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Head Collars

Many people turn up to training with their dog wearing a Head Halter, many others on forums and e-mail lists sing their praises too, but are the results they are seeing, if any, results of training, or management?

Head Halters are similar in design to horse halters, but one thing that people don’t realise is that the skeletal design of a horse and a dog are quite different, as are the location of nerves in the face.

The pressure applied to the face of the dog when wearing a head halter can be quite painful and stressful to the dog, this is not often evident to the person walking the dog. Many times people will tell of how they have a pulling dog and when the head halter was fitted, the pulling stopped what a great tool!!!

Well I would not question their findings but do question the reason the changes have been made.

Its quite obvious to me that there is a reason the dog pulls on the lead, because it wants to get somewhere or to something, this pulling is usually quite enthusiastic and the dog appears very happy doing it. This indicates the dog is often in high drive and reward seeking.

The argument that often occurs between trainers is whether or not corrections should be administered in training. The common statement that purely positive trainers come out with is that dog’s spirits are broken with this style of training. When they talk about broken spirits they are really talking about seeing a dog with its drive diminished through punishment/stress.

Whilst I won’t argue that this can happen through corrective training methods, I will argue that it is not limited to this style of training. This means, you can shut down a dog (extinguish its drive) with simply the wrong vocal tonation, eg: yelling at a dog in a deep growl of a voice. You can do it through use of negative punishment, a well known tool of the purely positive trainer, by simply removing a treat as the dog did not comply. It is also easily done through pain application, via a check chain, prong collar, e collar or head halter when too much of a correction has been applied, thus causing pain, stress and drive reduction.

This is one reason that a head halter will provide some results in a short period of time with some dogs. The dog pulls out, the pressure on the face plus the strain on the dogs neck muscles trying to keep its head facing forward all add up to pain, stress and loss of drive, there fore giving you a dog that doesn’t pull.

But is that dog trained? I’ll say that it isn’t. I’ll say the unwanted behaviour of pulling is simply managed through the fact that the drive is diminished. Is there anything wrong with that?

Well yes, that is the main argument between trainers, remember the “spirits broken” argument? The funny thing is, the people that will host argument will be the same ones who advocate the head halter.

Another issue I have is when people tell me that the dog is trained, or that there is no pain in their training, or that neck injuries are not possible with this tool.

I prefer training methods which involve utilizing the dogs drive, rather than diminishing it, meaning, the dog feels that it can satisfy its drive by compliance of the issued command. If the dog feels that it is doing this, leads, collars etc are not required, as the dog wants to complete the command, rather than being forced into it.

Neck injuries are also prevalent in dogs that lunge when wearing head halters, the real advantage is the leverage that is provided via the leash ring, it’s located near the end of the dogs nose and given the length of the dogs head, you have quite a bit of leverage with the neck bearing the brunt of it.

As a management tool, they can be used when you have no time or inclination to train a dog properly, you could fit up a head halter and manage the dog quite well.

They are quite a good restraint, risk of injury aside, dogs don’t often escape from them, but to call them a training tool is not accurate in my opinion.

Those people that turn up at my training centre with their dog wearing one will tell me how far in training their dog has come, it’s when I ask them to remove the halter or even drop the leash that we see that no advances have been made at all.

The request is to ask their dog to perform the tasks it knows, sit, drop, stay etc, when the leash is dropped, usually the freedom the dog has over rides the apparent training and they have trouble catching the dog, never mind seeing any compliance.

Any type of restraint is just that, restraint, its not training nor should it be confused with training. Its actually only as good as your ability (amplified with leverage) to drag the dog around, often with its drive extinguished.

Of course there are the dogs that just go nuts when a halter is fitted, they drag their nose on the ground, scratch at their face and other such reactions, making any type of concentration by the dog impossible, and without concentration, we all know you can not learn.

There are of course dogs that respond without any negative side effects, I still don’t like to see head halters on these dogs, here are some reasons.

  1. If the dog responds well, it would probably work well on a flat buckle collar.
  2. The risk of injury is still there.
  3. Only experienced trainers will see early signs of stress

A competent trainer will be able to stop a dog from pulling without diminishing it’s drive within only a few minutes, ten minutes is usually suffice for extreme pullers.

Now that is not to say the dog will be trained to heel, or walk on a loose leash, it is saying that this is the foundation of the work, the teaching stage shall we say.

The training of the command should then be continued by the owner and then distractions added to the work.

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