How do we get a leash on this dog?
April 10, 2014 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Our adorbs rescue puppy is eating out of our hands, playing fetch and generally charming our socks off. But we cannot cannot cannot get a collar on him. Or a leash.

Yup, this dog:

We can pet him just fine, loads of eye contact. He's so happy out of his crate that it's getting hard to get him into the crate when we do need to leave him (would love tips on that, too. He just won't go in any more.)

We started marker training a few days ago (just "yes," no clickers) and he knows "touch" well (and he knows what "come" means even if he won't do it). He was crazy spooked by the brush, but I worked him up to it with a lot of intermittent rewards and we can more or less brush him now. He eventually runs away, but he doesn't freak and leap back at the sight of the brush.

The only thing is that when we try to put anything around/near his neck he freaks and gets really angry. Angry enough that we back off. I think there are a few reasons for this: one, he was feral before his capture at 2-3 months old, and he was probably captured with a catch pole. And two, at the advice of the shelter we were lassoing him to get him on a leash and he'd react to that and the lasso would tighten and so we were just making it worse. So what I described on March 30 as success was probably the opposite. He just started getting smarter about avoiding us when we got the leash out and more aggressive about snapping at us when we got close with it.

We stopped and called some trainers who said, yes, stop that. So here we are. We live in an urban apartment. Dude needs a walk. He needs to go to the park. He mostly hits his wee wee pads but he doesn't get enough exercise playing fetch in the apartment. We've talked to two trainers. One said to give him time. The other suggested taking him back to the rescue and letting them do the traumatic collaring and then taking him home and working on snapping a leash to the collar and getting closer to actual leash training.

We both dangle leashes all the time. There's a collar lying in my lap whenever I feed him. I've tried playing games where I reward him for sniffing it or letting me touch him with it but I can't touch more than his snout with the leash or he runs away and won't come back.

I played one game of touch today (with chicken, which is irresistible) where I draped the leash over one arm such that he had to stick his head progressively deeper through the draped leash to touch me and get the reward. That was pretty good -- he would not have stuck his head through for lesser treats.

He has a little plastic id collar on from the shelter that first caught him so we could theoretically hook a leash on that just to practice walking in the apartment and down the hallway. We've been doing more scratching around that collar and fingering it when we pet him, which he seems okay with. (A week ago you couldn't touch his collar at all). But I'm wondering if the MeFi hive mind has other suggestions for training games we can play to work him up to getting a collar on.
posted by amandabee to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried a harness instead?

Possibly try sitting on the floor with your back to him and let him approach you, pet him, get him good and relaxed, then try the collar.

But really, I'd try a harness he can step into that you can lay on the floor, have him step into it, snap it at his back. Coastal makes this type of harness.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:47 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think what you are doing is pretty great and will eventually (with lots of patience) pay off, however, I wonder if a harness wouldn't be a better choice in this case? At least it does not go directly around his neck. If I were to go that route I would start by taking it out of the shopping bag while in the same room as the dog but not while making any direct contact with the dog. Have the other person give him a sudden burst of treats when you take it out. Then just leave it on the floor in a corner. Whenever he goes near it/sniffs it/etc, reward him with voice/click/treat.

I would do that for at least several days. Then I would sit on the couch holding the harness. Whenever he voluntarily comes near you while sitting and holding it, reward. If he sniffs it while you're holding it, reward. If he lets you pet him while you're holding it, HUGE REWARD. If you can touch him in the areas (chest, behind front legs) that it would go, while holding it, and he takes it, EVEN BIGGER REWARD.

And so on until you get it on.
posted by sickinthehead at 3:49 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about a harness? Would he step into something and then allow you to fasten it around his body? Can you throw some other type of thing over his head without trauma?

I used to just keep my dog's leash attached to his EZ Walk harness all the time.

I'm sure he'll need a collar eventually for tagging purposes, but in the meantime, just to get him out of the house, could some kind of harness possibly work?
posted by Sara C. at 3:58 PM on April 10, 2014

Here's a really comfortable harness that will work great with a leash. sickinthehead has it totally nailed about how to get it to be totally wonderful to put it on. Bag the collar thing entirely for now -- it is loaded with negative associations. When your dog has a firmer, stronger bond with you, meaning lots and lots of trust, come back to it very slowly with tons of positive associations.
posted by bearwife at 4:07 PM on April 10, 2014

Nth-ing harness. There are a lot of different styles--just buy one of each from a pet store, see which one is easiest for you and him, and return the rest (I know PetSmart is really cool about these kinds of returns). I like this style because you don't have to maneuver the dog's legs--you just snap around the waist and around the chest and go.
posted by Swiss Meringue Buttercream at 4:10 PM on April 10, 2014

Also, FYI, I was hunting on Petsmart and couldn't find the harness I use, but I did locate it on Amazon. Works great for my Aussie, who is about 40 lb.

In terms of actually walking on leash, keep your awesome chicken treats at hand and reward all walking at your side.
posted by bearwife at 4:35 PM on April 10, 2014

it's getting hard to get him into the crate when we do need to leave him (would love tips on that, too. He just won't go in any more.)

Put him in the crate at least once a day, randomly, when you're home with him. Ideally do it when you'll be working or relaxing in the same room. Basically his crate needs to become his "safe" space, and if he only goes in when you're leaving, it becomes his "you're leaving" space.
posted by davejay at 5:04 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

A step in harness that doesn't go over the head would be the way to go. If you want to go the collar route I'd suggest a martingale collar that you can slip over the head while safely keeping your hands out of the way and that won't tighten too much and scare the dog. I'd also suggest lots of yummy high value treats whenever you harness or collar the dog, also putting the collar or harness on for no reason around the house, treat the dog and take it off. Keep doing that so the dog learns that nothing bad happens and a treat appears and you have a good chance of getting him over his fears.

With the crate treat it the same way as the collar, randomly put him in with a nice high value treat while you are home. When you are going out put him in with a super duper fancy high value treat he only gets when he is in the crate and you are going out say a Kong filled with peanut butter. I don't crate but my MIL does and her dog will actually run into his crate and wait if she so much as reaches for her handbag because he so badly wants a PB Kong.
posted by wwax at 5:17 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've used a few different types of harnesses, and I think the Easy Walk type is the easiest to put on. With a step-in type harness it can be tough with an antsy or nervous dog to get both legs into the leg openings at the same time, and with the mesh-type comfort harnesses like the one bearwife linked to you still have to get their head through a head hole and with a dog that doesn't like you to be messing around with stuff around his head, that could prove to be tricky.

In addition to the harness idea, my other suggestion would be to get him accustomed to being handled around the head (which on re-read I see you're working on), including being touched around the head and neck with objects, as a transition to actually getting a collar around his neck. Use lots of different things so he's always guessing what's going on rather than going into immediate "oh there's that bad thing again" defense mode. Start by just touching him around the neck with his favorite toys while you're playing. Play with an old sock and then make contact around his neck with it. Cinch up a belt and toss it around his neck and then do nothing and just let him shake it off. Toss it back on. Let him shake it off again. Look, it's a game! The point is to get him to associate feeling things around his neck with fun and games, not restraint, and to use a variety of objects that he hasn't yet associated with a fear reaction so that you can get him to experience those sensations without fear.
posted by drlith at 6:53 PM on April 10, 2014

I, too, came to suggest a step-in harness. You wouldn't have to put anything near his head or neck. You could lay the harness on the ground, get him to stand over it, and then lift and snap in behind his back.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:27 PM on April 10, 2014

On the crate front, are you feeding him in the crate? Giving him treats in his crate? If not, start doing that. You can approach crate training the way you do any other behavior training - treat every single time for a while so he gets the connection between treat and crate. You can also add a word to it (we say "ken-nel" in a high-pitched voice). My dog runs to his crate when we get back from a walk because he knows that it's food/snacky time.
posted by radioamy at 9:00 PM on April 10, 2014

You sound like you're doing really really great with him! The training game with the leash + chicken is awesome, keep that up, play the game for a couple of brief sessions every day, and I think you'll start seeing results.

Harness = yes. A video on how to train a dog to love his harness.

Some points:
1) You say "he would not have stuck his head through for lesser treats"- sounds like you kinda want him to start to accept "lesser treats"? Keep with the chicken! Real meat is very reinforcing and something your dog obviously will do a lot for, which is great. What you're essentially doing is counter-conditioning him not to fear the collar, so using something he really likes is a good idea.

2) Please don't take him back to the shelter for them to wrestle him into a collar! That's just going to reinforce his trauma around collars and make it harder for you to train him to like them. (I think you know that their suggestion is a bad idea- "traumatic" is right).

3) It's an awesome sign that he lets you mess with his neck and head! Keep reinforcing him for that!

4) There's plenty of resources on crate training your dog out there- try the video channel I linked you to, for example.

5) I have to say, the picture I get from your questions about this dog is that you're expecting a lot to happen very quickly. Have patience and play training games with him every single day. One session is not going to transform a fearful dog into one who can handle what you want him to. His aggression is out of fear, which indicates you might be asking too much from him too soon. Scale back your expectations, and make the games and situations you put him in easier for him, so he can succeed and learn things BEFORE he gets scared and reacts aggressively.
posted by mymbleth at 12:33 AM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think I would try this... get some 'training treats' (usually small, M&M size or so, high interest treats used for training activities) and a "loop lead" leash (very easy to slip on and off). I would have one person open the loop very wide, have the other person hold a handful of training treats on the other side, and let the pup put his head through the loop to get the treats...then slide the loop tight....

I would let the leash just hang at that point, let the pup walk around dragging it for a while before I tried to walk him with it...
posted by HuronBob at 3:31 AM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Patience + Harness. Patience + Harness. Patience + Harness. I do hear you all.

And he's now willing to stick his head pretty far through a collar to get plain old kibble. Used to be he'd only do that for chicken. Step by step.
posted by amandabee at 12:24 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're playing along at home, as of last week ( took two months) we started taking him out for regular walks. The next challenge is to get him to migrate his business from Wee Wee Pads to the curb.

We never did get a harness on reliably. We pinned him down once and he bit (hard) and pooped everywhere and then chewed off the leash and managed to wiggle his way out after a few days. That was stressful and un-fun.

What did work? I had someone over who also trained an older dog from the same colony. She brought her dogs (which helped him relax) and coached me through getting the lead on him. Saying "no" like I mean it when he growled and not being afraid of getting nicked. We still haven't reached the point where we could snap on a harness or a regular collar, but he is getting regular walks which makes everything else so much easier.


Impatience + Slip Lead + Confidence is what finally did it.
posted by amandabee at 11:07 AM on May 22, 2014

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