Dog head gear that’s not a muzzle
For the Tribune
Jumping and pulling on leash are the two most requested training solutions requested by the average dog owner. As humane training evolves, a set of kind as well as helpful training gear systems has developed. The no-jump leg harness and the no-pull chest harness are recent inventions.
Often mistaken for a muzzle and thereby creating unwarranted fear in a passerby, the head collar has been used for thousands of years on llamas, camels, and horses. It was adapted for dogs 20 years ago by Dr. Roger Mugford and is proven to stop pulling ahead.
Today a dog sporting a head collar or halter is a common sight. Dr. Mugford developed the Halti brand head collar as an alternative to the physically damaging choke chain used to control large, aggressive or difficult pets. The head collar works for goofy dogs, high prey drive or overstimulated dogs and is welcome safety equipment for children, seniors, or any small handler with a large dog.
A consistent problem with traditional leash training is that the dog instinctively reacts to tension by pulling even harder against that tension. The head collar uses distraction and direction instead of force to shape the desired behavior. Used properly, the head collar allows the handler to steer a dog much the same way as using reins and a halter on a horse.
While the head collar is effective used alone, the initial training can include a regular leash attached to the neck collar or a body harness, and a second lighter leash attached to the head collar ring positioned under the dog’s chin. When the dog pulls ahead the handler directs the dog back with a smooth, gentle steer of the head collar leash. If used in tandem, the regular leash remains slack.
The basic theory is that where the head is turned the body naturally follows. When the dog’s head is turned back, he or she loses sight of the distraction ahead. The dog learns to choose which action-reaction feels best and which gets to a desired destination quickest without stops and starts.
Technique and fit are important for success. As with any new experience, the dog needs to be introduced to a head collar in a positive way. First sessions might simply be a couple of minutes in the living room. The head halter is presented so that the dog puts a nose and then eventually the entire muzzle through the loop to get a treat. The collar is not attached yet. When first clipped on, the dog wears the harness without a leash and enjoys interactive play with a toy or a game of fetch.
If the dog paws at the device or flops on the floor, the process is too fast. Back off and again present loop and treat then move forward to fastening the collar behind the head. It must not be too tight or too high, which risks eye injury as well as being uncomfortable. Fit correctly, a conforming collar does not constrict panting or yawning like a muzzle does. Just as the dog anticipates good things to come when a handler reaches for the leash, he or she comes to expect good things when the head collar is presented.
Once the dog is trained, which can be quite quickly, the head collar is removed and can be carried in a pocket as a lifelong helping tool for situations likely to cause arousal. An excursion involving crowds, lots of movement and excitement might warrant putting on the head collar ahead of time. If it has become a positive reinforcer and fits well, the dog won’t mind.
There are several brands of head collars with different features. The most important points are that the halter be the right size, positioned correctly conforming to the head and face, presented with positive association, and used with a soft touch. Walking the dog should and can be a mutually satisfying activity for everyone of every age or stature, including the dog.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.
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