Using Head Halters In Dog Training

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.

Walking With a Head Halter

Mistake #1 – The number one mistake most owners initially make is keeping tension on the leash at all times. Most people have become conditioned to do this because it used to be the only way they could control their dogs on leash. But as discussed earlier, with the head halter system, tension on the leash gives the powerful message that the dog must change his behavior. No tension on the leash means that the dog is displaying acceptable behavior. If there is constant tension on the leash the dog will never learn what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. On your first couple of walks, it is often helpful to have a friend accompany you to help you remember to not rein your dog in inappropriately.

Positioning – Have your dog stand or sit by your side and leave enough slack in the leash that the dog can move approximately one foot in front or behind you. The arm that is closest to the dog will be locked in an extended position by your side and will hold the leash so that the amount of slack you have chosen will remain constant. By locking your arm in an extended position, you will be less likely to inappropriately apply tension to the leash. The arm farthest away from the dog holds the remainder of the gathered up leash and can either be by your side or folded across your stomach.

Starting off – Give your dog a command such as "Rover heel" or "Rover let's go" so that your dog knows that you are starting off. Make an effort to walk at a constant speed and not to change your walking speed to accommodate your dog. If your dog forges ahead, tension will naturally be applied to the leash and your dog will be forced to stop until you are in line with him again. If he lags behind, continue walking, the tension building on the back of his neck will compel him to walk forward again. Your dog will soon learn that the only position where there is no tension on the head halter is walking by your side. He will learn this very important lesson without you having to do anything but walk at a constant speed. A few willful dogs will attempt to struggle with the head halter a few more times. If this occurs stop, apply steady, upward tension to the lead. As soon as he relaxes, release the tension and start your walk again.

Head Halters as a Training Tool

A head halter can be an effective tool in the modification of behavior problems by helping you teach your dog a more appropriate alternative behavior. You can use the tension on/tension off system to correct any inappropriate behavior such as excessive barking, jumping on people, and aggression. Just apply tension to the lead when your dog acts inappropriately and release the tension when he relaxes. For training of indoor behavior problems, you can leave the head halter on your dog with a loopless training lead as long as you are present. That way you can easily gather your dog up and correct inappropriate behavior. As with any training, it is important to proceed at your dog's pace and set up practice sessions where your dog will succeed. Be sure to make training positive by including delicious treats and praise for desired behavior. Some owners discover that simply having their dogs wear the head halter causes the frequency of unwanted behaviors, such as aggression, to decrease.

Head halters can be obtained from a number of different sources that include:

1. Gentle Leaders® are sold through veterinarians and elite pet supply catalogs (distributor Premier Pet Products. Tel: 1-888-640-8840).
2. Snootloops® are modified from the Gentle Leader® design by the addition of two side bands to hold the noseband on more firmly. Available from
3. Haltis® can be purchased from pet shops, pet supply catalogs, and on the Internet.
4. Haltis®, K9 Kumalongs®, and Comfort halters® are available from Internet sites.