You are here:

Canine Behavior/Collar Tugging, while playing with other dogs.


QUESTION: Hi, I have two (2) dogs, both were rescued from humane society. Mia, who is a 9mnth Lab/ACD mix, got her when she was 9wks old in Nov. '13, and Beau, a 3mnth ACD/? mix got him when he was 9-10 wks old in Apr. '14. Mia has a fascination of pulling on other dogs collars when playing with them. Mia has learned this from another dog when she was Beaus' age. I don't know if Mia is trying to establish dominance, or is just trying to police... corral... I worry about the other dogs collar getting wrapped around her mouth and hurting the other dog. Me personally don't consider Mia a dominant dog; she shares toys, if Beau tries to eat out her food bowl she doesn't growl or anything. So, my question to you is, why is she doing this,? And how can I prevent it?

ANSWER: Please answer the following questions:

Does Mia pull on Beau's collar in this manner?
Does Mia do this only when at large in a play area with other dogs (i.e., dog park)?
What do YOU do when you see her doing this?
Can you remember the FIRST time you saw this, and try to remember your reaction?
What sort of dog(s) provokes this response from Mia, can you identify size, breed type?
What do the other dogs DO when Mia grabs their collars (this includes the owner's reaction)?

This is not a dominance issue; this is a learned/acquired behavior from observing another dog (according to your own report).  The certain way to manage an unwanted behavior is to capture it (in training), give it a cue, reward until the cue is always followed, then extinguish reward until the dog STOPS the behavior, giving THAT a cue as well.  It sounds complicated and it actually can be given the fact that, despite your expertise in your own work place, you are not a clicker trainer!  I need a better "picture", if you will, in order to advise you properly.  Please use followup feature, thank you.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Beau & Mia
Beau & Mia  

Beau & Mia
Beau & Mia  
QUESTION: Mia does pull on Beau's collar in that manner when she wants to play or mother him. I put some bitter apple on Beau's collar to try and deter Mia from going for it. Mia does it whenever and wherever, Mia only does it when off leash. I hike Mia & Beau everyday off leash with some other dogs and Mia tries to tug on Beau's and other dogs collars we hike with. Same thing at the dog park and at home, but not as much at home though. I used to do nothing about it before I got Beau, now I tell Mia to leave it and reward her with a treat. The first time I witnessed it I didn't know what to think. I didn't think it was a bad thing at the time. Any type of dog that is friendly and wants to play with Mia, Mia will do it to. I hike with Anatolian Shepherd, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Collies. Dogs reaction to Mia tugging is non-aggressive, when I watch it looks like wrestling to me. Owner reaction to tugging is the same non-aggressive.

You are correct I'm not a clicker trainer. I do positive reinforcement with treats. I had to do mandatory basic obedience with Mia when I rescued her from humane society. Same with Beau, just waiting till he's 5mnths. Mia knows her basic commands and more, when I teach her, her cue (leave it) to stop tugging on collar,  I don't want her to associate it with not being able to play. It seems like a fine line, I want her to play, but not tug on collar.

1.  Remove Beau's collar when you are at home (ONLY if he is micro-chipped and there is NO WAY he can out of the house).  This will disable daily reinforcement of Mia's behavior with her companion dog.
2.  Let's try something, short term, over the next few weeks.  Now: my concern is here that your reaction might be perceived by the other dogs (including Beau) as "startling" so it must be conditioned and shaped for MIA ALONE when you are at home and Beau is elsewhere doing something completely different (in another room for five minutes with a Buster Cube, for instance):

Set Mia up.  Instead of your normal take it/leave it, use an article that you have deliberately trophied in her presence: a stuffed animal.  Carry it around with you, sleep with it under your pillow, talk to it, pet it, etc. in sight of both dogs (not the neighbors though, we don't want the cops at your door LOLOL).  Once this trophy article has been firmly implanted in Mia's mind (something she will want and need to control), drop it in front of her (while Beau is in the other room with his Buster Cube).  The MOMENT she picks it up or gets CLOSE to picking it up, do something that would appear benign to other dogs and people but we will do it in such a manner that Mia will acquire avoidance with any of her chosen behaviors that elicits is:  use a whistle (like a police whistle), blow it hard, fall to the ground and whine like a puppy until she comes to you.  PRAISE lavishly, lead her to another room, pick up the toy.  Carry it around as you have been, at least once a day "set her up" (while Beau is otherwise happily occupied) and use this whistle and your perceived pain and suffering.  Once you see that Mia ACTIVELY AVOIDS THAT TOY (shows "displacement" by sitting, turning her head, turning her back to it, or even leaving the room), discard the toy.  Put the collar back on Beau and bring the whistle with you outdoors.  Remember: if you SEE her begin to grab Beau's collar, blow the whistle, and observe what happens next.  She should IMMEDIATELY CEASE in which case you call her and praise her, and go on as normal.  If this works 10 out of 10 times indoors with Beau, take it outdoors with the other dogs.  The whistle might startle them but not out of fear, out of surprise; however, Mia will experience it quite differently.  If she FAILS even once, go back to the toy for a few days.

This is counter conditioning.  While we are attempting to interfere with Mia's "game" in a benign way, you must not allow her to EVER succeed with ANY dog ANYWHERE at grabbing a collar, which means her "free play" must be restricted.  We cannot allow her to succeed even once during the counter conditioning process.

This is a smart dog and her intention is benign.  However, I had a neighbor who called me in a complete state of panic many years ago: her Doberman had grabbed her Lab's choker collar and it had become entangled in the Doberman's mouth.  The dogs had already fallen down the stairs and the collar was still caught in the Doberman's mouth.  This is a real danger to Mia and it would not be in any way a reflection of bad temperament in the other dog to begin to demonstrate active aggression against Mia and anyone who attempted to approach to free them from their unwanted "attachment".

Report back using followup feature.  Let's give this three weeks.

Canine Behavior

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]