Most professional dog trainers utilize whatever method or tool is necessary to perform their jobs efficiently. The most successful trainers keep an open mind and read the canine student before deciding on a training approach. Reading the dog consists of watching its body language and reaction to stimuli.
Often, trainers are confronted with a dog that has been “spoiled” and, as a result, has become headstrong. The dog pulls while being walked and/or jumps up. In some cases, the canine student has learned to respond aggressively when meeting other dogs or people. Most canine owners do not realize how much their behavior and reactions promote these negative responses and tend to make matters worse by pulling and yelling. Using treats to redirect attention while the dog is distracted rarely works. A stressed animal will not care about the food, only about reaching the object of its contention, or escaping the fearful situation.
The absolute worst thing a trainer could do in this situation is to further incite the dog by using a painful training technique. Yanking the dog by the neck, shocking him or pinching with a prong collar, all fall into this category. Since Alice DeGroot (a veterinarian) invented head halters for dogs in the late 1970’s there has been little need for using these tools in conjunction with negative reinforcement training methods. As modern dog trainers are always searching for a means of training the dog in a positive manner, they are turning to the head halter training tool.
Head halters teach dogs in a way dogs understand.
Dogs never choke or shock each other. These behaviors are not in the canine repertoire. When one dog corrects another dog it will growl in a low tone. Some dogs will lay a forepaw over the shoulder of another dog. Many dominant dogs will push the other dog downwards by the neck or muzzle. When a mother dog corrects her pups she puts their muzzle or other part of their face in her mouth and gently pushes downward as she growls.
Head halters work the same way.
When correcting the dog, pressure is applied to the dog’s muzzle as the handler “growls” a verbal correction. The dog immediately recognizes this communication and responds. The dog is humbled. Within a short time a dog that was charging aggressively taught to control the outburst. All without pain!
A dog that insists on pulling on the leash is quickly taught to heel. Often in less than 10 minutes with the proper use of a head halter. Where the head goes, the body follows. How can a dog run toward another dog if his head cannot first turn to look at the other dog? Hence, he learns to watch his handler and ignore distractions. This is done with simple redirection, a sudden turn or a sharp noise to get the charging dog’s attention off of where he was going and back to his handler. The moment the dog looks at his handler he can be rewarded with praise and/or food. As dogs seek to repeat rewarding behavior, the unwanted behavior will soon extinguish itself.
There are several brands of head halters on the market. They consist of two varieties: conventional and figure-8.
Conventional head halters appear similar to horse halters. They have cheek straps and no jaw restriction. Two head halters fall into this category: Comfort Trainer and Halti.
Figure-8 head halters consist of two straps. One goes behind the ears, the other over the muzzle. The two straps connect under the jaw where there is a clamp that holds the straps in place. Unfortunately, the clamping action also applies pressure to the dog’s muzzle. This means constant punishment to the dog, which is not humane. A conventional head halter does not constantly punish a dog and does not irritate the eyes as the figure-8 halter might. There is no pressure on the dog’s muzzle unless applied by the dog’s handler at the moment the need to redirect the dog arises. The most widely marketed head halter that falls into this category are Gentle Leaders.
Not every dog requires the use of a head halter for training. Many will respond well to click and treat or lure and reward methods. There are some dogs that feel so humiliated while wearing a head halter that other methods should be investigated. However, when one meets a dog that, when aroused, does not care about food or toys, head halters offer a humane alternative to painful training methods.