Over the summer we had a young (18 months) very unsocialized border collie come into our family. She's wonderful in nearly every respect and we've worked hard on getting her over her fears and anxieties - she's making steady progress. She lived with a loving family; she just never got out of the house and yard until she came to us. She'd rarely worn a collar; her previous family forgot her collar and leash when they brought her to us - they didn't even know where they were anymore! To my knowledge she's never had a bad experience with a collar; I've certainly never yanked on it or used it as punishment.
Doggie goes for daily runs with me of several miles, has learned basic obedience and goes to class, and we make frequent outings to dog-friendly places. She has leash manners. But she's mildly dog-aggressive (fear/socialization related - she'll bark and growl with her tail tucked and body shaking) and is very shy around new people and things outside the home.
After an awful run this week, where she barked and growled and lunged at everything from the neighborhood fence-fighting dogs to blowing leaves, I stuck her in an easy-walk harness the next day for our run - I'd had it laying around from a previous dog. I was just hoping that it would make the run more tolerable.
She was like a different dog. She never once even touched the end of the leash - we ran four miles 100% on a loose lead. She didn't bark or growl, her tail was up and happy, she was calm and focused. Seriously, we ran right by a yard with three barking snarling rotties and she didn't even raise an eyebrow. I put it on her for obedience class last night and she was a star - in a room with six other dogs she was happy and interested and just super, not stressed or anxious at all. It's not a leash-manners thing - she's great on leash when she's not stressed. She's just miles more confident and happy in the harness than a collar.
So why? What is it about the harness that's caused all this? I'd like to work her in rally and agility at some point, so she will have to learn to go without the harness - how do I go about keeping the awesome dog that she is with the harness when it's off? I'm thrilled that we've found something that works so well for her right now and want to figure out what the next steps are.
She never once even touched the end of the leash - we ran four miles 100% on a loose lead.
possibly this- a tight leash can definitely trigger all kinds of "aggressive" behavior in dogs. Many a dog who is calm and relaxed off leash will act "aggressive" on a leash. Just this morning I watched someone take their calm offleash but way too interested in a passing biker dog and attach a leash and the dog immediately went into, as the owner described it, "Cujo mode" at the biker just because the leash was attached.
Sometimes it's because the dog feels trapped by the leash and feels the need to "scare away" whatever is there, sometimes it's because the dog knows he can't get to whatever it is so he acts aggressive (you'll see dogs who know they are safe behind a fence do this- act all nasty and aggressive until you open the gate, and then they are sweet and friendly), and who knows why else, but it's a commonly observed phenomenon. Tighten the leash and trigger your dog to lunge and snarl.
Easywalk harnesses work, in part, because they apply pressure at the front of the dog. If you apply pressure in the traditional place- behind the neck- you stimulate the "pull" reflex, so by simply changing where the leash attaches you don't trigger this reflex. No reflex to trigger, no "cujo" on the leash.
I'd take your observed experience and work hard on learning to control the dog without using a leash to drag the dog around so you never have a tight leash that might trigger aggressive behaviors. A young border collie should quickly learn sufficient verbal commands such that you won't need a tight leash to control the dog. You can take your dog to rally and other classes in an easy walk harness- once the dog is sufficiently trained to be working off lead you can try switching over to a collar and lead. Your dog will work off-lead in agility from the get-go but you'll observe many peopl e use easywalk harnesses to move to and from the startline.
Thanks, Wendy - that's interesting about the different trigger points. She does work well on-leash when she's not in a situation that makes her anxious - in relaxed situations she's got a solid heel and the leash is there "just in case." We're starting off-leash work, but it's not there in any kind of a stressful situation yet! It's just when she's in a spot that makes her anxious when she turns into crazy dog - I wonder if just knowing the collar was there was contributing to her anxiety. The leash could be loose and everything could be going swimmingly, but she knew that hitting the end of it in a trigger situation would hurt, and that made her more amped up and likely to react. In any case, I'm so happy to have found something that's working well for her right now.