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In the Wrong Hands

Hi John,

We own a now five year Labrador Retriever-Pit Bull X named Sly for which we have had a few incidents. The first incident we had was in July 2006 when an off-leash husky cross, bounded up to our other dog, Finnegan, who was quite submissive, and Sly (our lab pit bull cross) took matters in his own hands. Sly took a hold of the Husky’s neck but didn’t do anything other than hold him, however, to break his hold, we had to go to extreme measure to get him off the dog.  He was very sheepish or depressed the rest of the day.  The husky was fine with no marks on him but Sly became more and more dog aggressive.  At that point, we were using a pinch collar on him. Since then he has mauled one of our cats and killed another. We called around and a trainer said to give one of the head halters that are supposed to be gentle to try with respect to his dog aggression.  She mentioned that the prong collar would actually punish him after meeting another dog, for which he would then associate the pain with the other dog.

We’re wondering what your recommendation might be as to whether Sly would be trainable that we would actually be able to call him off of an animal once he’s in “prey” drive.  The trainer indicated that the incidents that occurred would be isolated incidents and would not carry over to outside the home. – Anne (London, Ontario)

Dear Anne

Equipment aside, can a high prey drive dog be called off? Depends. Police dogs have high prey drive and they are called off all the time but of course they receive intense ongoing training as do their handlers. You’ve probably noticed there aren’t a lot of pit bulls on police departments. The intensity of their prey drive is a significant aspect of why. In some protection oriented dog sports, I’ve seen it done, but even if the dog has the potential to be called off the average dog owner hasn’t the time let alone the skill to get there. As far as future incidents not carrying over outside the home, the trainer is dreaming. That’s like saying a border collie won’t herd outside the home. It’s in some more then others but when it’s in them, it’s in them. That’s what they were bred to do and somebody better tell that trainer what pit bulls were bred to do. Given the opportunity, inside or outside the dog is going to kill another cat and in the right set of circumstances hurt or kill another dog.

The trainer also needs a lesson in Newton’s laws of motion as they apply to leverage. The success of the head halters are based more on marketing then true gentleness. Any collar fitting over the dog’s snout works because it twists the dog’s face in the opposite direction that it wants to go, resulting in pressure to cervical vertebrae and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. No question it gives control back to the dog owner. Any collar used to control a dog uses some element of pain or discomfort in order to discourage a behaviour or get its attention but try giving your head a “gentle” Rambo twist and see how it feels.

Considering the genetic emphasis on prey drive that your dog has and is tapping in to, I think you have far more dog then you can handle. You have to permanently get him in the hands of someone that knows what they’re doing as otherwise his days are numbered.

– John Wade the Dog Trainer 

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