How to Help Your Dog Walk the Walk
Have you seen the newest gadget that dog trainers are using? You may have and not known what it was- is it a cloth muzzle that so many dogs are wearing these days? Nope, this new gadget is called a head halter and has revolutionized the way dog trainers deal with the most annoying of all behaviors- pulling on lead.
Head halters have been used off and on for years; there are pictures from the 1800’s of milk carts pulled by canines in halters to control the speed and direction of the cart. Fast forward to the 1970’s and a British veterinarian, Dr. Roger Mugford who designed the “Halti” a head halter specifically for dogs that are obnoxious pullers on lead. The concept is exactly that of a halter on a horse- if you control the head, you can control the body. The “Halti” is used in a similar fashion, the dog is taught that a gentle pull back means stop- pressure is then released and the dog can continue to move forward. No more yanking on the choke chain or pinching with the pinch collar needed- the head halter causes a small amount of pressure behind the neck, forcing the head down which stops the pulling. Pair the behavior of no pulling with a click and treat and a new better habit is formed. There is no reason for that once familiar site of a small child skidding behind the big dog as it pulls down the street. A doggy head halter puts whoever has the lead in charge of the relationship too- making the decision of where to go left up to the walker not the former puller. Reactions to the environment and other dogs are quickly and easily controlled.
There are currently two types of head halters, Halti’s and Gentle Leaders-take your dog with you to the pet store to insure a proper fit. Only in the last few years have head halters been produced and marketed to the general public, now they are available at just about any good pet store and even at your Veterinarians office. I use Gentle Leaders more often than Halti’s due to the adjustable nose loop of the former. The Halti seems to fit certain breeds of dogs a little better, those with a wider muzzle like Rottweilers do well with Halti head collars. Both types are well made, durable and retail for under twenty five dollars. The beauty of any head halter is that it is so easy to use, even a small person can control a big dog. Once a dog has been taught not to pull you can often go back to using a regular collar, especially if you start when the pup is young. I often use the head collar on pups as young as twelve weeks.
Another benefit dog trainers are just now starting to recognize is that turning the head with the head halter can set the dog up for successful dog to dog interactions. Dogs often use calming signals with each other, puppies squirm, get little and turn away causing an older dog to approach the little one with a wagging tail. With the head halter I have been teaching dogs to use these signals with each other, especially with dogs that are undersocialized to help develop canine communication skills. Turning the head and body away is a gesture of friendliness that once shaped can be useful in diffusing aggressive situations.
I have been asked if there are any drawbacks to this new gizmo? There are a couple, mainly an adjustment period for the dog and the owner. The tool fits just like a horse halter and has a loop that goes around the nose and a strap that buckles around the neck. Many dogs find the nose loop distracting and try to get it off with their front feet; a pull up on the regular buckle collar and moving forward can re-direct any digging at the nose loop. I put the head collar on for three days in the house(only when I am there- I don’t leave dogs unattended in head halters) before using it for a walk. By that time the dog has adjusted to the halter and is more likely to leave it alone. Like a pup with a new collar it can sometimes take a couple of weeks for a dog to get used to the head halter. Some pups actually pout when they have the head halter on and get their owners to take them off! If that happens, hang in there-don’t give in to pouting, the benefits of using this tool outweighs the adjustment period. Good trainers know that pairing the head halter with getting out the leash and walking toward the door make it easier for the dog to enjoy the new gear. The head halter becomes a predictor for a favorite activity like a walk-something all dogs can relate to.
If you don’t have Lassie at the end of the leash try a head halter! As with any new tool knowledge of proper fit and use is the key to having success- once you decide to try it I bet you too will agree that walking the dog is much more enjoyable than being walked BY the dog.
Article submitted by: © Liz Harward. Liz is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and lives in Ojai with her husband, Randy, two boys and three Labradors.