Any experiences with leash reactivity and Gary Wilkes' method of inhibition training?


New Member
May 24, 2018
Hey all!

I'm wondering if anyone has experiences with using Gary Wilkes' methods with a leash reactive dog. Wilkes stirs up a good deal of controversy but others seem to love him, and I'm wondering if anyone would be willing to share their experiences using his methods.

To start this out, I'm well versed in positive reinforcement, specifically as it relates to leash reactivity, and believe deeply in its benefits. I adore this dog and want to give him a safe, caring home after all he's been through. I do not ever believe in causing physical pain to a dog and I would never buy a shock collar. I grew up with horses however, and the use of a quick and controlled jab of discomfort is common in handling a 1000 lb animal.

I'm fostering an absolutely lovely, 7-year old pitt mix. I rescued him off the streets and nurtured him back to health (he was microchipped, but his past owners had been cited for neglect). He's the sweetest dog with people but around other dogs, he turns into a barking, spinning, lunging mess. I suspect this comes from anxiety and fear -- I highly doubt he was socialized as a puppy and likely got into fights with other dogs while he was roaming on the streets.

I am wondering about the effectiveness of a stern "No," followed by lightly swatting my dog with a rolled up towel, then IMMEDIATELY followed by target work and a whole lot of praise and treats for completing the target work so he goes away happy. I've spent several hours reading up on it after I found an article here by Gary Wilkes (

I am actively working on training methods that use ONLY positive reinforcement but I'm concerned it's not effective. Because my dog doesn't have a background in eye contact work, I've been target training him to touch my hand with the goal of him eventually touching my hand as a response to seeing another dog. He's great with the target training, but once he spies another dog, there's no way to get his attention back to me -- high-value treats don't matter, normal verbal cues don't matter, a swift jerk on the leash doesn't matter. I'm wondering if Gary Wilkes' suggestion -- a light bonk to surprise the dog and redirect his attention, could be effective. Does anyone have any experience with this?

Patricia McConnell and almost everyone else on the internet suggest avoiding your dog's triggers during the slow process of retraining your dog, which I do as much as possible (walking at odd hours etc), but we live in the city, and there's literally no way to completely avoid confrontations with dogs. "Putting distance" between us and the trigger is my current method of dealing with confrontations when he's beyond paying attention to me, but I recently turned us away from a dog only to walk smack dab into another dog (my dog then had a meltdown, then one other dog had a meltdown, then the neighbor came out and yelled at us all. Ugh!).

To make all this worse, my next door neighbor just got a dog they let roam in their fenced in yard, so I literally can't open the door to take my boy on a walk without now bumping into a great big mastiff. I would love to "gradually expose" my dog to other dogs to keep him below his threshold and counter-condition him, but it's not humanly possible.

I'd love to hear people's experiences! Thanks so much.

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