When you’re training a large dog, leveraging is a crucial tool to help you keep your pet in line and calm. Leveraging exercises help you diffuse escalation and are particularly useful if you’re dealing with aggression. The exercises described here are aimed at getting your dog to sit and focus on the problem. Fortunately, they can be applied to most breeds of big dogs, including American Pit Bull Terriers.

Using leverage with big dogs

Creating a reactivity “cushion”

The process of reactivity rehab is a long and frustrating one, especially when you feel like you’re making little to no progress. Instead of rushing into a long training session, focus on baby steps and a clear plan of action. You can work in potentially distracting environments while building your dog’s listening and engagement skills. After a few sessions, your big dog should be able to follow your lead without resistance!

A reactivity cushion allows for you to control your dog in the event of a confrontation with another dog or person.  It’s important to keep in mind that a reactivity cushion doesn’t guarantee that your dog won’t react, but it will help you diffuse the situation.

Step one: Establish CONTROL

Your goal is to establish complete control over your big dog – both mentally and physically. This means being in charge at all times, even during training sessions. When you’re training your dog, always be the leader – never let them push you around or take advantage of your lack of experience.

Step two: Set boundaries

Once you have control over the situation, set boundaries by establishing clear rules and expectations for both you and your big dog. Explain why a specific behavior is unacceptable, and make sure everyone understands these rules before training begins. You also need to set limits on how much physical contact you’ll allow between the two of you. If there are specific behaviors that are unacceptable but necessary for training purposes, make sure those actions are supervised closely.

Step three: Use LEVERAGE

In order to properly leverage exercises with a large dog, it’s important to understand their individual personalities and tendencies. Some dogs are more responsive than others, so it’s important to find exercises that work best with your pet’s personality type. Always use light hand pressure while exercising your big dog; too much force could lead to injury or unwanted aggression. Remember: less is more!

Creating manageable programs

Leverage exercises are extremely helpful for training your big dog. Practice these every time you take your dog out on a structured walk. Your dog will gain respect for you at the starting gate if it is aware of what kind of behavior you expect. Using leverage to control your big dog becomes second nature after you get used to it.

Here is one method you can use to control your dog using leverage:

1. Hold onto the leash with both hands and pull gently in the opposite direction away from the dog.

2. If your dog starts to pull hard, use a voice command such as “drop it” or “stop”. Be sure to use a calm and concise voice so your dog knows what you want it to do.

3. When your dog has stopped pulling, give it verbal praise and release the leash slowly. Repeat steps 1-3 until your dog is consistently following commands without pulling.

These steps should help you to control your big dog in a safe and constructive way. 

Threshold Permission

The behavior threshold can be used to teach your dog to stay calm in certain situations. It is usually used in connection with canine aggression, fear, or reactivity, but it can also be useful in daily training and learning situations. For example, it can be a critical component in socializing puppies, an invaluable tool for teaching an excitable dog to be calm, and a vital skill for insecure dogs to gain confidence.

The threshold is the distance at which your dog feels comfortable approaching a trigger. A dog may begin to show signs of fear or excitement towards a trigger, such as barking or lunging. This behavior may also result in difficulty settling down and may stop responding to commands or treats altogether. If you are having difficulty controlling your big dog, you can try to teach him the threshold. Listed below are a few signs that your dog has reached the threshold:

Your dog is displaying a clear behavioral response to the trigger.

Your dog is tense and seems unwilling or unable to calm down.

Your dog’s body language (e.g., posture, facial expressions) suggests that he is feeling anxious or scared.

The threshold can be different depending on your dog’s personality, size, breed, and other physical characteristics. For example, if you live in a relatively quiet neighborhood and have an obedient big dog who rarely barks at strangers passing by on their bicycles (a low threshold), then setting a low threshold would likely not be necessary. On the other hand, if you live in an environment with lots of noise and activity (a high stimulus level), then setting a high threshold would be more effective in preventing your big dog from barking incessantly at everything that moves.

There are many tools available for teaching dogs about appropriate behavior (e.g., food reinforcement training, counter-conditioning). If you’re new to training your big dog, we recommend consulting with a professional before starting any formal training regimen.

Threshold Training Tips:

-Establish consistency in your reactions towards triggers (e.g., always respond in the same way). This will help prevent confusion and frustration on behalf of your dog.

-Avoid using punishment as a motivator – it will only further confuse and frighten your pet instead of correcting his behavior. Instead, use positive reinforcement (i.e., treats or verbal praise) to reward good behavior while discouraging bad behavior from happening again in the future.

-Be observant – watch how much distance your pet crosses before becoming alarmed or reactive towards the trigger object/situation/person etc.. This information can then be used to adjust the threshold accordingly so that it becomes easier for both of you.


Making sure your dog behaves in a public setting is not always an easy task – but with a little bit of planning and effort, it can be done. By following these simple steps, you can easily control your powerful dog and keep yourself and others safe.


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