and when I say, “sit,” he quickly sits looking at me as if to say, “I did it. Aren’t you proud of me?” And of course I am. On looking owners are surprised, often shocked, that Fido responded to the cue. They had given the cue, yelled the cue thinking Fido didn’t hear, jerked on a chain while yelling, to make him do the behavior, and walked away cussing Fido. I work a few minutes, always a soft gentle voice. Patient when Fido is reserved or afraid and in a few minutes he is responding. I have had owners with tears ask, “How do you do that? I can’t believe what I just saw.”

What happened was, I communicated with (not to) Fido. We had a conversation. Fido had a Eureka moment, “This person is actually listening to me. I can trust him.” Because I communicated my trust in him he began to demonstrate his trust in me. Some dogs have never felt trust. I can see it in the dog’s eyes. They suddenly glisten and look straight at you, making eye contact. A lightbulb turns on behind those beautiful eyes. I got so excited about this one time that I had to call Julie Shaw and share with her my excitement

You see, it is not just that I trust Fido because of my work, Fido trusts me because of our work together. And it is work. When I leave a home Fido goes to his bed and sleeps like a puppy because he has worked hard and is tired. He has studied me and has had to process a lot of materiel. He knows me now and trusts me. He trusts me when a behavior is challenging or uncomfortable, but Fido knows I will not ask of him anything that will hurt him or is dangerous. He is willing to work hard for me. So there is a MUTUAL TRUST THAT FIDO WILL PERFORM THE BEHAVIOR I ASK.

Thirdly. There is REWARD when he DOES the behavior. Even now with my Nekayah, when I give her a cue she is relaxed in doing the behavior. There are reward for both the human and the dog when they have that relationship of partnership. We call it “THE HUMAN ANIMAL BOND (HAB). There is nothing like it. Fido begins to anticipate the cue. In a store I can ask Nekayah to “lay” and before the word is out she is on her way down, mouth open, looking at me and waiting for the next cue. I feel one with her and she feels one with me. Nekayah has learned to go potty on cue. Before we go into a store (she is a service dog) I take her to go potty. She sniffs and goes then runs back to the car, jumps in, gives me a kiss and we go park and go in the store. She is happy. Nekayah is emotionally well balanced and we are both rewarded with her doing the behavior and my seeing the behavior performed. We are one, partners. She feels it and I feel it. Cues are communication in a loop. It is not me “telling” her to do something and she does it or else. I ask (cue) her to do something communicating confidence and trust in her, she listens and performs the behavior I request, communicating back to me her confidence and trust in me. Then she bounds back to me happy and content as we move on together into the store or wherever we go.

If Nekayah does not perform the behavior I know something is wrong. I take her to have her checked. She knows I will not push the issue and will take care of her. This has happened and when the medical issue was resolved, she responded to my cues without hesitation.

In training a dog there is one I have one inexorable law. It is this. The HUMAN ANIMAL BOND. Anything, an act, a word, a training technique, a training tool that would threaten that bond is anathema. I will neither incorporate it, nor allow it to be incorporated. There is no behavior worth getting if it harms the dog in any way. I have actually seen dogs look at me with that “thank you” look in their eyes.

This is my interpretation of what transpires when I give a cue to mu dogs or a dog I am working with. I try to help the owner understand this transaction so he/she can appreciate what is really going on. Training is never a one way communication. I hear the dog I work with. He/she is talking to me. We are having a conversation from the second I enter to the second that I leave. Often times the communication bring tears to my eyes and makes my heart swell.

My hope is that this will give your interactions with Fido a new dimension. If you do not have this relationship with your Fido examine what you are doing. Figure it out. If and when you do your relationship with your one in a million Fido will be fulfilling to both of you, and you will find your training to be much less a struggle but actually enjoyable. Not only will you be giving cues to Fido, but you will realize Fido is giving cues to you, making your relationship mutually enjoyable and fun. A good indicator is that if it is not fun for you it is not fun for Fido and if it is not fun for Fido the training needs to stop. He may be sick or hurting. And you will have a wonderful, fulfilling bond of mutual trust and respect.

After all. Isn’t that the reason we acquire Fido. If you do not have that believe me you can and more. That’s why I do what I do.





by: James Turner MCL, KPA-CTP, SVBT

 Two Years past I was contracted to reorganize and restructure an animal shelter here in Indiana. It was a huge task that required my working with a 10 member board. With the nature of the issues I had to have the board covenant with me that I was in charge, my decisions would not be rescinded, and with the workers a new policy manual would be written. I terminated some people, some people quit, and all forms of aversive techniques were eliminated. All employees were trained in force-free techniques. If an employee could not make the change that person was let go. One of the actions I took was to clear the office wall of all collars that were not fabric. There must have been 50 pounds of choke chains and prong collars. I was told that it was a waste of money. I replied, “I fully agree with you, but the money was wasted, not in their discard, but in their purchase.” Nothing more was said and the new policy prohibited aversive collars. The local newspaper had a front page story, “LOCAL SHELTER GOES FORCE-FREE.”

Choke Chains, Slip Collars, Pinch Collars? What’s the problem? When I have a referral call me one of my questions is, “What kind of collar do you have on your dog?” Many of them tell me, “A Slip Collar, or Choke Chain.” My friend and colleague, Deb Dolak told me, “Sometimes a client will ask if they can use a choke or prong collar.  My response is, ‘Only if you are willing to wear one and let me correct you when you make a mistake during the training session.’  That usually gets the point across.” One shelter worker said, “Choke chains are okay to use on dogs. The choke chain is not used for punishment, it just stops the behavior.” WHAT? In dog training lingo if it stops the behavior or weakens a behavior due to a stimulus, that stimulus is a punisher. So her statement showed a basic ignorance of the subject. A client told me a shelter worker said, “Choker collars are fine on dogs.” My retort was, “That is because she hasn’t worn one!” People don’t wear choker collars. Then I had a bit of insight.

With this insight my mind took me back to the days of the old west. If a cowboy committed a crime, stealing a horse, or borrowing someone’s cow without permission he was taken out under a tree branch, sat on a horse, and had a slip collar (or a pinch collar if you prefer) put over his head and around his neck. Someone would slap the horse which would run out from under the convicted, the slip collar tightened and, well, the end seldom had a good outcome. Now, if the slip collar was not properly fitted and placed just right on the thief’s neck the collar would bind causing prolonged agony. The poor man’s larynx would crush, his ocular nerves were damaged, his trachea was injured, and his neck was broken. Now, if this collar as properly fitted all of these injuries still occurred, but it was all over faster. I think this would qualify as punishment as it certainly stopped the behavior. In the process it stopped any good behavior as well. The law makers determined this to be cruel and inhumane treatment and in 1972 this use of punishment with a slip collar (noose) was banned in the U. S. By the way,did you know that for the same reasons, choke chains are banned in Quebec, and Amazon has stopped listing them in the UK?  Yep, that’s true.

Men and women still wear collars. We call them necklaces. They are collars properly fitted, some loose some snug. But I never see “slip necklaces” where another person has control of the one wearing it. If I came home with a slip collar for my wife to wear… Well, we won’t go there. I’ll just say there wouldn’t be much affection demonstrated. We like necklaces as long as they are comfortable to wear. I like my dogs to wear a nice looking necklace (collar) that is comfortable, yet functional.

I hope you will Google the anatomy of a dog’s neck. The position of a choke chain is directly behind the ears (just like the hanging noose). This pinch collar/choke chain or prong collar pinches all of these nerves and muscles. There are dozens of potential and certain physical injuries that a choke chain or a prong collar can and will cause. This is not to mention the emotional damage choke chains or prong collars cause. Because this is an animal, and animals have to be controlled and/or dominated these are okay to use. I suggest these are not okay to use. They cause physical damage, often irreparable. They cause emotional damage that requires the specialized involvement of a force-free behaviorist. And, these medieval instruments of torture cause serious damage to the human-animal bond. Calling these the lesser reference of “slip collar” does not change the terrible impact of that “snap” one is instructed to use in the dog’s “training?.”

The unintended consequences of using a choke chain (i.e. slip collars, pinch collars) and/or prong collars are well documented in numerous veterinary journals.

Here I list the most common.

  1. Tracheal damage
  2. Sprained necks
  3. Asphyxiation
  4. Spinal cord injuries/paralysis
  5. Bruising of larynx
  6. Esophagus damage
  7. Thyroid gland damage
  8. Vertebrae damage
  9. Whiplash
  10.  Prolapsed eyes
  11.  Dislocated neck bones
  12.  Brain damage
  13.  Fainting
  14.  Skin and tissue bruising
  15.  Organ failure
  16.  Sharp headaches

Any of these medical conditions can lead to aggressive behaviors that usually results in more punishing use of the choke chain or prong collar. With these possible consequences are the psychological effects. Dogs are extremely intelligent. One jerk, snap, or pop of the chain, causing pain, will never be forgotten by the dog. When you get the collar and leash out the dog will cringe or run the other direction. I have had clients whose dog snaps at their hand when they put the choke chain on to go for a walk. If the dog is on a walk and sees another dog it is natural for him to pull toward the dog. The handler “snaps” the chain to correct the dog. Fido feels the pain of the snap and attributes the pain to what he is looking, the other dog or a child. Now Fido becomes aggressive to other dogs or children. If Fido attributes the pain to his handler he may become aggressive to the handler.

Traditional trainers will argue against everything I am writing. But this information is not mine. I didn’t imagine these to be facts. This information, again, can be found in any number of journals. Do the research yourself. Don’t just trust me or some other pop star in the animal behavioral world. If you do your own research I can guarantee you will come out very close to my conclusions. Punishment never has a positive result with your wonderful dog. Punishment shuts down the dogs learning. The really negative result is that punishment breaks the human/animal bond. You want your dog to respect, trust and love you. Punishment will damage that. You want your dog to trust you. Punishment will destroy that. Can those be regained? Yes. But you must stop the punishment NOW. Reinforce the behaviors you want and ignore the behaviors you don’t want. Then get in touch with a force-free trainer or behaviorist. Be careful. A trainer may say he/she is a positive trainer. That may mean he/she uses positive methods mixed with aversive methods. Most “positive” trainers are really “balanced” trainers.

I was called to help with a dog that was out of control. The dog was afraid of its own shadow. What happened was that this “positive” trainer took a wonderful little Sheltie and in just a couple of months the dog was so reactive that it would wake up at night, every night, crying as if in severe pain. Its daily training included the use of a choker chain. The once sweet little Sheltie was now physically and psychologically damaged.

I don’t believe owners intentionally hurt their dog. They don’t know better. They read books by trainers who wrote in the 60s or 70s. These “traditional” trainers are still around. They “stop” behaviors, but at what price for the dog and the owner. It often costs an owner hundreds of dollars to restore their damaged pet. Or, and sadly, the pet gets placed in a shelter and/or euthanized, not because of what the dogs is doing, but because of what has been done to the dog. Now the dog suffers the consequences of a trainer’s malpractice.



Today my frustration level reached about, oh, a 6 on a 1 – 10 scale. A young man in his early twenties has a Pit Bull Terrier tied in his backyard. The Pit Bull, which to some, has become the signature of virility and machismo. For many, to own a Pit Bull, is to say, “I’m a bad a..” Here I am writing about IRRESPONSIBLE ownership.

Anyway, this sweet Pit Bull, a female, maybe 1 year old, had her chain twisted in a chain link fence. She had about 2 feet of tether so she had no freedom to move. The temperature today was 100 degrees. She was forced to lay in the sun, her water 30 feet away. How long she had been like that, I have no idea. I know she was in distress. It took me several minutes to untangle her as she was jumping and climbing all over me, scratching my arms and face with her unattended nails, anxious to be freed. When I loosed her she ran to some water and some shade to rest. She was exhausted, overheated and alone. All I could do was walk away with an ache in my heart.

Why? Why do people acquire a dog to take home and tie it outside to live alone in the elements? Simply, I don’t know.

We have Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, and Nekayah, a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard. Both are large dogs. When we come home they greet us with tales wagging and smiles. They are very happy and emotionally healthy dogs. I have never seen a happy dog chained in the backyard. The dog in the backyard is often excited to see its owner, but that is because it is so lonely and depressed, not because the dog is happy or emotionally healthy.

My back yard is fenced. In my back door we have a dog door. My door is kept closed, but my dogs can go in and out as the wish. Dexter loves the winter. He goes out and lies for hours. Sometimes we cannot see him as he lets the snow cover him. They go in or out as their comfort dictates. They have water both outside and in the house. We can go and come knowing both dogs are comfortable. They are never thirsty, overheated, or unduly cold. If I could not provide for them in this manner I have no business having them.

Think about this from the dog’s perspective. I can do this because that is my specialty. I am the Dog Listener. Dogs tell me what they think and how they feel. A study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1996, by Michael Hennessy, show how dogs prefer human companionship over other dogs. That was a study, cutting edge research, almost twenty years past. Since that study there have been a myriad of research that have made this former hypothesis a fact.

This, alone, being true, why would one tie a dog outside to suffer loneliness, fear, confusion, isolation and whatever the elements delivered? Why? What rational argument or defense can one mount for doing this? Much education and advocacy is essential regarding this cruelty. The thinking many have is that a dog, being a dog, can be happy and healthy just being in the backyard. I have seen hundreds of these “back yard dogs” and I have never seen a dog, tied in the backyard that is either happy or healthy. Again, because they jump and bark when the owner appears is not an indicator that the dog is happy or healthy.

We know the negative effects when a baby is born and left without attention, affection or interaction. The effects are both myriad and terrible. So it is with dogs. Dogs are very social animals. Dogs do not develop healthily without human interaction. To leave a dog to live and survive alone, outside in ones backyard is one of the most psychologically damaging things one can do to a dog. Any responsible dog owner is charged with providing a safe, secure, quiet place to live as part of a family. Only in this place does the dog have the opportunity to develop an emotionally healthy life and experience a secure human animal bond.

As I write this, Dexter, my Great Pyrenees, is laying beside my chair, his head oriented toward me. As I smile with affection and periodically stroke him my brain and body respond in a calming emotion. This is very important for Dexter also. He is calm, secure, has no fear, no uncertainty, and is very important to his mental, emotional health and is evidence of a bonded human animal relationship. I cannot imagine Dexter tied up outside, dirty, insecure and both of us alone. I would consider that cruel and inhumane.

I work with many of these outside dogs. They tend to be less responsive to training, requiring more work. They develop stereotypical behaviors, compulsive disorders and have little to no socialization skills. These outside dogs have more stress related illnesses, infestations and mental issues ranging from mild to severe. Many of these maladies also range from hard to impossible to overcome. I hate to admit it, but many of these dogs, by the time they get to me, are too damaged to be restored to a healthy, emotionally balanced life. There are times when less than the best has to be settled for. These are the dogs that end upin shelters and, very often, euthanized. Not because of something the dog has done, but is the end result of what an irresponsible owner has created.

Most people, responsible pet owners, acquire a dog for the purpose of relationship. A relationship is not two or more just living together. Ask any wife and she will affirm this proposition. There needs to be positive, loving interaction. Violate this and I can think of no faster way to destroy a relationship. Enhance a positive, affectionate interaction and two will build a bonding relationship. I can think of no better way to build a bonding relationship with a dog than through force-free, marker training. This kind of interaction builds quickly the human animal bond resulting in a reciprocal loving relationship with one’s pet. Dogs long for this kind of relationship, thriving in this environment and become emotionally healthy members of the family.

I have been asked, “What about working dogs, Border Collies or Great Pyrenees? They work outside, often for long hours. How does this apply to them? Rather than give a long answer to this question, which is a valid inquiry, I would make this referral. One can begin understanding this concern by reading Patricia McConnell.
For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. These two books are a good place to begin to understand the premise of this article. Dogs, any dog, are about human relationships. This is in their DNA. There is no other animal in the human world like a dog. Humans are healthier both mentally and physically because of a dog in their life. Did you know that a dog is the only animal that will follow our finger pointing or our eye movement?

The other day my Great Pyrenees, Dexter, was laying on the floor. I thought I would test this point. I stood a distance from him and the front door. Now all Dexter has to see is his leash and he is up and at the door spinning in excitement. I stood very stoic. All I did was shift my eyes from Dexter to the door, back to Dexter, then the door. His head cocked, his ears came forward. He looked at the door then back at me. I repeated the process. His paws shifted as his head raised. “Does he mean what I think? Is he going to take me for a walk? Oh I hope so!” Now, without hesitation, Dex lifted his 100 lbs. went to the door saying, ‘Let’s go!.’” A dog records our every move, eye brow shift, smile, glance, and gesture. They miss nothing. The dog often knows what we are about to do before we have decided.

Unless you want this kind of relationship, for heavens sake, do not get a dog. If you get a dog don’t be an irresponsible dog owner and chain the wonderful thing outside. To do that is callous, cruel and abusive.

Now, about Cecil the Lion. What a beautiful specimen of its breed. He stood out with his coal black main and his slow lumbering pace. He was the attraction of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. Millions, knowing of him came to see this King of the forest.He was 13 years old and had developed his own pride. Somehow Cecil knew he was special and could play to the camera. Cecil wore a collar so scientists could track his every move. Cecil provided information to science that otherwise would have taken years to acquire. He was a protected Lion. He waas not a candidate for hunting, legal or otherwise. I understand the need for culling wildlife heards. It is for the health and balance of nature. Culling is a process that is strictly controlled by law. To violate these laws is to poach, the illigal killing of a protected species. I will not get into PETA or other groups who raise either pros or cons concerning culling. Culling is a part of protecting wildlife just as death is a part of life.

That said, Cecil wore a tracking collar and the information gleaned over those 13 years led to the safety and protection of thousands of cubs growing to adulthood. He was famous in the animal world. Cecil’s death will now insure the killing of his 6 cubs by the new dominante male.

Cecil died as the result of poaching. He was lured beyond the border of the park and senselessly killed. His head with that distinctive main was severed and his body left to rot in the African sun. His head and main were wanted as a trophy. Now, granted his death, the death of one lion in Africa, doesn’t affect my daily life, except as this leads to the issue of how callous man can become. “Cecil is just an animal. He is good for just a trophy. He is an animal without feelings or emotions. He is a mindless creature, a robot of nature.” This is also what we hear about dogs. “It’s just an animal. Dogs have no feelings or emotions. They are incapable of feeling love.” This is the argument of gaming people in the blood sports who cruelly fight dogs to the death. And if a dog isn’t killed in the ring, the owner kills the dog for being weak.

Descartes, as with thousands, believed because a dog is soulless they are just machines of nature. As a result of that philosophy Descartes could nail a dog to a board and ignore the howls because the howls emanated from a mechanical response and had nothing to do with feeling or pain.

My point? If we can reduce a dog to nothingness, to an animal without feeling or the capcity to feel, then we can perpetrate any evil upon it without conscience. Thus killing Cecil or a dog is no different that dicing a carrot or slitting a tire. This changing of something to nothing can be applied to animals or the subject of abortion.

Think about it!





Une vie de chien – Partie II
by pinkchapals



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

Wow. I bet you thought I’d disappeared. I did, into the abyss of a semester back after a sabbatical. But… I’m baaaaaaack!
As promised, this is part two of my discussion on service dogs, and this post is all about the training process. As I mentioned in Une vie de chien – Partie I, Max and I trained together for a year before he graduated from “service dog in training” to “service dog.” That’s it. That’s all it took. Boom. Done. Mic drop.
Kidding. Kidding. It was one of the most intense experiences in my life, and that includes grad school and the dissertation years.
Beyond picking out a rescue dog (of course) who had the necessary qualities (I worked with a behaviorist for this part, though this post gives you the idea), I had to pick a trainer. This is difficult business. There aren’t many trainers out there who do service dog training, and even then, you have to mesh with the trainer as much as you do the dog, and the dog with the trainer. I was lucky enough to find a one Mr. Jim Turner, an amazing behaviorist AND trainer. He’s got a blog right here on WordPress.
I can’t say enough about Jim. Right from the beginning, he let me know what to expect from the process and let me know, more than once, how difficult the task that lay ahead. This was a commitment. To Max. To myself. To training. To Jim.
This commitment meant beginning with three sessions per week, lasting usually about 2-3 hours, on top of my already full work schedule and long commute. Three days per week, I traveled from Indy to Muncie to Richmond. Often, I did not get home until 9pm or 10pm, and then I had to turn around and go right back to it the next day. In between training sessions, I did training at home, at the office, in stores, in restaurants. At home, we had regular formal sessions. Out and about, every moment was an opportunity. Beyond my chic purse, I got to add the additional bling of a clicker and a handy treat bag, filled with desiccated hotdogs (no nitrites, of course) and other such yumminess.
At the beginning, when Jim met with me and Jeevan, he had said (not verbatim, creative license here): “You know, this is going to be tough. You’ll always be training. You’re going to carry treats, and you’re going to train whenever you see a moment. Things are going to take longer, and it can get frustrating. It will be frustrating at times for Jeevan when he sees your relationship with Max grow and when it’s difficult for you to pay attention at a restaurant because your mind is always partially on Max. You have to be ready. Go home. Think about this. If it’s right for you, and I’m right for you and Max, call me, and we’ll start.”
It was daunting to be sure, but we were ready. Jim evaluated Max, and though he was a wild child then, he had potential. He asked what I thought a service dog could do for me. At that time, I was struggling with a failing shoulder and needed help carrying things, and I could really use something under my legs when sitting in chairs. Jim’s response? “A dog as an ottoman? Hmmmm.” Turns out, Jim was right: I never did train Max as an ottoman. Though, from time to time, he likes to get under my feet and rest his head on my shoe, but that’s not one of his service tasks; it’s just because he loves his mama.
We began with the basics that all dogs should have. Max was a blank slate and could only “sit,” so we had to begin with: down, stay, wait, leave it, loose leash walking, etc. Those are fairly easy, but service dogs have to have these skills down pat before they can even move on to service skills.
We did clicker training, which is a form of positive reinforcement training. You first teach the dog that a click means a reward (treat, love, kisses, “good boy”). Then, you mark a desired behavior with a click and reward. Eventually, you mark the behavior with a command. The real trick is to click at the right time and with the correct behavior.
For example, when we were training Max to “stop” on command (mid-walk, mid-trot, whenever). As SOON as Max stopped for any reason, “CLICK!” TREAT! At the beginning, the stopping is pretty much when you stop, but you CLICK! and TREAT! The wheels start turning in the dog’s head:

MAX: “Oh, I get a treat, if I stop. I’m going to stop.”
MAX: TREAT!!!!!!!!!! I’m a good boy! Good Max! I love stopping! Stop. Stop. Stop.
Then, you start adding the command: “STOP!” “CLICK!” (if he stops). TREAT! “GOOD STOP!” Rinse, lather, repeat.
This is marking desired behavior. We used this to train Max such commands as: stop, wait, fast, slow, leave it, etc.

The extra interesting part of training was the complex behaviors, and this requires shaping behavior using successive approximation (that’s what it’s called, right Jim?). Jim is extra awesome at figuring out this part. You begin by naming the desired task and then figure out the steps to get there.
EXAMPLE: Pushing a button to open a power assist door
Desired behavior: pushing button
Required skills: 1) recognize object to push; 2) push; 3) apply pressure.
For this, Jim knew that Max needed to first offer a paw. For this, we waited until Max placed a paw near us.

MAX: “Wha? What did I just do? Hmmm. I’m going to randomly do tricks and see what happens. Sit. Down. Kisses. No? Hmmm. This guy is dumb. I’m going to poke him.”
MAX: “What? Weirdo. Not sure what I did again. Sit. Down. Kiss. Sit.
JIM: ….
MAX: “NOTHING? Man! Poke.”
MAX: “Dude! It’s the paw! Paw!!!!! Poke.”
MAX: “Awesome! Poke.”
MAX: “That’s it! Poke. Poke. Poke.”
JIM: “CLICK!” TREAT! Good touch!
You get the idea. Once you mark the behavior with a command (“touch” in this case), you begin clicking and treating ONLY when the behavior is offered AFTER a command. The idea has to be yours, not the dog’s. To make sure this is the case, you can test it with multiple commands. For example, if you say “sit,” the dog should sit, not offer a paw. Try a couple of different commands, then say the new one. Once you consistently get the correct behavior, your dog has got the idea. Even so, go home and PRACTICE!! I had to keep a log of our home practice sessions: I had to log: 1) each skill we practiced; 2) How long we spent on each one 2) How many times the correct behavior was offered; 4) any distractions; 5) notes.
Wait. How is this related to pushing a button? A hand is not a button, and “touch” is not “push.” This is the cool part.
Once Max had the idea of touch down, we added a target. We’d say “TOUCH” and, with a yellow square in our hand, we’d click any time he’d offer a paw near the marker. The idea is that you reward the behavior, being lenient at first, and getting stricter as you move on. Eventually the dog only gets a CLICK! when it puts the paw on the marker. Then, you move the marker. On the floor. On the wall. On your thigh. The dog eventually associates touch with a target.
Wait. That’s still not pushing! Ok, ok. I’m getting there!
In the end, we want Max to apply the correct amount of pressure on the target. This is “PUSH!” Jim had me buy an “easy” button for practice. You know, one of these:

We put the target on the button and began clicking and treating when the button was pushed hard enough to get the trademark, “that was easy!” Then, we marked that behavior with the command “PUSH!” We eventually moved on to doors, door openers, grocery carts. Now, Max can PUSH! this:

And this:

And even this:

It’s true, some doors are too heavy for him, and it’s too heavy for me, but he gives me that extra power. We do it together!
For a more visual idea of how this happens, look at this cool little example:

You can see that it is quite the process. Now imagine this for every complicated skill Max and I had to learn together. Now you know why I spent the better part of a year exhausted!
Here is a list of the skills Max has (totally forgetting some). Don’t confuse the skill with the command. For the most important commands, I chose words that aren’t always obvious to others because I can’t have other people trying to tell my dog what to do. Sometimes people feel that they can tell me he doesn’t mind very well because he doesn’t listen to them. The mark of a good dog on duty is that he doesn’t mind anyone but the handler!
Leave it
Watch me
Greeting behavior
Refocus behavior
Go to X (bed, rug, towel, mat, etc).
Get it (keys, pencil, paper, credit card, bottle)
Give it to X (a person, me or anyone else)
Drop it (on floor, in garbage, etc.)
Hold (keep whatever he has in mouth until I say so)
Push (cart, button, door, etc.)
Pull (door, wheelchair, cart, coat sleeve, socks)
Crawl (good for getting into small spaces)
Under (table, chair, etc.)
Up (onto something)
Off (off of something)
Brace (stiffen his front legs to act as a sort of cane)
Help mama (i.e. go into service mode when he’s not actively on duty – mostly at home)
Bark on command
Spin right (helps to get into tight spaces)
Spin left (helps to get into tight spaces)
Sideways right
Sideways left
Follow (usually when I am in my wheelchair and am being backed up; he follows in front).
Pee on command
Poop on command
Go find
Step up (bracing for going up step)
Step down (bracing for going down step)
Dance with mommy (just for fun)
Command to get harness on
Command for service position
Command to finish service
Command for bedtime
Let’s go
Thank you!
Up up: Get in car and wait for harness to be attached to security belt before getting all the way in
Not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Here’s another list for your perusal.
But… there’s more to training than that. There’s public access training. This means that, once your dog has a good skill set, it needs to be able to perform these skills EVERYWHERE and with distractions, like: kids, walkers, wheelchairs, food on the ground, other dogs, squirrels!, people he loves, loud noises, people talking to you… etc.
This is the most important, and perhaps most frustrating part of training, and I will get to that in Partie III! Also, there will be more about the wonderful Jim because he helped me not lose my mind during this crazy part of the training. I promise not to wait so long until the next post.

pinkchapals | March 25, 2015 at 13:30 | Tags: service dog | Categories: disability studies, dwarfism | URL:

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Une vie de chien: Partie I



Amy has dwarfism and you can read her blogs on Dwarfism Awareness and other topics

January 3, 2015 6 Comments

I’m ending my holiday hiatus with a post about life with a service dog. Well, several posts probably, because there is way more to life with a service dog than you think. Sure, it’s great to have your best bud with you everywhere you go, but it’s about more than that. Way more than that. It’s about partnership, responsibility, a deep bond, and an ever deeper gratitude.
Today’s post is going to concentrate on the paradox of my life with Max; or, the way in which having a service dog mediates my disability, while also making it more visible. A dwarf more visible, you say? Yes, ’tis possible. I’ll get there, but let me digress, as I am wont to do.
Just before the holidays, I did two things that got me settled on this being my next post: 1) traveled to New Orleans on vacation; 2) read Susannah Charleson’s book, The Possibility Dogs. Charleson’s book offers profiles of several psychiatric service dogs and their handlers, interspersed with her own story of training a “demo” dog, the ever clownish Jake Piper. It got me to reminiscing about my own experiences training Max, who is also an eternal clown.

Jake Piper, the demo service dog.
Like Jake Piper, Max is a rescue, whom I trained one-on-one with a certified canine trainer and behaviorist. It was one of the most intense endeavors I have undertaken, yet also one of the most rewarding. I don’t think I would have truly appreciated the effort that goes into training a service dog without doing it myself first. Another post will go into my training days with Max, but I think it’s worth mentioning here that service dogs are amazing animals whose training goes beyond skills and into behavior and compassion. Before I get where I’m going (yes, I’ll get there), I want to urge you all to respect these dogs and their work and to respect them and their handler when they are working. Do not talk to them, pet them, or even look them in the eyes. These are open invitations for a dog to break their concentration, which could be harmful to the handler if their safety depends on the dog. Part of the dog’s job is to focus on his partner; the partner’s job is to look out for the dog. Sometimes, that means being harsh with well-intentioned people who try to interact with your dog.
Although The Possibility Dogs is about psychiatric service dogs (Max is a mobility service dog), it offers some valuable insight into daily life with a dog:
Another handler notes: “And here’s the kicker: It’s a kind of trade. For all the good help a service dog gives, that same dog makes you visible. If for you a ‘normal’ life is about being able to be anonymous, good luck. You and your dog and your disability had better be prepared for stares and questions . . . and sometimes accusations. It’s not all bad. A lot of the attention on the dog is supportive. But there’s almost always a spotlight. It slows you down.”
Charleson, Susannah (2013-06-04). The Possibility Dogs: What I Learned from Second-Chance Rescues About Service, Hope, and Healing (p. 38). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
It’s the notion of being in the spotlight that I want to talk about. In my post “Welcome to Lilliput,” I wrote about how having dwarfism necessarily puts me under the spotlight, but having a service dog has not changed that so much as it has shifted the focus. Obviously, my disability is not an invisible one; on the contrary, it is one of the most outwardly visible ones you can have, as my body is so far from the norm. However, it is very easy for people to assume that the disability stops there: with height. I’m short, so I can’t reach things, and I can’t walk as fast on those short legs. Full stop. Think again. For some dwarfs, this is the end of the affair, but for a great number of us, there is a lot of complicated anatomy inside that odd, squat body. (You can read more about dwarfism and disability in one of my Dwarfism Awareness posts). (You can learn more about The Possibility Dogs project on their website).
I like to say that being a dwarf, or at least my particular experience of it, is to live in a liminal space, to inhabit the realm of both the visible and invisible disability. For, I am so visibly different, yet to many, so invisibly “disabled” by my body. I spent a good deal of time in college and grad school attempting to repress the disabled part of my persona. I walked with crutches for 10 years, but leaving for college offered me the opportunity to shed those walking aids in a place where few people knew me from my life before. Where my crutches helped me with speed and distance, I used a bike on campus to get from here to there. In grad school, I used the T or a car. This worked well for me until the long gap since my last major surgery started to close in on me in my late 20s, when my hips, which had long been severely arthritic, began to protest in earnest. This was the beginning of a new phase of my life, and what I now see as the moment when I needed to start “owning” my disability. I’ve had 5 artificial joint replacements in 9 years. I’ve learned that the gap from my last osteotomy to my first replacement was the exception, not the norm.
Accepting the toll that my lax tissues take on my body has been a difficult journey, but to be honest, it started with the decision to get a service dog. My husband had been kindly nudging me to get one for a long while, but I was always “looking into it.” I don’t know what clicked, but I finally acquiesced in 2011, around my birthday. Ironically, Jeevan and I were at the local shelter looking at some potential candidates, and I was walking a ginormous, yet gentle, St. Bernard (can you imagine that?) when my shoulder just gave out in pain. No reason. I had reached for my bag, and it just gave up on me. I had been struggling with “bursitis” (self-diagnosis) for years but had begun weight training in hopes of strengthening the muscles. In the end, those strong muscles did put off the inevitable for a while. The X-Rays showed the truth: my shoulder joints were gone. Who knows how long they had been like that? When you have arthritis everywhere, it just creeps from one place to the next without you knowing, taking secret root in your psyche. Just another thing that hurts. You don’t notice the toll it takes on your health. The fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. Again with the digression! But, I spend time on the background info because it’s essential to my service dog story. I had to come to terms with these things, to take stock of them, before I was ready for life with a service dog. To get a dog was to admit that I couldn’t do it all on my own, or that I could, but at a dear price.
After the “shoulder incident” at the shelter, I ramped up my search for a service dog candidate. I contacted a behaviorist to talk about what kinds of behavior a dog needed to show service potential. Any breed has potential, she said, but it’s true that Labradors and Goldens are very successful mobility dogs due to their retrieving instinct. Furthermore, with a breed rescue, you are much more likely to know the dog’s history than from a shelter. This is so important for a service dog because even thorough evaluation at the shelter doesn’t tell you everything that a life with a foster can. This is a dog who will go everywhere you go, who will encounter reactive dogs, people, and children. This dog will be an ambassador for other service dogs. Everything’s gotta click.
I found my match through Lucky Lab Rescue. This is truly an amazing rescue, entirely run by volunteers. Not only did I end up with the best service dog a girl could have, but we have now fostered three dogs with them, and I have seen the work that goes on behind the scenes, and these people are amazing. They are dedicated, and so organized. And compassionate. They led me to Max. I filled out an application and was forthright in my intention to train the dog for mobility work, and I hoped this would not go against me in the end. It did not! An adoption coordinator called me and said that there was a list of dogs who would probably work, but I had to meet Max. And, meet him I did. He had me at woof. He was 1 year young and a clown even then. But, he was also confident, self-assured, but kind. He was unflappable. Four men banging around in a large truck with a lift? Whatever. I got this, lady. You want me to meet your other dogs? Even the crazy cattle dog rescue who hates everyone? I’m a charmer, lady. A charmer, he was, and is. He’s the best.

The day I met Max. Look at that face!
Again, I’ll get into the actual training later, but I want to talk about what Max does for my disability. As the handler in the excerpt said, having a service dog puts you in the spotlight. I’m used to the spotlight, but I’m used to the kind of spotlight you can pretend to turn off. Someone staring? Oh, I’ll just pretend I don’t see it. Some kid just pointed me out to their mom (who pretends it didn’t happen)? I can pretend it didn’t happen, sometimes. (You’re lucky if I do). I can just go on with my day if I desire. With a service dog, it’s different. As I said before, he’s an ambassador for all service dogs. When someone makes what they think is a hilarious comment about how “hard” his job is when he is sleeping in a restaurant, I think it is my duty to say, “how many dogs do you know who could sleep while people step over him with steak?” It’s his job to be good while we aren’t working. Sometimes, it’s his job to sleep, to lie down, to let people step on his tail, to let a chip fall by his face, to ignore the world that is not me. This is tough, and many people seem to think it is their job to tempt him or to get him to break his service and then make a comment when he does. What would you do if someone kept calling your name and telling you how pretty you are? You’d wag your tail, if you had one.
I have to admit that I was too friendly about this behavior in the beginning, and so I let it slide, and now there are a lot of people around my small town who talk to Max. Mostly, it’s when we’re not actively working, but I’m sorry I let it happen anyway. It’s not fair to him to turn back now; he wouldn’t understand. I’m lucky that he resets very quickly. He’s got a greet command and a command to get back to work. I’m lucky he listens, really lucky. Believe me, with my next dog, I will not do this again. For the love of all that is right in the world, don’t pet the damned service dog. Don’t make kissy noises. Don’t talk to it. Don’t even ask. It’s hard to say no, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Make it easier for everyone: resist.
It’s also true that having a service dog slows you down. It is a huge responsibility. Just “running in” a store is darned near impossible. You have to gear up the dog, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, drive to wherever, get the dog out, stop and educate people, get your stuff, get the dog in the car, seatbelt the dog in, get in the car, driver home. It’s a bit easier when, say, I want to run in my favorite coffee shop (go Roscoe’s!); they know him there, and they know he’s a service dog. I can just put on his gentle leader and run in for coffee because I know I don’t need to use his bracing harness. Sometimes I brave places without his harness if I know I won’t need him to brace, but it makes me nervous. There is no requirement that a service dog wear a vest or harness, but it helps. Max does have a little badge that hangs off the leash, but I’m always risking some questioning when he’s not fully geared.

Max fully geared, under my feet on a plane.
The other thing I have to put up with is the famous question: What does your dog do for you? This is fine from a business owner or employee, but it is intrusive in any other context. It feels like I am constantly justifying my need for Max. I am sure that that is not the intent, but it gets old, fast. The ADA has this to say about service dogs:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
I usually respond to random people asking this question with, “he’s a mobility dog, and I use him to brace., but he knows well over 50 skills.” I don’t try to elaborate on what’s wrong with me. Sometimes people push, but mostly they respect that. I just wish they wouldn’t ask. It’s personal.
Traveling ain’t a picnic either. I have to pack for me, and for Max. He needs food, treats, a ball, some chews, extra poop bags. I have to remember peanut butter for the airplane to help pop his ears. Security is a nightmare. New cities mean new people, and new service dog cultures. Colorado is a dog place. It seems everyone has a dog, and in the mountains, people let their dogs hike off-leash. I hate this. I hated it before, but I really hate it now. Yes, your dog is friendly, but please, he cannot greet my dog. He’s working. See that slippery rock in my path? He’s going to help me over it, but if your dog distracts him, he’s not concentrating and not bracing. Put your dog on the leash! New Orleans is also a dog city, and there are a lot of homeless people with dogs off-leash. Makes me nervous. I hope your dog is friendly, but if not, does it have vaccinations? Also, one bad encounter with a dog could ruin Max for service. He cannot become afraid of dogs. Paris is also a dog city, and my Lord, there are a lot of yippy dogs out there. They tried to get Max every friggin’ day.

Max helping me snowshoe! This is one of the ways he helped return me to a fuller life, even if people don’t leash their dogs.
All this being said, I have to also say that having Max is worth every annoyance. He has made my life easier on so many levels. Traveling is a pain, but less of a pain than it was before. Paris used to be so tough on me with its uneven sidewalks and steep curbs. I prefer busses over the Metro because there are no stairs to navigate into subterranean stations, but there is that one big step, and the crowds. I always hated getting places. People never thought of me as disabled, so they wouldn’t offer seats or help. This last time in Paris, though, people offered to let me on first, and offered to help me up that step, even as Max was there to brace, and they offered me a seat. He braced all over the cobblestones and awkward curbs. He braced me all the way down the Pantheon steps, which don’t have railings. This was, in fact, the first time I have been to the Pantheon. I have always avoided it because of the steps. Thanks to Max, I got to see my beloved Hugo, Césaire, and Zola in their resting place.

Max enjoying the Eiffel Tower.
Max takes me out of that liminal space and puts me firmly in the disabled camp. He mediates my disability by making my world wider, safer, and more mobile. He also helps to mediate the fatigue, the slowing-down, the grumpiness, the depression. He mediates stares. People are usually way more excited to see a service dog than a dwarf, and that is fine with me, in the end. I’d much rather have to educate people about Max than be the object of curiosity. Children love to see Max (often mistaken for a horse, due to his saddle-like harness). I’ve always had to educate people about disability, it’s just shifted somewhere else. It is tough to always be in the spotlight, but I guess I prefer the gaze to be cast on my Max. He’s a ham and loves to wag his tail coyly as I explain why he can’t be petted to a little kid. It takes time, but it’s a worthy moment. I’d really like to live in a world where I didn’t have to explain any of these things, but that’s a bigger job. That’s why I write this blog.