Day 9 Bonus Episode: How to Get a Leash on an Unfamiliar Dog

Somewhere between sessions 10 and 15 of the Brindle Girl series, I asked students on the FDSA alumni list whether they’d rather see me continue working my slow CC/DS protocol with this collar, or demonstrate how I would put a slip lead on her in a way that keeps stress low, and gets things done. Everyone voted for the collar – so that’s what I’ve been doing with Brindle Girl. But you’re in luck, because Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog – he makes an appearance in Brindle Girl’s session #42 (Brindle Girl Series video #43) – has been hanging around the house as well. Since he’s been in my way, I decided to put a lead on him so I could tether him when taking out Game. This video is me putting a limited slip lead on him for the first time. The very few previous interactions we’ve had consisted of me using a broom to tell him to get off my porch. Here’s what’s happening in this video:

  • I sit on the windowsill and assess: what’s he like; what does he think about me being up close? He responds by wagging, and he doesn’t get up. Good.
  • I don’t move my leash hand fast to avoid triggering a startle/fear/bite response, but I do move swiftly, just sliding the slip lead over his head, tightening it – and voilà, it’s a dog on a leash! No big deal; he hardly noticed.
  • Notice that I approached him with the leash from the side of his head rather than from above.
  • Remember early on in the Brindle Girl series, when I noted that the very fact that I have been making a BIG deal about the collar may have sensitized her to it? This is certainly not happening with Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog. There’s no time for him to get sensitized; he barely even notices the leash before it’s on. THIS is what I would do in a realistic scenario (for whatever reason, a collar/leash needs to go on a dog who is new to me).
  • I would have used a different strategy if his initial reaction (when I sit down on the windowsill and ask him how he’s doing) wasn’t a wag. If he stiffened or growled at me, I would not move my hand this close to his head – I don’t want to get bitten.
  • Would Brindle Girl have responded just like this if I tried this with her rather than using the slow CC/DS approach with the collar? She’d probably not be as relaxed as Dude Who Wants To Knock Up My Dog. Brindle Girl is a more timid dog. I’d have gotten the leash on her equally quickly, but she may not have stayed quite as relaxed. Still – just comparing this to the CC/DS approach with low value food: the difference is striking.

Comparing the two approaches shows how sometimes, the pragmatic approach will get you further much faster, and that it doesn’t necessarily imply behavioral fallout.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 9 (Session #42)

Session #42

  • I get a wag hello, and Brindle girl licks my fingers to start us out!
  • I make things easier for her to prevent her from moving away from the collar: approach with the collar – no touch – retreat my hand – cookie.
  • We’ve got an audience today: look at the top of the stairs in the background. It’s Dude Dude Who Wants to Knock Up My Dog!
  • I conclude that I’ll have to rethink my strategy before the next session. Our progress seems to have stagnated – it’s time to change something up! Stay tuned!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 8 (Sessions 39-41)

Session #39

  • Approach with the collar from above – making things easier than yesterday to not cause her to back up.
  • Rainy season thoughts!

Session #40

  • More collar approaches from above.
  • I talk about wanting to avoid negatively reinforcing the behavior of backing up.
  • Thoughts on classical and operant conditioning always going hand in hand. (I meant to say light can be seen as particles or waves, not particles or rays – oops!)

Session #41

  • Review of my reasons for using a low value treat (kibble).
  • A reminder that my work with this dog is all about the journey – I would not take this approach with a client’s dog, where the goal (putting on a collar) was actually important.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 6 (Sessions 33-35)

Session #33

First session of brindle girl’s third training week (May 3rd, 2021).

Review: touch without collar – bracelet/collar – holding collar like an object.

Session #34

Holding the collar like an object (rather than a bracelet) is obviously more difficult for her!

Session #35

  • I start easy now that I’m holding the collar like an object: not approaching her all the way.
  • I end up with a nice start-button set-up, and while she isn’t yet comfortable with the collar up close, she gives me several quick start-button looks in a row.
  • Thoughts about patience, and Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 5 (Sessions 28-32)

Session #28

Belly rubs, and thoughts on habituation.

Session #29

  • I lower criteria when reaching for her with the collar-bracelet.
  • This session shows a good set up of treat placement versus direction of her start button look.

Session #30

Back to actually touching her with the collar (still wearing it like a bracelet/glove).

Session #31

Brindle girl and I continue discussing how it feels to be touched by my hand versus the collar (hand: okay, collar: weird), and she shows an interest in my treat hand.

Session #32

+ She starts out lying down in a relaxed position, and I start by just touching her with just a hand before adding the collar back into the picture.
+ Her growing confidence shows in an attempt to mug my treat hand!
+ For the last reps of this week, I transition from wearing the collar like a glove back to holding it in my hand. This is harder than wearing it glove-style – but we’ve made progress!
+ We manage a clear start-button set up (look to her right to request that the collar approach; feed to her left) for parts of this session.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 4 (Sessions 21-27)

Brindle girl’s Thursday sessions!

Session #21

I need to lower criteria a little, and not move the collar quite as close to her face as I did in the last rep of Wednesday’s final session.

I also decide to make a change to her start button behavior.

Session #22

I try to change the start button from glancing up into my face to looking in my general direction.

Session #23

Since putting the collar on her will require a combination of accepting the collar near her neck and accepting my touch, I mix things up and have a session of just touching her neck/head/shoulder/ears.

This session is a good illustration of the classical association that has been created: anytime I touch her, she expects food.

Session #24

I try a new approach: wearing the collar like a bracelet or glove. This works really well!

Session #25

Working up to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater as a precursor to being touched by the collar.

Session #26

I go back to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater …

Session #27

I work up to touching her with the collar worn like a bracelet/glove.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 3 (Sessions 13-20)

Today’s first session (session #13) goes into what I would do if I *had to* put a collar/leash on her right now (option 2). Then, you’ll see me continue along option 1: counterconditioning her to the collar, assuming that I have an infinite amount of time to reach my goal. I also talk about why in a real life scenario, we might NOT want to choose option #1 after the collar response we observed in last week’s sessions.

Session #13

Session #14: a single-rep session. When working with a learner who is not particularly interested in your reinforcer and free to leave, some sessions may only have a single rep.

Session #15: continued counterconditioning, and I talk about appeasement signals

Session #16: more appeasement signal musings

Session #17

Session #18

Session #19

Session #20 – the last one for Wednesday, and a lovely one to end the day with!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 2 (Sessions 5-12)

Session #5

Session #6: approach – touch chin – feed – retreat.

Session #7: continue with approach – touch – treat – retreat. Things go really well.

Session #8: Touching head, neck, and shoulder with one hand. Short session.

Session #9: Process isn’t always linear when we work with emotions. I mention the importance of respecting the trust established by the start button behavior.

Session #10

  • Petting her is going well. I proceed to touch her with both hands in preparation for putting the collar on her.
  • Her increased comfort level shows: she lies down during the session.
  • Thoughts on choosing an angle of approach that ensures she doesn’t end up being cornered.
  • Last rep of this session shows the first time I touch her with the collar!

Session #11

I start out by moving the collar towards her neck. Her body language shows she isn’t happy with this: my hands were easier to accept than the collar!

Session #12

+ The element of satiation (more session in a day – the dog is less hungry).
+ Reasons I use low value food (kibble).
+ Her discomfort with the collar near her body becomes more pronounced.
+ I recognize that accepting the collar near her head is harder than I expected – this is not going to happen on the timeline I predicted.


The original hypothetical goal was getting a collar on her within a relatively short time. Realistically – if I really had to reach this goal to take her to the vet – I would not spend more than 10-15 sessions of a few minutes each on this. I have not reached the goal!

After reviewing the video above, I asked the FDSA alumni group to let me know which of the options below they’d like to see:

Option #1: I’ll change the hypothetical objective, and show you how I would continue counterconditioning her to this collar, and eventually put it on her. New timeline: we have all the time in the world. I’ll make things easier – not move it all the way towards her – and then slowly continue from there. You’ll see lots of boring sessions: slow and steady for the win! The kind of trainer I am today would probably not continue along this route in a real-world scenario – but this is not a real world scenario, so anything goes!

Option #2: We continue the same hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar/leash on this dog to take her to the vet; I’ve tried counterconditioning her to the collar, but counterconditioning hasn’t worked in time. I still need to take her to the vet – so I will be pragmatic, and put a leash on her anyways. I’ll show you how I’d do this in a way that keeps her stress low while still getting things done.

Option #1 was a clear winner, with requests to explain how I would work on option #2. Stay tuned for day 3!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 1 (Introduction and Sessions 1-4)

A free roaming dog has been coming by my AirBnB – just hanging around, sleeping on the porch, enjoying the view and the company. Well: if you’re an animal and you show up within the perimeters of a space I am renting, I can’t help but try and engage with you!

Since life has been socially distant, I wanted an audience! So I asked the FDSA alumni group for ideas: what would people like to see me demonstrate with my unsuspecting volunteer?

The FDSA students asked me to show how I would work up to touching the dog, and I made up a hypothetical scenario to go with this goal: putting a collar on her so she can be taken to the vet. In this hypothetical scenario, the vet visit isn’t urgent (if it were, I’d put a slip leash on her and just take her). However, I want to accomplish the hypothetical goal within a day or so, spending no more than 10-15 short sessions on slowly getting her used to my touch and the collar.

The following videos show the progression of this project.

Intro video:

You get to meet our free-roaming friend, and Game has a lot to say about our new project!

Session #1 of working up to touching a cautious dog. (Hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar on her, but it’s not an emergency – so I can take my time working up to it. I estimate reaching my goal within several session (within a few hours/a day if I lived with this dog, and had access to her anytime I wanted to work on this).

Session #2

Session #3

Session #4 of working up to touching a cautious dog. I really like the last rep in this video, where I’m putting my hand under her chin, and she shows no avoidance.