Question: "I am having a little problem with my mal. We have been really focusing on his alert to start the action and that has been going fine (this is something we’ve focused on from the start), but as soon as I alert him he pulls very hard into the leash, gets low the ground and snarls/barks aggressively (classical aggression). The intensity is awesome, but he is pulling so hard he can’t hardly breathe. He is just inches of the ground pulling forward. I have him on a harness (because he can’t breath to bark on the collar), but this seems to cause an issue for him as well. He is so focused on pulling that he can’t seem to bark much."
There are a couple things you can try with the dog. The forst thing to realize is that the dog is clearly getting into the right mood (aggressive) with the alert, however, he is not expressing it as you would prefer. All his energy is being thrown into the pulling forward behavior, and not enough into the barking behavior. The key is to set up the alert, and only reward the behavior you want (barking) successively approximating to the end result (a whole string of barks proior to the grip).
It is my assumption, that you probably have rewarded him by allowing the bite in the past without holding him to the standard of barking you really want, and so the dog thinks the route to the grip is through pulling rather than vocalizing. This has to change – only bite after some barking. Both you and the helper must be on the same page here to not allow a reward for pulling.
Here are some tips:
1. Try to work on slick floors for a while to establish the idea that barking brings the grip.
2. Use an XL Pinch collar, double hooked to both the inside and outside rings, to restrain the dog in the alert. You can use two lines, one for the alert and another on the harness for making tension during the grip work after the grip is obtained. You have to be careful not to depress the barking because of the discomfort of the prong collar, which is why we use an XL. But if you need more diffusion of the collar, place the pinch over a bandana to further cushion the effect. This approach will self-limit the pulling (becomes uncomfortable) and allow the dog to channel his energy into vocalizing. Be sure to reward this behavior as soon as it occurs. If you do this right, you can manage both lines so that the dog upon alerting pulls but not enough to depress his vocalizing,
3. Use a barrier to limit the dog’s pulling (fence gate, car door like in the PSA carjacking) and focus on vocalizing.
My best results have come from using methods 1 and 2. be sure to reward the vocalizing, and if the dog refuses to bark, he goes back in the car, with no grip, and bring him out many times (withold the reward) to try again, so the dog can have the opportunity to figure out the change in regime – barking only after the alert gets a grip, and pulling gets nothing.