Are you a teeny tiny person with a giant lug of a dog? On walks, does your dog lunge or strain toward other dogs, people, cars, bicycles, squirrels, rollerbladers, or moving objects of any kind?
Head halters can be the perfect solution for getting control of a hard-charging puller. While there are many brands currently available (the Gentle Leader and the Halti Opti-fit are both excellent choices!), the idea behind the design is the same for all head halters: a loop around your dog’s nose gives you the best possible leverage on the other end of the leash.
Yet many people are reluctant to use these tools on their dogs. And there are legitimate drawbacks:
- Head halters can look like muzzles to the untrained eye. Wearing a muzzle doesn’t make a dog “vicious” or “bad,” and it is, in fact, a great idea for all dogs to feel comfortable wearing one. But it is unfortunately true that muzzled dogs are stigmatized. And some of this bad PR can bleed over onto your own halter-wearing walking buddy. While out with my German Shepherd, Luca, I was once stopped by someone who pointed to his Gentle Leader and asked, “Is that because he likes to snap?” This sort of encounter doesn’t happen often. But if you choose to use a head halter, be aware that you may find yourself doing a bit of sidewalk education!
- They require some up-front training. Head halters aren’t designed to cause pain, but most dogs do seem to find them irritating if they’re simply slapped on. A thoughtful introduction is necessary to help our dogs learn that having a weird strap around their nose is a predictor of good things!
For these reasons, it can often be easier to try a front-clip harness first to deter pulling. all offer a leash attachment on the chest, which helps bring your dog back around toward you if they try to tow you down the street. Just like head halters, these devices work using leverage—no pain, no choking. And they have the advantage of being readily accepted by most dogs.
Still, front-clip harnesses aren’t always as effective as we need them to be. For the big dog/tiny handler match-ups and for reactive dogs, head halters are the humane gold standard for safety.
So, if your walks with your best friend are currently more drag than joy, a head halter may be the answer…with a little pre-training.
To teach a dog to enjoy wearing a head halter, there are two things to keep in mind. First, your new halter must always predict good things. To start with at least, “good things” is going to mean extra-fabulous treats. And second, it’s critical to always work at your dog’s pace. When we give our dogs the right to say “no” to something potentially weird or scary, we prove ourselves worthy of their trust and protect training progress.
To see how this works, check out this fantastic demo by Jean Donaldson:
By going slow and keeping the goodies flowing, you can make wearing a head halter a positive experience for your dog. And you (and your shoulders!) can enjoy strolls with your best friend without fear of hitting the pavement.