Are Head Halters the answer for dogs who pull?
Last weekend I had a fabulous time at the Festival of dogs at Castle Howard. It was a fantastic weekend and was great to meet so many different breeds of dog and their owners too.
One thing I noticed which was really intriguing was that a lot of dogs were wearing head halter collars around the festival, to help owners with their dogs walking skills so they were walking nicely alongside them throughout the event.
On talking to many of the owners and asking them they really struggled to teach heelwork skills without the halter and once on saw a quick difference in their dog’s behaviour.
I am always on the fence for dogs wearing head halters as they are often seen as a quick fix to teaching heel with many people not taking the time to teach the dog to feel comfortable to wear one and the dog just has to get used to it.
Some of my concerns about their use is that dogs have so many nerves around the nose area which makes it a really sensitive area for the dog. Plus, when they pull their head gets turned in the opposite direction which will put pressure on the dog’s neck which could affect them negatively in their older years.
However, I can understand why in many circumstances that they are used especially if the owner has disabilities or for a dog that has a lot of strength behind it.
Many people seemed to struggle training their dogs to walk on a loose lead. There are many different factors that can affect this including finding walks exciting, being consistent with teaching, focus skills from the dog and building duration of heelwork and generalising it to new areas. Pulling is a skill that a dog can learn really quickly as it gets them to be where they want to go quicker! More often than not it gets the desired response that they want. Owners often give up trying to teach heel as it can be really frustrating which leads to using equipment that will help make the walks more enjoyable without much time training.
Heel work is one of my favourite skills as was one of my hardest behaviours to teach my first dog Skye. Working with her made me think about the mechanics of heel work skill and anticipation of the dog plus the determination of a Border Collie to get to the park to play with a tennis ball. It took a lot of trial and error to get where I wanted her and trying lots of techniques along the way. The best way I found was to strip everything back to basics and building the foundations of heelwork and adding in duration and distraction.
I found progress was quicker when in between training sessions she wore different equipment so she didn’t get confused and when training it was specific equipment so it helped with our progress and for consistency when out and about.
There are many factors to consider when teaching heelwork such as lead, harness or a collar. Where you are going to train, what cues you want to use, what side you would like your dog to walk on, where you are going to reward, what you do if the dog goes wrong, how to help your dog if they are struggling, what rewards are you going to use, how frequently you are going to reward and how to make it harder for the dog to build in a natural habit of walking consistently on a loose lead?
As you can see there is a lot to think about and it can be really difficult especially if owners are in a rush or in a situation where they may not be wanting to concentrate on their dogs training skills.
Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a lead is not only beneficial for them but also the owner as it is never a nice walk if you finish it with one arm that feels like it is longer than the other! Which can then potentially lead to the dog going out for less walks as it is less than pleasurable taking them out.
If you are unsure where to start don’t hesitate to ask if you would like help with teaching your dog how to walk on a loose lead.