Reactivity & Prong Collar Training
... And my experiences with both
Reactivity and Redirecting Training with a Prong Collar
Before introducing the prong, you’ll need to work on him being able to stay still long enough for you to secure, change tightness, and get the prong collar on him. I recommend using a loop lead for this portion, or placing the leash clip through the handle, and using that as a loop lead.
Tools required/recommended: clicker, treat bag, training treats or kibble, loop lead and regular collar
Step One: Sit and Stay
Sit and stay. Arguably the most basic of commands, but sometimes—the most difficult for a dog to master. For a hyperactive dog like yours, this is something that’s going to be very important for both of you to feel confident in before continuing. This training portion can take up to a week to complete, possibly more. Reminder: Going through this training portion to re-establish a positive connection with your dog, with you as Alpha is very important to build trust before doing ANY reactive work.
With the loop lead around the dog’s neck, the handle in your hand, and treat pouch secured on your waist—it’s time to start the “sit and stay” training. Start with the basic, ‘sit’ command. Once your dog can sit every time you give the command, then you can move on.
Positive Reinforcement. Every time the dog’s butt touches the ground, give an exciting “yes” and click the clicker at the same exact time. Eventually, your “yes” will take the place of the clicker. Make sure you treat & click at the exact moment your dog’s butt touches the ground.
If your dog is sitting every single time you give the command, and you both feel comfortable, it’s time to take a step forward. With the leash still in hand, give the sit command, say ‘stay’, and take a small step back. If your dog does not follow you for that step back, you click and “yes”, then treat. Do this as many times as you need to make the dog stay before beginning to go farther and farther back.
If you have now grown comfortable in this portion, you can take on the next step, which is—introducing the collar into the mix. Do NOT progress forward unless you and your dog have mastered the “sit and stay” portion.
Step Two: Introducing A Regular Collar
Introducing a regular collar. We’re not going to jump straight into putting the prong collar on, because it can look scary to some dogs, and we want it to ONLY be associated with positive things! We’re going to be using a regular collar for this portion.
Start out by putting your dog in the “sit and stay”, you guys should be pros at this by now! When your dog sits, hold out his collar. If he doesn’t react, he gets a click & yes, and a treat! Do this until your dog isn’t reacting to the collar anymore.
We’re moving a little closer to the dog now. Stand next to your dog, put him in the “sit and stay”, and begin touching his neck. If he stays, click, yes, and treat!
Introduce the collar now. “Sit and stay”, collar goes on, click, yes, and treat! Do this about a dozen times or more every day, so you and your dog can become absolutely 100 percent comfortable in putting on a collar without a problem!
Remember: Do not rush through any of these steps, it’s important that the building blocks of you and your dog’s relationship are in place in order to be able to deal with, and treat reactivity. Take a whole week on one step if you have to. It’s worth it in order to promote both you and your dog’s safety above all else.
Step Three: Introducing the Prong Collar
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the point of actually being able to touch the prong collar—but we’re not at the point of putting it on just yet. Let’s get your dog comfortable with the looks of it first.
Continue with regular collar training, and go as far as putting on the collar, stepping back, and then attaching a leash to add more work into it! If you can do this, please set the prong collar in the center of the floor.
Every time you can attach the collar AND leash without a problem from your dog, place the treat in the center of the prong collar, so your dog has to retrieve the treat from the prong. This will develop a treat-positive relationship with it!
Do this for a couple of days until your dog is at the point where every time he does something good, it’s associated with the prong.
Step Four: Putting the Prong Collar On
Now that your dog can successfully be in a “sit and stay”, have a collar put on, leash put on, and has a positive relationship with the prong collar, it’s time to actually put it on him.
Put your dog in the “sit and stay”, and put the prong collar on. Remember, the prong collar should sit directly behind the ears. If it’s too loose and immediately falls down, take the prong collar off, remove a prong, and reapply until it doesn’t slip.
If your dog will not let you put the prong collar on, do more things to associate the prong with positivity and treats! Continue to do this until your dog is entirely comfortable with a prong on his or her neck.
If your dog will let you, that’s where we stop for this step, as we have one more thing to do before actually going anywhere with our reactive dog.
Step Five: Let’s Talk About Redirecting
Redirecting your dog means to get their attention on something other than what they’re currently infatuated with. Whether this is offering a ball or a toy to get your dog to leave the cat alone, or getting your dog’s attention on you instead of something else exciting him—redirecting is an extremely important role for reactive dogs. My dogs are trained on the words “on me” to get their attention on me, and “leave it” to ignore something specific they’re showing interest in. If you need help learning how to teach that, please ask me, and I can absolutely clarify for you.
Here’s a very simple game to play with your dog. If you’ve been following these steps, chances are, your dog is going to be used to the sight of the treat pouch and what it means. It’s almost guaranteed his eyes will be on that, instead of on you! Here is where we change that. Do these next steps with the prong collar on! It can be loosened to just sit on the neck, but this will strengthen your dog’s connection with the idea that the prong collar means working, and working means treats.
If your dog looks at you, click, yes and treat. Every single time! Does he look at you? Click, yes and treat. You can simply have him there in a “sit and stay” and wait. Sometimes my dogs will take up to two minutes to look at me. I still just sit there and wait.
If he is too infatuated with the treats, and truly wants nothing to do with looking at you, make a small, quiet, noise. Just enough to get his attention to look at you. Click, yes and treat.
Keep doing this until your dog is always looking at you. This means you’re teaching him to be focused on you for a reward. This is extremely important.
Start working on other tricks, and reward him every time he looks at you for guidance. If you haven’t taught leave-it yet, now is the time to do that. Make sure that you associate “leave it” with looking at you. It should go as follows: Dog sees something, you say leave it, dog steps away or looks at you, you treat and reward both behaviors.
MINI-STEP: Start to walk your dog in your house with the prong, AND leash on. The dog should be comfortable with the prong in the correct position behind the ears and under the jaw with the leash on before going outside to test it out. Work on your “leave it” training INSIDE OF THE HOUSE before trying it out where there are the reactive triggers.
Step Six: Walking Outside On The Prong
I want to say I’m proud of you for getting this far. This requires dedication and time. If you’ve followed all of the steps to a T, you’re probably a month or two deep in training at this point before you ever leave the house. I can guarantee you feel more comfortable and confident around your dog, and I bet you he feels the same way. It was worth it to spend all of that time building a positive and trust-filled relationship, I promise. This step will go so much smoother for you, and for him because of it.
Okay. You’re outside, you’re walking, and BAM—there’s a dog that starts barking inside of its fence. BEFORE your dog even has time to lunge, to bark, or whatever, you NEED to focus on the signs you know he exhibits right beforehand. It is important that you stop the behavior before it starts.
You give a couple of small tugs on the leash to remind him that you’re still there, and give a firm “leave it!” If he does, click and treat. If he looks at you—freak out with love. He is SUCH A GOOD BOY! HE IS THE BEST BOY YOU’VE EVER KNOWN! Congratulations, this means you’ve successfully trained in the “leave-it” with eye contact.
Someone rides by on a bicycle. You stop the behaviors before they start, and you stay consistent. Even if your dog barks or lunges, you correct them, and reward any and all good behavior, no matter how small it is.
REMINDER: If your dog is barking, lunging, being triggered by something, etc. please do not pet him. This does NOTHING other than showing your dog, and training your dog, that that behavior is okay, and it gets you nothing other than positive reinforcement.
If your dog is now walking on a leash and is doing okay with being non-reactive, continue working! There’s always room for improvement. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to go for the walk without any redirecting!
If your dog still needs work on the “leave it” step, KEEP WORKING ON THAT! You’re not going to be perfect on the first day, no one is—and your dog shouldn’t be expected to be. Keep putting the work into them, because they’re worth it, and good job for reaching out and asking for help.
Jumping behaviors are entirely different to work on, and do not belong here. If you would like for me to give advice regarding jumping I can absolutely do that for you to the best of my ability.
I am in no way a canine behavioralist, nor have I had any formal dog training certification. If you choose to follow my advice, you agree to do so at your own risk, your dog's risk, and the risk of those around you. If your dog is overly aggressive, attacking things, etc. I recommend using a professional trainer, as some things are beyond our control. If these problems get worse, and do not get better after going through all of the steps above, I recommend using a professional trainer.
Prong collars receive a bad reputation for being painful, forceful, and cruel, because people do not know how to use them properly. Make sure you’re using the proper fitting for your prong collar, and make sure to remove/add prongs as needed to make a comfortable fit on your dog's neck.
If your collar is slipping back on your dog's neck during usage, but is already tight to get on and off, there are things you can do to prevent that from happening.
One of them is to make your dog walk at your side as they should be during a walk, and if you’re not working towards that—make sure to do so! Tilt the leash upwards instead of straight back, so if the prong tightens, it’s tightening upwards instead of backwards, which is what causes it to slip down the neck into position #2 which is shown on the picture.