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We have a very sweet 6 month old shepherd rescue. He was part of an urban feral pack until he was captured, and he spent ~2 mos in the shelter office, getting adjusted to people before we got him one month ago.

He's come a long, long way in the month we've had him. He eats out of our hands and plays "touch" and fetch and doesn't get into things that aren't his to get into (except when he really, really wants attention -- then he'll come steal a piece of paper from me or grab a sock off the drying rack). He is super playful in the morning. We're working on bite inhibition, but he definitely wants to play with us.

However, he really does not want a leash or collar on. Or a harness. He wants nothing buckled around him. We've done enough positive reenforcement games that he comes running over (for a treat) when we get the collars out (we have a bunch, for no good reason) or buckle/unbuckle them. He takes all his meals from a hand stuck through a collar, but I cannot, cannot, cannot snap anything around his neck. If I get close he lashes out and if I persist he gets more hostile.

I've played some games -- if I can touch him with the balled up collar, he gets a treat. If he sticks his head partway through, treat. We do a lot of petting and scratching around the collar area, which he doesn't love, but doesn't fight.

I got a collar on him once, by making him stick his head farther and farther through it for yummy chicken, but I haven't been able to repeat that. He has a little plastic tag-collar thing that we've snapped a leash onto, but the times we've done that (twice) it was hours before we could get close enough to get it back off.

We have a harness, but that has two buckles and isn't any easier to get on him. He's really, really, really wary of any restraint.

Any ideas for more structured ways to acclimate him to having a collar, and eventually a leash put on? He loves other dogs but we can't take him to see other dogs if we can't leave the house!

Update: I'm keeping my selected answer, but we finally got a sliplead which works well. He snarls when we put it on, so it take some confidence -- I wear a makeshift bite glove to help me feel like I can do it. Getting the lead off is tricky, but doable. He's actually just fine once the lead is on. He walks at my side and says hello to other dogs and doesn't give me any trouble. It is just the on and off that are high drama. Still: now that I have a technique, he goes out 2-3 times a day and he's starting to be more relaxed about the process.

** Another Update:** It's been six weeks since we started taking him out on walks regularly and the snarling is over. I did a lot of feeling around on his neck everytime I put it on or took it off, and he's adjusted to the idea that the leash is his key to adventure. He still bows his head and tries to evade the leash but he'll let me put it on and take it off without fussing.

  • I'm just wondering how it's going with your dog and the collar situation. I have a 12 week old puppy who just had his final vaccinations,but i cannot take him out side yet as I'm having the same problem you are! It is so very frustrating and I'm not sure what to do... Thanks so much – user3548 Jan 31 '15 at 20:06
  • We still use the sliplead when we take him to off leash hours just because it is so much easier to put on him even if he's not interested in going home. If you want to post a new Q about leash training a 12 wk old, I can say more. – Amanda Feb 1 '15 at 14:15
  • @RachelVanLuven We initially had the vet put a collar on while he was muzzled, just so he'd have his tags. And for weeks we did a lot of heavy treating when we took leashes on and off. I'm talking fresh liver. Get a hunk cook it all, cut it into treat sized bits. Slip lead on: liver! Slip lead off: liver! The slip lead means you don't have to get into his face so close, which is also nice. – Amanda Feb 1 '15 at 14:19
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I know this is probably too late as you've probably fixed it or given up by now, but I just wanted to add my 2 cents. I've trained horses and it's given me a different perspective. I see a lot of people who, for lack of a better term, force something onto a dog, because they can do it and out fight the dog. You can't out fight a horse, so it takes different techniques that I believe will work with a dog like this.

One thing used heavily with horses is approach and retreat. This is a technique where you take something scary for the horse, like wearing a halter for the first time and approach it in baby steps. You get to where you can pet the horse with the halter in hand, then rub the horse with it, then put the string around their neck, then scoop their nose, and finally tie it. However, you don't do these things in one go. You may rub the horse with the halter and then walk away 20 times. It may take a couple of days if you're taking your time before you move onto the next step. You also don't focus too intently on just that. You rub them with the halter, then pick up their feet, then toss a rope around, then rub them with the halter again. It's short light sessions that leave them with a positive impression of the halter. You can do the same thing with the dog.

Try to pet him with the collar, the play with a toy. Use a clicker to teach him to fetch the collar and lead like a toy. Sit in your chair while he's in the room, watch tv, and click the buckle a lot. It's a slow desensitization process. Once the collar is on, let him drag the lead around all day. You do this with older stronger horses. He's not fighting you, he's fighting the leash. He'll step on it, get it wrapped around table legs, etc... Just keep an eye on him and don't interfere unless you need to untangle it.

Once he's okay with it being on and you want to teach him to lead, don't ask him to come to you, stand off to the side and put slight pressure on the lead. When he come off the pressure, give him a treat. For horses, the treat is the release of pressure. The dog will come to associate the pull of the leash with good things. Just remember you're only looking for a step at first, or even a shifting of the weight. You pull to the side, because they can brace forward and backward.

I figure it's too late, but I hope this helps you or someone else improve on their relationship with their dog.

PS- I meant to add that I don't think a harness is a good idea, except as a backup if you think the dog will slip the lead. Harness' were designed for tracking dogs to be able to follow a scent without having the collar pull their neck up away from it. People have been going to these as well as the extendable leashes in recent years, but it gives them a solid surface to pull against, like a sled dog, and encourages bad behavior. The same with the extendable leash. You have less control and your dog can get into a lot of mischief.

  • This is more or less what we did. Slowly got him used to the idea of it. He still loathes the harness, but we can put a leash on and take it off just fine, and so can our eight year old. – Amanda Feb 9 '15 at 1:21
  • @Amanda That's great. I'm glad you figured out a way that works for you. – Dalton Feb 10 '15 at 21:20
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It sounds like you are on the right path. All the positive reinforcement will help him learn to learn and trust you as well. Don't give up... you will get there.

If it feels like you have hit a wall it's probably one of two things. ..or a combination. Either he has figured out the "game" or you went to fast at some point. Either way it will help if you change the game a bit so that you are helping him generalize it. In other words you can show him more and more things that are OK so eventually he will learn that just about anything you do to him is ok.

So some things to try... put a piece of fabric on his back, around his leg, touch his tail with it. Change it so it is a sock that you are using or a shirt. Can you get to the point where you can put it over his foot? What about getting him to stick his nose in it (this may also help anyone working on muzzle training too). Can you get him to walk under a sheet that is draped between two chairs? What if it is on the ground and you hold it up...can you get him to push through it with it touching his back? Every time you work on it try to change it just a little and keep your sessions super short... like some of them should be 5 seconds... you want to end with him wanting more not you pushing to get one last good try. If you get any good progress forward stop and take even a short 5 minute break before you come back to it. Your dog will come back to training with more enthusiasm and willingness.

All of those things will help him understand that every thing you ask him to do will be ok. It will also take his focus away frrim trying to keep you from putting a restraint on him. This will also keep him guessing... he wont be able yo predict what your goal is. Reward the smallest progress and remember to reward anytime he is really trying for you even if he doesn't guess right. The reward doesn't always have to be food it can be playing with a toy or just getting some love.

Only try to actually put the collar on him when he is tired. Exercise him as much as you can. Give him a bunch of brain work then let him start to settle down. Once he is calm then you can try a little to get it on him. Once it is on leave it on for as long as you can. Let him sleep in it.

Most of all have patience and don't give up. Our dogs are often much more strong willed than we are so it works better if you can convince him it is his idea that the collar is the best thing ever.

  • +1 for exhaustion -- the times we have actually gotten it on were after our friends brought their Super Rambunctious Puppy for a visit. We do exercise him but we're nothing compared to another puppy. (Of course, if he would wear a leash, he could meet so many other puppies...) – Amanda Apr 22 '14 at 11:50
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    There is nothing quite like a puppy to wear out another puppy. But if you have never owned a herding breed it will do you some good to really try to find a way to exercise body and mind for around an hour each day. Every dog is different but herding breeds are made to work for hours solving complicated problems so it is pretty likely that he'll need at least that much. It will be worth it to you too;it is amazing how much brain work wears them out. It doesn't have to be related to herding, any kind of training will do so find something you like and that is easy for you to do on a regular basis – Beth Whitezel Apr 22 '14 at 13:08
  • Accepting the answer because it seems about right, not because he's got a collar on yet. still working – Amanda May 4 '14 at 22:51
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    He's actually got a slip lead on now. I can't get close enough to get it off without him baring his teeth, but he'll happily trot behind me to the park, run with other dogs, generally act altogether normal. I just can't put the leash on or take it off. – Amanda May 14 '14 at 19:22
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    Months later now, but we got there. We had someone walk us through walking him, and got a slip lead that falls off easily, which is important. Our first few were too snug and didn't slide on and off. – Amanda Feb 1 '15 at 14:21
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It's sounding to me like the main issue is the clicking of the buckle. So perhaps for the time being, if you can use some paracord to fasten a harness that he can wear, just to get used to having something around his neck/shoulders. Then in the meantime, you could try to get him used to the sound of the buckle clicking together.

Keep playing the games you're already playing, they sound like they're working. But maybe add a new game where you have him sit next to you as you click the buckle together. Start by giving him a treat, then clicking the buckle together. After a few times of doing so, try giving him a treat as your clicking the buckle together. The goal is to work your way towards giving him a treat after the buckle click, so he associates the sound of the buckle with getting a treat (clicker training essentially).

After you notice him start to "perk up" at the sound of the buckle, you can start to work on buckling it around him. He should be focused on getting a treat more than he notices that he's suddenly wearing a collar.

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    Thanks. The buckle clicking isn't the issue, it's being bound up. He'll come running over drooling if we click the buckle because he thinks we might have liver out. – Amanda May 4 '14 at 22:50
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'Super pet' makes a harness that has buckles and Velcro. I am not sure it comes in a size big enough for your dog. But when I use it on rabbits I cut the buckles off and just use the Velcro. You may also be able to find dog "outfits" that Velcro on to work on harness training.

Alternatively you can get some Velcro and make a training collar. Maybe make a very large circle that he can walk through, and keep making it smaller.

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My Dalmatian and to a lesser extent, also my American Pitbull, used to have this same issue. The Dalmatian would squirm for hours on end, trying repeatedly to come back after 20 minutes of trying at a time. Any time an attempt was made at a collar put on around the neck, she would abhor it and would move every direction. If somehow you managed to get one limb through, a quick maneuver removed your hard work. Eventually, I got a buckling harness that you place on the back, snap to the front. It's a trick she can't avoid other than to run away. Finally, I have gotten a dog walker who uses a loop around the neck. It takes seconds! My dog enjoys the lack of restraint.

In conclusion, go to a store and try different leash/harness combinations. Eventually, you'll find an easier method.

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