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Using Head Halters In Dog Training

By: Amie Smith

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A head halter is the only training collar that gives the owner exquisite control over a dog, helps a dog instinctively understand that the owner is the leader, and causes NO PAIN! Head halters offer an alternative to traditional training collars and often are a ray of sunshine to owners who can start having pleasant walks with their dog again.

Traditional training collars, such as choke collars and prong collars, are difficult to use properly and are based on coercing the dog to perform the desired behavior in order to avoid the pain of correction. Choke and prong collars can also cause permanent damage to structures in the neck including the trachea, blood vessels, and nerves. Also, they are often not very effective in preventing pulling on the leash. We have all seen dogs pulling as hard as they can at the end of a choke chain, gagging, and having difficulty breathing because their airways are cut off. Due to the lack of effectiveness of traditional training collars, many owners give up walking their dogs on a regular basis because it is such a difficult, unpleasant experience.

How Do They Work?

Head halters have two soft, adjustable, nylon straps that are fitted to a dog's head so that no pressure is ever applied to the dog's throat. Each strap is fitted separately and performs a different function. The neck strap sits high on the dog's neck, just behind the ears, and is snug so that only one finger can be placed beneath it. When a dog feels pressure on the back of his neck, he instinctively relaxes and calms down, just as puppies do when their mother picks them up by the scruff of the neck. The nose strap is left loose and sits at the base of the muzzle so that the dog can eat, drink and pant. It's NOT a muzzle! When fitting the nose strap, it should be loose enough to just touch the fleshy part of the dog's nose when pulled forward but no looser. When gentle pressure is exerted on the dog's muzzle, it sends the same message that a pack leader does when he gently but decisively grasps a subordinate's muzzle – "Hey you! Cut it out - I am the leader." Thus when a dog feels pressure at both key points he receives a very powerful message from you - "Calm down - I am the leader".

How does a head halter stop pulling? Besides giving the messages described above, a canine head halter works similarly to a horse head halter. If you control the animal's head you control the animal. One never sees horses being led around on choke or prong collars!

If a dog wearing a head halter forges ahead of his owner, the tension on the leash causes his head to turn and make him look at his owner. With his head turned, the dog must wait until the owner catches up with him so that the tension is released and he can resume walking. If a dog lags behind his owner, tension occurs on the neck strap and he is compelled to catch up with his owner.

The First Time You Use a Head Halter on Your Dog

Most dogs become accustomed to a head halter after a small adjustment period. During the acclimation phase, it is very important that your dog associates wearing the head halter with good things. Plan on making the first few training sessions with a head halter short, no more than 5 minutes in length, and be prepared to give your dog several small delicious treats (hot dog, chicken, etc) to reward calm behavior.

Dogs' initial reactions to a head halter boil down to a few types. Approximately half of the dogs take a head halter in stride and if you are one of the lucky owners of this type of dog, you will soon be on your way enjoying walks with your dog.

Some dogs will sulk at first and will lie or sit with theirs heads hanging low. These dogs need to be "jollied" out of their bad mood with treats and praise. You can lure the dog into walking by holding delicious treat slightly in front of his nose. Sulky dogs also seem to do better when they have something to think about other than the head halter so the sooner you can get them out walking around your neighborhood the better.

A few dogs resent head halters and will struggle to get them off. Not surprisingly, these dog tend to be more willful and head-strong and are the ones that need a head halter the most! If your dog acts up and struggles to get the head halter off, apply steady, upward tension to the leash so that he will receive the correct signals from the leadership and maternal points. Maintain tension on the leash until he relaxes (the first time you do this tension may need to be applied for upwards of 30 seconds). As soon as he relaxes, release the tension and give lots of praise and delicious treats. After a few corrections, even the most willful dog soon learns that it is better to be relaxed with a head halter than struggle and receive the tension applied by it.

Tension On/ Tension Off

As mentioned above, the appropriate way to correct a dog behaving inappropriately is to apply steady, upward tension to the head halter so that the dog's nose is pointed toward the sky. The tension is maintained until the dog relaxes and stops the inappropriate behavior. As soon as he relaxes, the tension is released and the dog is praised. It is very important not to jerk the leash as this improper use of the head halter and may hurt the dog.

Timing of the application and release of tension is key to the power of the head halter's messages. You must try to time actions to be within 1-2 seconds of the change in your dog's behavior or else learning will be hindered. For example, if tension is not released as soon as the dog relaxes, he will be receiving a correction for relaxed behavior and will not learn what you wish of him.

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