By mid-July 2014, ‘Pumpkin’ the pitbull has had enough sessions and practice to learn how to ignore other dogs and follow commands from the ‘handler’. I stress the word since a dog with a professional dog trainer responds differently that with an amateur trainer. An owner of a dog who follows instructions and who has basic dog training skills is well ahead of owners who simply have a dog that is untrained or conditioned to do unwanted behaviors. With no skills, an owner who has a trainer rehab an aggressive dog has the task of learning how to maintain control over the dog. Put another way, a person who learns basic dog training concepts and skills (5 basic commands) has enough to take over from a trainer with some ongoing help.
To make use of an ‘e-collar’ clear, here are the basics. Correct use of an electronic collar is not to shock a dog as punishment for an unwanted behavior. Once I understood that a dog has no morals (it is a lower animal), it became clear that right and wrong have no meaning to a dog. So punishment or anger toward a dog is wasted effort by a person. An e-collar is correctly used to supplement and eventually replace a physical leash or 20 foot long line attached to a collar. The ‘tug’ of a leash/line is used to get the dog moving toward a response that is wanted. Example: Tug the leash, say nothing, and when the dog approaches, reward him with a treat. As he repeats it and nears 70-90% response, add the word ‘here’. And soon the dog no longer needs the tug and the word alone is enough. But at longer distances and with more distractions, a method of instant ‘tug’ is needed and if it is adjustable from barely felt to more strongly felt, the dog can then become reliable at a distance to the ‘here’ command. Only a slight tingle is needed (called ‘working level’) that feels like a very light tug of a leash/line. With more distractions and/or distance, a slightly higher stimulation level is sometimes needed.
Once Pumpkin was conditioned to the low stimulation of an e-collar, he began to strengthen his responses (speed and reliability) to commands. The e-collar replaced a physical leash/collar for certain behaviors, especially ‘leave’ and ‘here’. Some use ‘off’ versus ‘leave it’ but the dog is to ignore the animal or object it is involved with. It may be a stick, squirrel, dog, dropped piece of candy, etc. The e-collar uses ‘pressure/release’ sensation just as a physical collar to show the dog that he can ‘turn off the pressure’ when he complies. If he falters, pressure is applied and released as soon as he begins to comply. The more readily the dog follows commands, the more freedom he has to have fun and excitement. Most people miss that. A dog’s only freedom is that provided by a caretaker person. A dog alone will soon die of injury or lack of water/food or die in a shelter if unclaimed by an owner.
At this point, Pumpkin is ready to pair an e-collar with a prong collar/leash. He already knows what to expect on a prong collar and has no fear of it; it offers the security that a handler will keep him safe. A dog on a leash reassures other people and follows the laws for most towns. And if the dog understands that a prong collar and leash are how the handler will communicate as well as with an e-collar, the dog has 2 methods to get information along with verbal commands. They supplement one another and they do not confuse the dog. A long line has the e-collar ‘layered over’ it to teach a dog that either one is to be respected and followed. And most trainers of troubled dogs or service/protection dogs use a prong collar and long line or regular leash.
Pumpkin is nearing the last part of his rehabilitation and will become another dog that ‘gets along with’ other dogs through rebuilding his confidence in a handler and learning to control his own impulses to attack other animals. Remember that a dog learns by conditioning and not by cognition. His learning is visceral and not intellectual or reasoned. A dog has a rather black and white world of choices. So if we can shape them to avoid danger to the dog and other animals, then he get more freedom to become even more confident and relaxed.
On July 14, Pumpkin was on his prong collar and leash with the trainer as his handler. I was the handler of a fairly well-trained Akita/GSD mix that is unneutered and young. It was a strange dog, intact, and young that Pumpkin saw just a few feet away. Pumpkin made an attempt to attack the other dog and the trainer corrected Pumpkin with the prong collar. I had asked earlier whether the e-collar would be used. The method used is to correct unwanted behavior, and the e-collar is to reinforce known commands. A dog in the ‘red zone’ is not listening well and is in full aggression drive. A physical restraint along with a correction command is needed to provide safety to the dogs and people. A stimulation from an e-collar sends some dogs further into aggression drive, and so is avoided.
On July 18, another session will be done to take Pumpkin further toward making the correct choice (‘leave the other animal alone’). After his one correction, Pumpkin did not attempt to attack again. He is a 55 lb pitbull male from a line of fighting dogs (not like Cesar Millan’s ‘Daddy’, of a softer tempered line). So his speed and strength is not like a Labrador or Jack Russell and his handling requires a skilled person to ‘read’ him.
On July 22, Pumpkin was on his prong collar near to a large bulldog/mastiff hybrid male once owned by a Mexican drug cartel. The dog was rehabilitated, but is a dog that will ‘punk’ a person who is not an experienced handler. He is not aggressive toward other dogs, but needs a consistent and fair leader. He is ‘pushy’ toward people.
Pumpkin ignored ‘Mister Biggs’ (weighs about 90 pounds and is a ‘band dog’) in close quarters outdoors. No reaction, no attempts at lunging, etc. is good news. A step by step improvement while maintaining a momemntum of progress is needed. Pumpkin works on obedience commands and retrieving (his desire to chase and grab is strong and now has a suitable outlet) at my home or at a school yard while off leash and with his e-collar in use.
Next step is to ignore and just ‘be with’ another male dog in a large, cool garage while Pumpkin is muzzled and off leash. The trainer and I will be watching every move and the use of a dressage whip is to provide a space ahead of pumpkin that the other dog may not violate. The person who has a dog-aggressive dog rehabs the dog partly through advocating for the troubled dog. A pack leader protects the troubled dog and ensures he is given only what he can handle. An aggressive dog is not put with other dogs to ‘work it out’. Every dog fight is dangerous for dogs and people and a dog is incapable of thinking or reasoning. They have to be taught by conditioning, step by step. Pumpkin’s steps are going well.