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Hi John,

I’m writing to you about my female Boxer, Tussle. She doesn’t listen and is wired when someone comes to the house or when we’re on our walks. If she sees another animal, she becomes uncontrollable. She’s very friendly and lovable. Problem is the other day I was walking her and she spotted another dog in his own backyard lunged to get to him and in the meantime was dragging me behind her. I was hurt, but I didn’t want to let go of her leash, in case a car came by. She didn’t even realize what was happening until she spotted me on the ground. I have her on a harness because it’s humane. When I use to have her on a collar she would pull so hard, she’d choke. I don’t believe in inflicting pain. She jumps up on everyone she meets and licks them, whether they like it or not. I need help. How can I get her to stay down when people come over and more importantly how can I keep her under control while on our walks?

Thank you


Dear Tanya,

I’ve always been a little confused by the terms humane and in-humane. In the pet world its definition seems to vary from group to group and individual to individual even within animal protection agencies. Some think it is in-humane to have pets at all, others believe dogs participating in dog shows and dog sports is in-humane, others that no animal regardless of the severity of a behaviour problem should ever be put down. Others believe that to train with any negativity, no matter how slight is barbaric. Even the several humane organizations in North America don’t seem to agree on what’s humane. All in all, very confusing for the average dog owner that want to do the right thing.

You’ve chosen a harness to avoid inflicting pain on your dog which as a female boxer I’m guessing weighs about 60 pounds. In human terms, due to her four wheel drive, that’s more like 240 pounds. If Tussle had caught you off guard and yanked that leash right out of your hand which she will invariably do sooner or later, and been hit by a car or knocked someone over and hurt them, a proper collar would suddenly be looking pretty good. Sled dogs wear harnesses so it’s easier for them to pull. Sooner or later you and your dog are going to pay a significant price and if you’re lucky some poor pedestrian isn’t going to get bowled over and hurt or a car accident caused when someone swerves to avoid Tussle. You’re going to have to find some way to motivate her to take you into account on your outings or at the very least accept that one of your arms is eventually going to become longer then the other.

By now I’ve seen pretty much every collar under the sun and seen them used both correctly and incorrectly. Incorrectly is how you are using your harness. This would be so even if you were using a collar of some sort. When you attach something to a dog with the intent of controlling the dog and not teaching the dog to exert self control it’s like handcuffing a child’s hands behind their back, sure they’re not stealing chocolate bars anymore but . . .

When I see someone walking a dog regardless of type of collar, the leash as taut as a guitar string, the dog rasping and tongue hanging to the ground I don’t think to myself, “Oh look! That dog is choking itself.” I think, “Oh look! That person is choking their dog.” Not to split hairs, but I think you were choking her because you weren’t using it properly. No collar should be used to restrain a dog, they should be used to get a dog’s attention so you can teach it not to pull or jump or whatever. You need to find yourself a balanced trainer that can take into consideration your size, handling ability, and even personality as well as your dog’s temperament, size and drive and only then chose a collar and learn how to use it. Properly used one purpose of a collar of any type is to even the playing field as far as strength, speed and agility so the dog can’t overwhelm the trainer.

Some believe that resolving your sort of problem can be accomplished by distracting the dog with food or a toy because to do so otherwise would be inhumane. I’m not saying with a lot of patience and ideal conditions and accomplished training skills it can’t be done but I believe that in dog training as in every other aspect of life a little measured discouragement from a good teacher efficiently saves a world of hurt down the road. I’ve yet to see a mother dog or any other of nature’s creatures in a parenting role afraid to dole out a measured consequence for dangerous behaviour. Their little ones seem to be able to deal with it, long term self esteem intact. Some of them even grow up to become the head of the pack. Worst case scenarios aside, the quicker you get on this the quicker Tussle will be able to more fully interact with the people, dogs and places in your world. Straining on the end of a leash is no life for any dog.

John Wade

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