People often ask if head halters are better to use instead of a collar or harness. The question needs to be clarified “better for whom”? For dogs no, as explained below. For the human they provide you with better control of a dog that is out of control, but I only recommend their use in very rare cases for the reasons explained below.
There are basically two types of head halters. One type the point of control is under the chin and works by pulling the dog’s head back to the side. The other version has the point of control at the back of the neck and when pulled places pressure on the dogs face. We should always take into consideration the dog's anatomy when we use any type of equipment. Head halter devices/tools have their own set of concerns; potentially harming the Trigeminal nerve, facial nerves, soft tissue and spine damage. The head halter devices that tighten behind the head have added issues so we must add to the list potential damage to the nuchal ligament, and the spinal cord from skull to the upper cervical veterbrae.
The Problem With Head Halters https://suzanneclothier.com/article/problem-head-halters/
People often ask what “what equipment you would use for a reactive dog?” I recommend a properly fitted martingale for every dog in training. That being said with large dogs that are completely out of control, on rare occasions I do use a “One piece halter and leash combo” from genuinedoggear.com along with the martingale collar. I like this product because it is very soft tube webbing that lays flat. I place the one piece loosely on the dog and fasten the one piece leash to my leash and only add pressure when absolutely need once I have moved the dog next to me with the martingale. I use it like an emergency brake when the dog is close so as not to create spine problems.
My goal in dog reactive cases is to teach the dog to ignore other dogs. For me it starts with the dog overlearning how to walk properly on a leash. (Loose leash walking) I have posted a video of the technique that I use here. https://youtu.be/sF0udU6cz_g
Another important point to make is that I don’t let the dog move forward unless they are exercising self-control. Meaning they will not exit the house, gate, or car unless completely under control and I have given them permission. I’m very careful not to move so fast that I’m rewarding them for persistent. For example, as soon as they exit I will often request they sit while I calmly shut and lock the door. If the dog is not a wild child I really don’t care if they sit as long as they wait patiently for me. If this means it takes 10-minutes for them to exercise self-control I take the time because soon the dog will realize that his persistence gains nothing. Consistency will result in a dog cooperating in a shorter amount of time as you continue to practice.
Thresholds, Thresholds, and Doing Nothing https://youtu.be/VLriCeTYxLM
I’m big on “permission” when working with dogs. Meaning I want them to sniff and have opportunities to explore. But it must be with permission. Many owners get this wrong. The dog will be distracted and pulling and just as soon as the owner pulls/guides the dog back to where it should be they give the dog “permission” to move away, sniff, explore, etc… What they get wrong is there was not a 10-second disassociation time between guiding them back and then releasing them to sniff. The dog was likely rewarded for persistent, not being under control or cooperating.
It is also important to evaluate whether the dog is getting all their needs met (attention, social interaction, exercise, mental stimulation) and making their life more interesting. Variety can be the key to an enriching life for dogs. Engage all five of the dogs' senses, to make their days more interesting. Anything that is unchanging is no longer unique and loses its value quickly. Dogs engaged in enrichment activities are less likely to develop the inappropriate behaviors that are the result of boredom, stress, and frustration.
Many times people use these “tools” because they have heard/believe that a collar can cause damage to dogs. Yes a collar can cause damage to dogs. Dogs can and do suffer from cervical and back problems but I believe they are most likely caused by old school type (jerk) correction training. It’s my opinion that the causes of trachea issues that are not genetic are untrained dogs with heavy pulling, harsh corrections, especially with thin, metal, or any type of choke collars. To avoid inflicting damage do not use choke chains and other thin collars and do not place any collar high, right behind the ears.
I work with Chihuahuas to Irish Wolfhounds, and everything in between. In my opinion the equipment or tool with the least amount of risk when fitted (Just tight enough so the dog cannot escape the collar at its tightest) and used properly is the martingale collar. I prefer to use a wide and soft martingale collar 98% of the time when I’m working with dogs. But it’s important to me that dogs are under control and cooperating and I also teach dogs and owners how to walk on a leash nicely.
Whatever tools you use, look to make it as pleasant as possible for the dog while still maintaining control. We ultimately want dogs to desire to be with us and not find us punishing.
Understanding all that, a head halter does give the most control but if we choice to use it should be for a very short period of time and with the utmost care.
Before Placing any equipment please take the time to read the short articles below and watch the short videos.
Selecting Training Equipment https://suzanneclothier.com/article/selecting-training-equipment/
How Much Does Your Dog’s Cooperation Weigh? https://suzanneclothier.com/article/much-dogs-cooperation-weigh/
Handling On-lead Aggression https://suzanneclothier.com/article/handling-lead-aggression/
Guidelines for Teaching Self Control https://suzanneclothier.com/article/guidelines-teaching-self-control/
Understanding Thresholds: It’s More than Under- or Over- https://suzanneclothier.com/article/understanding-thresholds-its-more-than-under-or-over/
Training or Restraining? https://suzanneclothier.com/article/training-or-restraining/