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— January 28, 2014 —

Train, Don’t Restrain
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have a million of ‘em. Little quips that I repeat constantly. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but there are a few “Daniel-isms” that help people understand what I am trying to explain.

“Train, Don’t Restrain” is one of them and may be my favorite. All too often, people unknowingly cause and encourage bad behavior in their dogs by the simple act of holding them back. A dog that is excited to meet another dog will often pull, lunge and bark at the other dog. This behavior is rooted in the dog’s natural desire to interact with the other dogs it will encounter.

That excitement can become a serious issue when it builds up to the point of causing a fight between the dogs. When the dog is restrained, the excitement causes frustration, which in turn increases the stimulation level of BOTH dogs and can spiral into aggression very quickly.

You may have seen a protection-trained, police or military working dog that charges down field and bites a bad guy. I have some experience with these dogs and contrary to what people often think, these dogs do not bite because they are scared or angry. The biting that these dogs do is created by stimulating (exciting) the dog with a training toy. Usually, we start when they are pups. As young dogs, they are teased with tug toys while the handler restrains the dog. The trainer gets them to bark and lunge while the handler pets the puppy and encourages them. Over time, this builds stimulation and a desire to bite. That stimulation (excitement) is channeled into the needed behaviors like biting a bad guy who is threatening the handler. This obviously skips over a lot of the details, but it’s basically how young working dogs are started off.

So, the next time you hear someone say, “I don’t understand why my dog is so good off-leash, but tries to attack every dog he sees when he is on-leash, you’ll know why.” It GENERALLY happens when the owner, unwittingly encourages more stimulation and frustration in their leashed dog, just like how working puppies are started. (I say generally, because there are exceptions to every rule.)

What are the options if holding your dog back is such a bad idea? Simple. Training. A well-trained dog is one that has learned to self-regulate in stimulating situations. A well-trained dog can absolutely maintain it’s composure in the presence of another dog. I was at a vet’s office last night and saw this exact thing play out. The poor owner had been through a couple of trainers, but whenever any dog got within 10-12 feet of her dog, he would explode. I got the feeling talking to her that she was about to give up and just accept that this was who he is. Hopefully we’ll see him for an evaluation soon. I feel for people who think that they have no choice but to deal with behavior like this. It is at best uncomfortable and at worst dangerous.

So, remember, “Train, Don’t Restrain.” Your dog will be better for it.

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