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You want to go for a fun, relaxed walk with your dog. But if he’s dragging you down the street, the walk becomes a stressful event to avoid.
So what should you do? You can use a piece of training equipment that will help your dog be successful.
There are anti-pull harnesses, head halters, and other devices that aren’t aversive.
If used properly, using head halters can really help make your walks be successful and fun.
We’re going to cover the pros and cons of two of the more popular anti-pull head halters.
OUR PICK: We love using both Haltis and Gentle Leaders when training our dogs but if I had to choose just one I’d probably go with a Gentle Leader for our Labs and Golden Retrievers.
How Do Head Halters Work?
They work on the same principle that horse halters work. They guide the dog’s head. Where his head goes, his body follows.
And if an animal as large as a horse can be successfully walked, so can a dog if it’s used correctly.
The halter applies pressure to a dog’s head instead of his neck and shoulders as collars do.
They fit around a dog’s muzzle and close behind their ears. You’re supposed to gently guide your dog’s head in order to control where he goes. You’re not supposed to yank on it.
What Are the Pros of Head Halters?
- The head halters help teach a dog not to pull.
- Head halters are great training devices if properly used and are relatively inexpensive.
- Unlike collars, a dog doesn’t gag and choke when he pulls. The head halters are more humane than choke collars, prong collars, and electric collars, which can cause some unwanted behavioral issues.
- A dog can eat and drink when wearing a head halter.
What are the Cons of Head Halters?
- They can take a dog some time to adjust to.
- Some dogs paw at their face and roll around trying to get the head halter off. And some dogs never adjust to them even if they’re properly introduced to the halter.
- They can potentially cause injury to a dog’s neck and spine if a dog lunges forward or if they’re forcefully yanked.
- An untrained dog may pull again when his regular collar is placed on him.
- The head halters aren’t good for short-muzzled, brachycephalic dogs because they’re placed on the muzzle.
- Some people who see your dog in the head halter may incorrectly mistake it for a muzzle.
What Are the Benefits and Downsides of a Gentle Leader?
Although all head halters work on the same principle, there are some differences in how they’re made and how they control your dog.
The Gentle Leader has the following pluses and minuses:
1. It’s completely adjustable
Unlike the Halti, the Gentle Leader’s muzzle strap is completely adjustable for a perfect fit.
Because you can get an almost custom fit, your dog’s less likely to be able to back out of the Gentle Leader.
2. It’s easier to put on than the Halti
Because it’s adjustable, it’s generally easier to put on your dog than some other head halters.
3. It doesn’t look like a muzzle
Because of its sleek, one-strap design, it doesn’t appear to be a muzzle.
This can be a plus if you’re walking a large breed that’s been discriminated against, such as a Rottweiler, Doberman, or pit bull.
4. It clips under the dog’s throat and applies comfortable pressure evenly when correctly used
But there’s no extra strap to connect to the dog’s collar.
PRO TIP: When I use my Gentle Leader I attach my leash to both the collar and Gentle Leader for added safety just in case my dog slips the Gentle Leader.
So if the dog slips out of the Gentle Leader, he can get loose.
5. It makes pulling uncomfortable
The nose strap buckles behind the dog’s ears. The leash is clipped underneath the dog’s chin.
When the dog attempts to pull, the strap tightens around the dog’s muzzle making it uncomfortable to pull.
You can gently guide the dog’s head away from unwanted stimuli.
6. The price isn’t dependent on size
Whether you have a toy breed or a giant breed, the price of the Gentle Leader is the same, whereas the price of the Halti can vary greatly according to size.
7. It’s not padded like the Halti
This can cause some chafing down the dog’s muzzle.
What Are the Benefits and Downsides of a Halti?
As is true of the Gentle Leader, there are some positive reasons to use the Halti as well as reasons not to use it.
1. Unlike the Gentle Leader, it’s not completely adjustable
The Halti has side straps that aren’t adjustable, which may lead to a looser fit for your dog.
2. Dogs may be able to back out of the Halti
Because the Halti may have a looser fit than the Gentle Leader, a dog may more easily back out of it.
3. The Halti is more comfortable
Because the Halti generally fits more loosely than the Gentle Leader, it’s generally more comfortable for dogs to wear.
4. The Halti has an extra strap that can attach to your dog’s collar
Unlike the Gentle Leader, the Halti has a safety strap. In case your dog backs out of the Halti, he’ll still have the safety tab attached to his collar so that he won’t get loose.
5. The Halti looks more like it’s a muzzle
Because of its side straps, the Halti appears to people who aren’t familiar with head halters to be a muzzle.
This can make people think that your dog is aggressive.
As a trainer, I wouldn’t discount using a Halti for this reason. Today, many people are aware of head halters being a training device for dogs.
Also, it’s important to choose what training tool is best suited for your dog.
6. The Halti’s price varies greatly with size, whereas the Gentle Leader’s price doesn’t
The Gentle Leader’s price generally is the same independent of size. But larger Haltis may cost a lot more than small Haltis.
7. The wider straps on the Halti distribute the dog’s weight more evenly across the dog’s muzzle
This can make the Halti more comfortable than the Gentle Leader.
8. The Halti generally provides more control over larger and more powerful dogs because of its construction
With the extra side straps and wider straps, it’s better for controlling more powerful dogs.
How Do I Choose Between the Gentle Leader and the Halti?
After taking the above considerations into account, it’s really a matter of personal choice.
As long as the head halter properly fits your dog, either can work.
If your dog is an escape artist, it may be advisable to use the Halti because of the added strap that attaches to your dog’s collar.
The fit guidelines are on the packaging of both the Gentle Leader and the Halti.
If you’re unsure which will fit best for your dog, consult a knowledgeable trainer who has experience with head halters.
If your dog absolutely hates having something on his face, a Halti may be better because it generally doesn’t fit as snugly as a Gentle Leader.
I trained a large golden retriever for a client using the Gentle Leader. It took a few days of conditioning the dog to accept wearing it. But it was worth it.
Prior to working with the golden, his owner was literally dragged down the street by him. Needless to say, walks were disastrous–and were avoided.
So the golden started to have other behavior issues like jumping because he didn’t have enough physical exercise.
After working with them for a few sessions (and the owner practicing conditioning the dog to the halter), the golden walked right by his owner’s side. And walks became fun again!
How Do I Get My Dog Used to a Head Halter?
It usually takes time and a lot of patience for a dog to adjust to wearing a head halter. Some may adjust quickly, but they’re the exception, not the rule.
So you have to condition him to wear it. In order to be successful, first take the edge off and play with your dog or take him for a walk–without using the head halter.
You don’t want him to have too much energy when working with him getting used to wearing the head halter.
Have some great, high-value, pea-sized treats that your dog loves ready. Hold the halter open and hold a treat in the other hand luring his muzzle into the opening.
Immediately praise him and give him the treat when his muzzle enters the halter. Repeat this a few more times, then end the training session.
Play with him so that he looks forward to the next training session with the head halter.
Do two or three short sessions with the head halter a day.
After a few days or a week–however long it takes–eventually close the snap/buckle on the halter, still feeding him a few treats. Leave it on for a minute.
Eventually, build the time he wears the head halter. But don’t leave it on for hours or when you’re not present. Just leave it on him for 15 minutes or so–long enough for him to get used to wearing it.
Once he feels comfortable–which will probably take at least a few sessions–walk him on the head halter inside with no distractions. Do that for a few sessions.
Use a six-foot leash or shorter. The leash should have some slack but not be so long that your dog can lunge ahead of you.
Don’t use a long line or a Flexi with a head halter. You want him to walk next to you and be able to gently control him using the halter.
After he’s comfortable moving on the harness, start adding distractions and walk him outside. If he tries to pull, stop walking and only move again when he calms down.
This method of teaching him not to pull is called “be a tree.” Then start walking again.
By doing this, he’ll learn that he gets to move forward only if he doesn’t pull. You’re trying to train him not to lunge on the head halter.
As with any training session, it helps if he’s exercised prior to learning how to walk on the head halter.
It helps set him up to succeed.
What NOT to Do
Even though we want instant results with the head halter, there are some things that will harm your likelihood of success using it.
1. Don’t just slap it on your dog
In order for your dog to adjust to it, it’s really important to take time and condition him to it.
You may put the head halter on your dog and he may seem to be alright with it, but he may instead just be shutting down.
In order for him to really enjoy or at least accept wearing the halter, it’s important to take time and work with him.
2. Don’t jerk the head halter
Doing so could potentially lead to chiropractic or other problems.
If the dog attempts to pull, the head halter should just turn his head. It’s also true that you can gently turn his head to guide him where you want to go.
3. Don’t force your dog to use the head halter
Most dogs adjust fine to head halters that are introduced properly. But there are some who just won’t be able to wear them.
What if you properly conditioned your dog to a well-fitted head halter, and he still fights against it? I advise using a different training device such as an anti-pull harness.
4. Don’t expect a head halter to solve behavior problems
If your dog has a behavior problem such as aggression, a head halter won’t stop it.
You’ll still need to work with a qualified expert to help manage such behavior problems.
It may be a device in the trainer’s toolbox, but the behavioral issue still needs to be worked on.
Head halters can be great training devices. The halter must be properly fitted to your dog and you must condition him to wear it. If successful, you can walk your pup without him dragging you down the street. And you can both ENJOY your walk!
If so, did you like one better than the other?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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