Opposition Reflex, Such a Big Term and Why It is Ruining Your Dog Training

Thanks Dog Behavior NI for the perfect photo!

Opposition Reflex, it sounds so high tech and complicated.

The truth is you feel this every time you take your dog out or in on a leash.

Although I knew the implications of “opposition reflex” for years I didn’t know the term.

The truth is; that we all feel it and we all actually have it.

Have you ever been in a line with a crowd full of people around you and then someone pushes you.

Your immediate reaction is to push back into the pusher.

I mean how often do you just let someone push or pull you to wherever they want you to go?

Your immediate response or almost reflex (when you don’t know it is coming) is to resist.

This is “Opposition Reflex” a funny term to describe the reaction to pull or push against someone or something that is pulling or pushing you.

Your dog comes with the same hard wiring as you do when it comes to opposition reflex.

He doesn’t like to be pulled or pushed against his will!

How Does This Affect Your Dog Training?

Thanks Cold Wet Nose for the Photo

Thanks Cold Wet Nose for the Photo

Every time you pull harder back on your dog’s leash, he pulls back equally hard.

Ever leave your house and your dog starts pulling forward on the leash so you start pulling back, he pulls harder and harder and begins to gag himself?

The truth is he pulls because he is excited, but as soon as you pull back he begins to pull even harder.

Did you know that the “Gentle Leader” TM was designed to put the pressure on the back of your dog’s head when he pulls?

This uses opposition reflex to your advantage by making it uncomfortable to pull forward and it uses his instinct to pull back instead of pulling forward.

Ever tried to push or pull your dog into the shower or bath tub only to have him resist?

Have you ever thought it wasn’t so much about “the bath” as it was the resistance to that feeling of force?

My dogs hop right into the shower because I have trained them to jump right in; but if I were to grab their collars and begin to drag them they too would resist.

No one likes the feeling of being forced to do something.

How Do We Use This Principle to Our Advantage?

Thanks I heart Dakota for the Photo

Recognize it when you feel it.

When you push your dog and he pushes back

Or when you pull your dog and he pulls back on the leash take a moment and consciously realize it, put some thought into what you are feeling and how you would feel.

It is at that moment you can choose to use this very principle to your advantage.

Stop your pulling or pushing and find another way to communicate.

If your dog is on a leash, just stop and wait.

Or you can head the other direction.

Want to get your dog into the bath tub?

Don’t drag him in, convince him with treats or toys to go in with you.

And if you want to drive him forward


Sounds Funny Right?

When I was training Service Dogs for people with disabilities we would often strap a harness on them to begin training them to pull a wheelchair.

The harder we pulled back against the harness, the harder and faster they pulled.

If we wanted the dog to slow, we stopped pulling back as hard and magically they stopped pulling so hard!

Truth is that it wasn’t magic; it was opposition reflex!

We also use this to our advantage to tease and build drive for more on that click here Is Teasing Really THAT Bad? 

And we use it in bite work to drive a dog further into the bite by grabbing his collar and pulling back.

That makes him want to fight harder and grip deeper into the bite or hang onto the sleeve or the object!

Knowledge is Power

Use Your Mind!

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  1. sheilaclicks says:

    The opposition reflex also works in the trainer’s favor to teach Stay. Sit the dog, pull gently and steadily on the dog’s collar. When you feel the dog plant himself — the opposition reflex kicking in — click for the stay you just got, and treat. Fade the collar pull, add the hand signal and verbal command. There’s your Stay!


    Minette Reply:

    I love opposition reflex when used correctly


  2. Debby says:

    Every time my dog begins to pull, I say “watch me.” She usually does so she gets cookie.
    Problem is when she sees another dog, she pulls & barks. I put her in a heeling position facing the opposite direction. “Watch me!” I say. She will watch and get rewarded but then will look for the dog & continue to pull & bark again. I must be doing something wrong cuz even walking in opposite direction, she turns & barks.
    In the dog park there are no problems of this nature.
    What is the big difference & what am I doing wrong?


    Minette Reply:

    You need to extend your time with the eye contact. She should be able to give you at least 2-5 minutes of non-stop eye contact in your home.

    Then TRAIN her around other dogs. Don’t just wait until you are walking to “see how it goes”. Teach her by using other dogs that she has to give you eye contact no matter what.

    If she can’t do it, you either have not built the foundation at home or you are too close to the other dogs, move back.

    Look into our companion dog program which should start again at the end of June. We offer videos for this and work toward off leash obedience with distractions.

    contact customer service at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com to find out more.


  3. birgit says:

    Dear Minette. I have a different kind of problem. My two German Shepherd mixes ( one German Retriever mix – female, one German Huskey mix – neutered male) work excellent on the leash. But when I try to work with them off leash they keep hanging behind, put their heads down, avoid eye contact. I had a lot of dogs before, went through training with all of them, went to competitions ( SchHI, SchHII ) – and all my dogs had excellent eyecontact and worked the same off as on the leash. This is the first time in my life I encounter this problem – and with both. What can I do??? Help me please. I started with basic eye-contact training. But still no difference. Why are they so insecure ( because that is what it looks like), what can I do? Thanks, Regards


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