Positive vs Aversive Training

Should you use aversive or positive training for your dog? Learn more about the differences below.


In the world of dog training, there are almost as many methodologies as there are trainers. But what’s the right one for you; and even more importantly, your dog?

Below, we’re going to take a quick look at the important differences between Positive and Aversive Training.

Positive Training

As dog training continues to evolve, more trainers are moving to Positive or Positive Reinforcement training. Any living being (including ourselves and our dogs), tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarded. Positive training relies upon clearly defined boundaries and expectations that are rewarded with positive reinforcements including treats/food, affection or a favorite toy.

Aversive Training

An “aversive” is something a dog would prefer to avoid; typically because it’s painful, cruel, uncomfortable or even confrontational. Simply put, an aversive is identified by the effect it has on the dog which is negative in nature and primarily driven by the desire to punish the dog for an unwanted behavior regardless of potential side effects like fear, anxiety and even aggression.

Examples of aversive training include:

  • Shaking
  • Slapping or Hitting
  • Lead Jerking
  • Tapping
  • Pushing or Pulling
  • Kicking
  • Using Rattle Boxes or Bottles
  • Ear Tweaking or Pinching
  • Prong, Choke, Shock and Spray Collars

Which Method Should You Choose?

The real goal behind training is about establishing an effective form of communication with your dog. While pain and discomfort can communicate, is it really in the dog’s best interests? Dogs learn by association. Do you really want your dog to learn in an environment of fear and distrust? Wouldn’t you rather build a solid, lasting bond of trust and mutual respect with your dog that feels good to him and you?

When positive and even fun training is consistently used, your dog will associate positive rewards with each desired behavior and naturally want to do the behavior you’re asking for without fear or anxiety. Positive reinforcement will only enhance your relationship with your dog!


Resources and Additional Reading


Effective training relies on using the right tools that promote the health and safety of your dog like our ergonomic dog harness.

Click here to learn more about the ergonomic BrilliantK9 Dog Harness (featuring 20 fully adjustable sizes from Teacup to Giant) that can be properly fit to your dog no matter their size or shape!



How a Pulling Harness Works

Pulling harnesses are designed to encourage a dog to work (pull). Here’s what you need to know.


As mentioned in an earlier blog post, dog harnesses have been in use throughout history. Working dogs, in particular, are outfitted with pulling harnesses for:

Sledding: also called dog sled racing, mushing (think the Iditarod) or freighting (hauling cargo).

Skijoring, bikejoring and scootering: pulling a person on skis, a bike or scooter.



  • Wagons and carts (called carting or drafting);
  • Toboggans (called pulka); and
  • A travois (a frame structure with two long poles and cross-bars used to drag loads over land (like the Native Americans used to move buffalo meat and firewood)).

The Mechanics

The mechanics behind a “pulling” harness and a “walking” harness are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Pulling harnesses (called the Siwash or Schutzhund Style) are designed to depend on, and encourage, the “opposition reflex.” The opposition reflex is a dog’s natural tendency to pull against pressure or restraint.

The Opposition Reflex

OppositionReflexThe early 1900’s discovery of the opposition reflex is attributed to Pavlov, the Nobel Prize winner Russian scientist who discovered “classical conditioning” (with his salivating dogs). The opposition reflex was originally called the “Freedom Reflex.”

Regardless of which term you use to describe this hard-wired reflex, it is a natural behavior (at least until a dog is trained or conditioned to respond differently). Tension, pressure or restraint causes a dog to instinctively resort to fight-or-flight or freeze (like our own reflex responses to stress). In other words, the opposition reflex is part of a dog’s “survival” instinct.

Viola! The Pulling Harness is Born

The pulling harness takes advantage of the natural opposition reflex by its very design. Siwash-Style-Harness2The harness has a center chest piece (B) that allows the dog to drop their head down and drive forward which maximizes their effort, strength and overall working ability. A pulling harness puts the load-bearing center on the chest and shoulders so the dog can pull its hardest. For a dog to pull effectively and efficiently, they need to be able to leverage their core strength against the harness.

Common pulling harnesses include:

  • The freight harness.
  • The H-back harness.
  • The X-back harness.
  • The Y-back or hybrid harness.

Breeds that Work in Pulling Harnesses

Some dogs, particularly those known as “working” breeds, have a natural tendency to pull against pressure; including:

Northern Dogs (including Samoyeds and Huskies) and Great Pyrenees:

  • Bred for pulling sleds (mushing).


  • Able to pull heavy loads for short distances.


  • Used to pull carts.

Bully Breeds (like the American Staffordshire Terrier):

  • Typically involved in competitive weight pulling.

Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Greater Swiss Mountain dogs, Saint Bernards and Leonbergers:

  • Breeds that naturally excel at pulling, carting and drafting.

A Pulling Harness is NOT a Walking Harness

Many walking harnesses are really a shortened version of the Siwash Style with the same center chest piece. While this style works great for encouraging a dog to pull, such behavior is usually unwanted by the average owner simply wanting to walk their dog for exercise.BK9_collar_illustrations-harness_pulling

Without proper training, dogs that are larger, more powerful and/or dominant, those with a lot of stamina or pent-up energy and those with a strong prey drive will be encouraged (instead of discouraged) to pull and lunge forward with a pulling-type harness.

If your dog is not involved in the working activities and sports listed above, a pulling harness will probably encourage more bad behavior than it will fix. Understanding how each harness style works and what you want to accomplish with your own dog, will help you make the best decision when it comes to buying an effective harness.

Click here to learn more about the ergonomic BrilliantK9 Dog Harness (featuring 20 fully adjustable sizes from Teacup to Giant) that can be properly fit to your dog no matter their size or shape!

Resources and Additional Reading

Dog Harness Activities: Sledding, Skijoring, Bikjoring, Carting and Weight Pulling Links.

I.P. Pavlov and the Freedom Reflex.” 

Dog Word of the Day: Opposition Reflex.





Properly Fitting a Harness

Not all harnesses fit the same way; here’s what you need to know.


A harness can be a valuable and effective tool if it’s used and fitted correctly. Do you know how to ensure your dog’s harness is properly fitted to his body? Keep reading to learn why properly fitting a harness is critical for your dog.

One Size (or 3 or 4) Does NOT Fit All

Many harnesses found online (and even in some pet stores), only offer three to four sizes to fit “all” dogs. With over 189 AKC-recognized dog breeds (not to mention mixed or unrecognized breeds), the odds of just a few sizes properly fitting all dogs is next to nil.

Poor Sizing Has Side Effects

Why is proper sizing so important? An ill-fitting harness can be uncomfortable and even painful. Any discomfort from a poorly-fitted harness will distract your dog’s attention and instead be focused on either backing out of the harness or trying to escape the discomfort in some other way.

What signs indicate a poorly fitted harness?

  • Rubbing or chafing around the harness area (especially in sensitive areas like the armpit, chest or stomach).
  • Lost fur around the harness area.
  • The dog is rubbing against you or the ground in an attempt to dislodge the harness.
  • The dog is able to wriggle out of the harness.
  • The dog refuses or resists walking in the harness.
  • The back of the harness moving from side-to-side.

The fit of harness is vital for the harness to work correctly and ensure the comfort of your dog.

How to Determine a Good Fit


Typically, most commercial harnesses are based on a dog’s weight.

While this may seem like a reasonable idea, consider the body shape of a labrador against that of a greyhound. The weight may be the same, but muscle mass, chest  and waist size and waist size and overall body shape will ultimately determine if the harness fits properly. If the points of adjustment are not adequate, the harness will not fit properly in some area and lead to issues. Step-in harnesses are usually limited in adjustment options, so you may want to look into an over-the-head harness which offers four or five points of adjustment.


Taking your time to both research and properly fit your dog’s harness is time well-spent in both control and your dog’s ultimate comfort.


Click here to learn more about the ergonomic BrilliantK9 Dog Harness (featuring 20 fully adjustable sizes from Teacup to Giant) that can be properly fit to your dog no matter their size or shape!

Resources and Additional Reading

“How to Fit a Dog Harness.”

“How to Properly Put on a Dog Harness.”

“How to Fit a Dog Harness – Expert Advice.”


Harnesses 101

What you need to know about using, buying and fitting a harness for your dog.


There’s a huge new trend in “controlling” your dog and it’s the harness; an alternative to a leash and collar. Just look around on any street and you’ll see many K9s strutting their stuff in some type of harness. In fact, harnesses are also quickly becoming a “fashion statement” among many dog owners.

All harnesses have one thing in common; the belief that a harness gives the dog owner more control over their dog during walks, training, hunting and car rides. But even the experts are divided over whether this is always true with every dog.

Harnesses are also an effective tool for:

  • Training.
  • Dogs with back issues.
  • Preventing jumping in dogs.
  • Puppies still developing and growing.
  • Older dogs that need help in getting up.
  • Controlling dogs who are easily distracted.
  • Controlling dogs who a high prey drive and desire to chase.

A harness, when properly fitted and correctly used (in conjunction with appropriate and positive training), can be an effective tool between the owner/dog walker and the dog. Harnesses can also help timid, nervous, anxious or unconfident dogs feel more secure and less fearful. This can definitely help control bad reactionary behavior while working on effective training or behavioral modification.

BK9_collar_illustrations-collar_pullingOne thing everyone can agree upon is that dog harnesses do re-distribute the pressure from the sensitive neck area (as with a collar, lead or leash) to the body’s ribcage, shoulders and upper body. Harnesses help prevent potential stress, strain, injuries or pain to the neck, throat, trachea, thyroid glands, spinal cord and even possible choking or coughing. Or, with dogs like pugs, protruding eyeballs from too much pressure on the neck!

The History of the Harness

Despite the recent upsurge in popularity, dog harnesses have been around for a while; particularly with working dogs; including:

  • Sled and skijoring dogs;
  • Hunting dogs; and
  • Weight-pulling dogs (with wagons, carts, toboggans or travois (a transport device consisting of two poles joined by a frame and pulled by dog)).

Harnesses: 5 Typical Styles

BrilliantK9-ErgonomicStyleErgonomic Style

Designed to allow a natural walking position, freedom of movement and prevents opposition reflex while taking advantage of a dog’s natural pivot point. (Like those designed by

Siwash Style


Designed specifically for Working Dog activities (including sledding, skijoring, hunting and competition).

Most “walking” harnesses (commonly found in pet stores and online) are actually a shortened version of this style with a center chest piece. This chest piece encourages opposition reflex (pulling against pressure, i.e., the human). It allows the dog to drop down and drive forward which maximizes their strength.

Front Clip Style (AKA Front Attaching)

Designed to discourage dogs who like to pull against pressure. (Some dogs have a natural tendency to pull against pressure; called the opposition reflex).

Pack Style

Designed to carry packs/saddle bags in the outdoors (for hiking, backpacking or camping activities). Note: Dogs should carry no more than 10% of their bodyweight. The K9 body is not designed for large or heavy loads.)

Car Style

Designed to restrain, constrain and protect dogs especially in a car accident (a “seatbelt” for dogs). Note: Car harnesses are not always walking harnesses.

Harnesses: Factors to Consider

Not all harnesses are created equal so it’s important to do your own research relative to your dog (breed, body shape, habits and even medical history) before purchasing a harness.

When researching different styles of harnesses, below are some questions to consider first.

  • What unwanted behavior am I trying to address with a harness? (i.e., pulling, lunging, preventing the dog from slipping out of their collar, etc.)
  • What harness style will effectively address that undesirable behavior?
  • Will the harness be comfortable for my dog?
    • Will the harness hinder my dog’s natural movement (for example, in the shoulders)?
    • Will the harness rub under my dog’s legs (or other parts of their body) and cause chafing, irritation or worse?
  • Does the harness allow for personalized fitting/adjustment to my dog’s body without painful pinching, cutting or chafing?
  • Is the harness lightweight, but sturdy for the size and strength of my dog?
  • Is it weatherproof?
  • Is the harness made of breathable material to avoid sweating and chafing?

A Few Final Thoughts

Regardless which side of the fence you are sitting on when it comes to harnesses, it’s important to keep in mind that a harness (or any other tool for that matter) will not completely fix a bad or unwanted behavior. Regardless if it’s a harness, head halter or even a regular collar, when it comes to training your dog to master the walk, one size does not fit all.

In fact, in some cases, a harness may actually encourage a bad behavior. For instance, BK9_collar_illustrations-harness_pullingsome dogs (especially those who are more dominant, larger and stronger along with the working breeds) may actually pull more with a harness. Some dogs have a natural tendency to pull against pressure (called the “opposition reflex”). A harness alone will not fix this natural reflex. It could actually result in the dog walker getting hurt if the dog puts his whole weight into the harness in trying to lunge and run.

Finding the right harness can be overwhelming if it’s your first time. Make sure to do your research and ask your vet for possible recommendations based on your dog and their behavior. Resist buying a cheap harness; quality matters! Not only for your dog’s comfort, but to also make sure the harness will work when you need it the most!

And finally, make sure you:

  • Buy the correct harness for your dog:
    • In size; and
    • Desired outcome.
  • Learn how to properly fit your harness on your dog before leaving the house.
  • Properly and slowly introduce your dog to the harness with patience and time.
  • Learn how to correctly use the harness before heading out to the outside world offering lots of distractions and temptations for your dog..




Collars: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Not all collars are created equal; here’s what you need to know.


Did you know that dog collars have been around almost as long as the dogs who wear them?

History actually reveals the existence of dog collars as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and Persians. Not all of them were used for control either; identification, protection, training and even fashion are all reasons behind the long history of K9 collars.

Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about the history of dog collars:

  • In ancient Greece, farm dogs wore leather, spike-studded collars to protect their neck against the bite of a wolf.
  • A cast made from the buried body cavities of a Pompeii dog in 1874, showed a bronze- studded collar around the dog’s neck.
  • Mosaics in ancient Rome show dogs with decorative collars and leashes.
  • In the Renaissance age, the padlock collar (a hinged metal collar with rolled edges and a dangling padlock) was a way to prove ownership since only the owner would be able to produce the key to unlock the padlock.

Collars: 5 Common Styles

Rolled or Flat Collars



Typically the “everyday” collar most dogs wear with a metal buckle or quick-release clasp. Also allows for hanging identification or license tags. Typically “fashionable” as well as functional.

Martingale Collars

(Also known as Limited Slip Collars or Greyhound Collars)



Designed to prevent walking dogs from slipping out of their collar. A stopping mechanism prevents the collar from completely closing on the neck helping to prevent injury and accidental strangulation. Commonly used for “sighthounds” like the Saluki, Whippets, Greyhounds and the Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds.

Choke or Chain Slip Collars


Known as an “aversive collar.” Designed for training purposes using discomfort and pain.

Pinch or Metal Prong Collars



Known as an “aversive collar.” Designed for training purposes using discomfort and pain. Usually used in the training of strong and stubborn dogs who tend to pull on the leash.

Smart Collars



A relatively new collar category that combines a traditional flat collar with smartphone-compatible technology. Benefits include GPS, monitoring behavior changes and even training assistance.

Not All Collars are Created Equal When it Comes to Risk

As with harnesses, each collar style has a specific function. In order for the collar to be effective (and safe), owners need to understand how to properly choose and use the collar.

Common issues with using collars include:

  • Stress, strain and neck sprains;
  • Unnecessary pain;
  • Nerve damage;
  • Fainting;
  • Paralysis;
  • Choking or coughing;
  • Optic blood vessel injuries;
  • Injuries to the neck, throat, trachea, esophagus, thyroid glands and spinal cord; and
  • If left on the dog unattended, potential strangulation or suffocation.

Even the seemingly harmless flat/rolled, martingale and smart collars can pose a serious danger. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, revealed the added potential danger of increased eye pressure when the dog pulls on the collar. This could be parpugticularly dangerous for dogs with glaucoma, thin corneas or other eye conditions where optic pressure is an issue. Dogs with bulging eyes (like pugs and bulldogs) are also prone to protruding eyeballs from too much pressure on the neck.

In addition to the danger of eye injury, dogs can also suffer potential airway and neurological damage from applying the wrong or too much pressure to any collar.


Dogs with short noses, bulging eyes and small tracheas can also be easily injured with a choke chain.

Dogs who always wear their collars and engage in rough play with other dogs, should only wear break-away collars to avoid the danger of strangulation, suffocation and injury if the collar gets caught.

A Collar is Not an Automatic Fix

It’s important to note that dogs with:

  • a high prey drive,
  • a tendency to pull against pressure (called the “opposition reflex”); and
  • those who are dominant, larger and stronger,

may completely ignore discomfort or pain with any collar including a choke chain/slip collar or metal prong/pinch collar! An acquaintance had a large, strong and prey-driven yellow lab that completely ignored the metal prong collar he was wearing to the point he developed open lesions from the pinching of the collar and had to have surgery to repair the damage.

While in the proper hands, a choke chain and/or metal prong collar can be a tool for training, but it also needs to be combined with positive training for the unwanted behavior to be properly addressed and corrected.

The Un-Collar: The Head Halter

Often called a “Gentle Leader” or “Halti,” the head halter is not a “traditional” collar (going only around the neck). But the head halter has become a favorite tool in training good leash manners and keeping the dog’s attention focused on the walker.

The head halter has two loops; one that goes around the back of the head (behind the ears) and another around the dog’s nose with a ring hanging under the chin to attach a leash. It is not a muzzle. The halter should be fitted snug and secure, but not too tight to prevent the dog from breathing, panting or barking.

The benefits with this type of control tool include:

  • It sits high on the dog’s neck without putting pressure on the throat;
  • No force is necessary to turn the dog’s head (and subsequently his body) back towards the walker; and
  • It’s easy and quick to “redirect” the dog into a desired behavior.

Once again, like with the other collars discussed above, the head halter must be used correctly to avoid potential injury to your dog. Neck injuries, even severe, can happen if a Gentle Leader is used harshly with a lot of force, snapping or yanking. Also enough time and patience must be taken to properly introduce your dog to a head halter to avoid stress and possible injury to your dog.

Always educate yourself on the proper and correct way to use any collar for your dog’s ultimate safety.

Resources and Additional Reading

A History of Dog Collars:

8 Different Types of Dog Collars:

Dog Collars: Which Type is the Best for Your Dog?

Which Types of Collars and Harnesses are Safe for Your Dog?