Kellie Snider

Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst

Co-Developer of the Constructional Aggression Treatment for Dogs



For the past 2.5 years I have been at work with Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz developing an effective behavior change procedure for the treatment of aggression in dogs in the natural settings where the dogs live. In the course of our work the procedure has been painstakingly evaluated. Data is collected each step of the way, compared to earlier data, and examined in the current environment. When something did not work, we went back to the drawing board, took a closer look, and either adjusted the treatment or eliminated the component that was either detrimental or useless. If it did not work or did not produce a meaningful change, it did not stay in the procedure.


Breed specific legislation (BSL) has not been subjected to this kind of scrutiny.  If it has the data are not seeing the light of day. BSL is an attempt by the legal system to resolve the canine aggression problem. Unfortunately, the data cited to determine whether breed specific legislation is justified is the wrong data. The question researchers need to ask to validate BSL is, “Are there fewer dog attacks per capita after BLS was enacted than before it was enacted?” They might even add the question, “Are the attacks less severe?” Instead, the data typically cited to defend BSL involves the number of people attacked by a specific breed of dog (Nelson, 2005). There is little or no data other than anecdote available to the public about whether eliminating specific breeds of dogs from a community actually reduces the numbers of dog bites, attacks or dog-related fatalities. If they are not making the data public either they are not collecting the data, which is unacceptable, or there is something they don’t want us to see.


Dogs of any breed obtained for the purpose of fighting, guarding and protection are high on the list of dogs that attack and kill. Dogs of any breed kept in the yard on a chain or in a pen outside are among the dogs most likely to kill. Dogs of any breed that are allowed to roam loose or that are abused or neglected are more likely to kill than other dogs. Unneutered male dogs are frequently counted among those dogs that bite. (Delise, 2002)


If you take all the pit bulls out of a community, the people likely to harbor dangerous dogs will keep another large, powerful breed. The people who kept a pit bull outside on a chain will keep another breed outside on a chain. The people who abused or neglected a pit bull will abuse and neglect another breed of dog. The people who let their pit bull roam will let the dog that replaces their pit bull roam. Families that owned unneutered-male pit bulls are likely to obtain and keep intact another breed of dog. When children are allowed to interact unattended with unfamiliar dogs, chained dogs, penned dogs and family pets with histories of unresolved aggression it can be a recipe for disaster no matter what the breed. Getting rid of a breed without changing how people care for and manage their dogs will not solve any dog attack problems. 


Before another community enacts breed specific legislation statistical comparisons must be made between the before and after picture in those communities where BSL has already been enacted. To determine whether BSL is valid we do not need more proof that pit bulls are strong, powerful dogs. Everyone already knows that. But people who spend time around dogs also know that many pit bulls are friendly, gentle animals despite their strength. If communities are going to enact BSL someone needs to demonstrate that it works. So far I have not seen the data.


With pit bulls out of the picture there will still be dog attacks. Denver, Colorado banned pit bulls in 1989, and in a 1994 study Chow Chows and German Shepherds had taken their place as the dogs most likely to bite (Gershman, Sacks & Wright, 1994). Can you imagine the outcry if a community tried to ban German Shepherds? Without data showing that BSL results in a statistically significant decrease in dog attacks, legislators are misleading their community’s citizens if they claim that the knowledge that pit bulls are strong and powerful necessarily means that eliminating them will eliminate the problem of dangerous dog attacks.


Where is the data?  Until there are valid data to compare the numbers of attacks before and after enactment of BSL no one can claim that it will do anything more than cause dissention among proponents and opponents of breed specific legislation. For that we have plenty of proof.



Delise, K.A. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: The stories behind the statistics. Slanesville, WV.

Gershman KA, Sacks JJ, Wright JC. (1994). Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors.     Pediatrics 93:913-7.

Nelson, K.A. (2005) One City’s Experience: Why pit bulls are more dangerous and breed specific        legislation is justified. Municipal Lawyer. 406-6.

© Kellie Snider, 2007



It is essential that you know your audience.  I wrote about this in an earlier blog posting.  (Check the June 2007 entries.) You have to tailor your approach to suit your audience.  For dog trainers, there are two primary audiences:  (1) Experienced dog trainers and those who want to become experienced dog trainers, and (2) pet owners.


If your audience is experienced trainers, they already know a lot about dog training, whether or not you agree with what they know.  What they are often working toward now is improving their records of wins with a favorite dog or gaining greater respect in the field.  If you want to be their trainer, you must always remember that they most of all want to be respected as professionals.  They will respond better to compliments and reverence to their expertise and educations than they will to your attempts to teach them new skills.

Be humble and learn to get your reinforcers from your students’ successes.  You are going to be their coach, not their teacher.  And by coach, I mean “life coach”, not “professional sports coach”.  Your job is to help them excel and to lift them up high while keeping your profile modest.  Sound counter-intuitive?  Keep reading! 

Your job in working with the advanced audience is to support them in what they are already doing, to offer feedback on the things they request feedback on, to offer new information that perhaps they haven’t had a chance to access.  Anything you do to change their behavior must be done delicately and subtly. Reinforce what they do that works by praising their expertise and professionalism.  Ignore what they are not doing well at the same time.  Before long you’ll probably find that the reinforcement for the good performances builds those skills to the point that they overwhelm the undesirable stuff and it fades away. 

And if you want to be successful, you must not try to take credit for the change.  Brag about your student to others, in front of the student whenever possible.  Does this sound like I’m telling you to eschew all your own glory?  Does that sound counter to the idea of promoting your training business?  Think about overhearing some trainer at an agility trial saying this:

“I’ve got to tell you about my student, Louise Tate!  She just won her MACH title with her dog, Spider! I am so excited for her! She has worked hard and it has really paid off.” 

Is that not the teacher YOU would want to work with?  By bragging about your students’ successes you are promoting yourself in the best possible way.  You’re showing that not only are you a good instructor- after all, look at what your student accomplished!  You’re also saying that you are willing to not just share but freely give away the glory. 

Everyone knows the old dog world saying, “The only thing two trainers can agree on is that the third one is wrong.”  I urge you to create a new one. 

The only thing that trainer talks about is how great her students are.”  Work on praising your students until you start hearing this from other people.  Your students will love you.  Then they will talk about you to all their friends.  And the best marketing engine in the world will be off and running. Word-of-mouth.

What about the student who isn’t doing so well?  There are a few different things to consider.  First, remind her about the successes she’s had, no matter how small.   Remember her big successes forever. And point out small successes immediately as they occur, while minimizing responses to problems. One of the biggest problems she may be having is paying too much attention to mistakes.  Don’t you join in with her on that!  Help her focus on successes and goals. 

Mistakes are just starting places.  They’re not failures.  

Do not think you’re going to win their hearts by knowing something they don’t know. You may NOT know anything they know.  What will set you apart from all the rest is being proud of your students even when they surpass you.  The way to their hearts is to let them know you believe to the bottom of your heart and to the depths of your soul that They are great trainers, and that you will freely announce that to the world.  Then do it! 

Copyright 2007, Kellie Snider

Don’t forget to order your copy of our new DVD:  The Constructional Aggression Treatment:  Shaping Your Way Out Of Aggression.  It’s a complete seminar in a 5 disc set. Save yourself some travel expenses and attend your next seminar at home! 

“…your seminar has been the best received of any I have ever produced.” 

Alta Tawzer of Tawzer Dog Videos.