1.23.2013

Loose Leash Walking Equipment: Head Collars

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of head collars. Not all trainers are, but these are a tool that I really advocate for. They are not for every handler, they are not for every dog - but in all honesty, nothing is right for every handler or every dog. For instance, our Border Collie, Sadie, wears her head collar every time we go out, even for a quick pee break. Our Greyhound is perfectly fine with just his standard issue collar.

Sadie with her Halti head collar
Why Use a Head Collar?
I grew up in Maine where we had plenty of cows, and I rode horses since I was a wee little one. Both of these animals are moved most easily by the use of a head collar, or halter. It's much easier to convince a 1,600 pound horse to move with you when you have it by the nose.

Dogs are the only animal we expect to walk perfectly nicely by a wrapping something around its neck. We don't typically do that with sheep, horses, cows, or even cats.




We've come a long way. Just a few years ago, most people thought the head collar was a muzzle. While some designs do have that function built in, predominantly the head collar is just that: a type of equipment designed to help you walk your excited/giant pulling dog without tearing your rotator cuff, or cause injury to a dogs trachea. Most people now understand that it's a tool to walk an excited dog safely.

A note of caution regarding ANY head collar: Do not use these head pieces with anything other than a 4-6' leash. If you are doing long line recalls or walk your dog on a retractable leash, do not use a head collar. If your dog takes off at speed and comes to a sudden stop , their head can twist causing spraining, muscle pulls, or worse. If you are prone to "leash popping" your dog, a head collar might not be appropriate for you. As with any device, it might not be appropriate for all dogs and handlers.

Also, head collars can take a little bit of time to get used to, and some dogs never adjust to these pieces. Generally, if fitted properly, and if the dog is trained/conditioned to wear the head collar properly, you can get great results. If you just toss the head collar on a fearful dog and expect it to go amazingly, you might be in for a bad experience. Here is a great video with Jean Donaldson on how to get a dog to think wearing a head collar is a great idea, and how to condition a dog to love the head piece:



That being said, this is my preferred method of walking strong pullers, reactive or aggressive dogs, and exuberant jumpers. This is a fantastic alternative to the choke chains of yesteryear and prong collars.


Types of Head Collars:
Gentle Leader
The Gentle Leader is a head piece made by Premier. This is the head collar most people know by name. As Kleenex is to tissue, Gentle Leader is to head collars. However, this is my least favorite.
The Gentle Leader.
Pros:
-Commercially available at most box-store pet shopping centers
-Very adjustable
-Variety of colors

Cons:
-Not appropriate for short-snout dogs, such as the Pug, Old English Bulldog, and other dogs who are brachycephalic..
-No extra padding on the bridge of the nose, so some dogs might chafe.
-No safety strap (so you should use a second leash connected to the dogs collar OR make your own safety strap modeled after some of the other brands.) If the dog escapes, you are left holding the head piece and leash as your dog runs off.
-No extra side straps for stability.
-Since this is such a simple design, you have to have the head piece super-snug to prevent the dog from escaping out of the head collar, which can be uncomfortable.


Snoot Loop
This product is the go-to head halter for dogs that have short snouts, or who don't fit the other head pieces very well. Trainers have been recommending this piece for years, but they are not usually found in retail stores.

Snoot Loop

Pros:
-This halter is SUPER adjustable. It also has an additional strap that crosses over the dogs forehead for short snouted dogs.
-Really difficult for dogs to escape from when adjusted properly.
-Multiple points of adjustment, making this the least likely to chafe of all the brands mentioned here, and the hardest to escape from.
-There is a collar attached as part of the design (you can see a thicker strap on the dog above, behind his ears). This also is a safety feature, so if your dog DOES escape, you still have your dog.
-Does have a muzzle feature if the dog lunges, but unless you pull on this halter in a very specific way, it will function as a walking device and not a muzzle.

Cons:
-Your dog looks like Hannibal Lecter
-Though it has multiple points of adjustment, it can be hard to adjust initially.
-Doesn't fit really small dogs, such as mini poodles - you'd have to use the Halti for that.
-Not commercially available - have to find one online.


Halti:
This head piece is the best of all worlds: affordable, easy to fit, easy to adjust and easy to put on. However, if you have a dog with a short snout or a dog that needs something a little more sturdy, you might need a different head collar.

Halti

Pros:
-Commercially available
-Padding over the nose strap, lessening the likelihood of chafing
-Built in safety strap that attaches back to the dogs collar. In the event the dog escapes from the head piece, you still have your dog connected  by the collar to the leash.
-Convenient as the Gentle Leader, but more sturdy.
-Has a minor muzzle option for dogs who lunge aggressively, but not a muzzle substitute for dogs that really need it.

Cons:
-Not as adjustable as the Snoot Loop, so it might be hard to find the perfect size for your particular dog.
-Sizing is rather generous. If you have a big dog for the breed, use the manufacturers recommendation. However, if you have a smaller dog for breed standard, or a female, you might actually want to get the size below the recommendation on the back of the package.
-Some dogs can still chafe/nose piece might ride up and irritate the dogs eyes.
-Not appropriate for dogs with a short snout


Canny Collar:
Canny Collar

Pros:
-Connects behind the dogs head to the leash, so the leash shouldn't get wrapped under the dogs leg or be chewed on as you walk.
-Can't twist the dogs neck because of leash placement
-Easy to put on
-Safety strap/additional collar like the Snoot Loop

Cons:
-Harder to get than the Gentle Leader or Halti, but you can purchase online.
-Dogs can back out of the snout loop, but you still have your dog by the collar if fitted correctly.
-Not appropriate for dogs with a short snout.



As with any walking equipment, talk with your trainer to see what equipment might be most appropriate for you and your dog specifically. Maybe you don't need a head collar - you might only need a harness designed to assist with pulling behaviors.  Or maybe your dog just needs to work on exercises designed to teach proper leash skills. When in doubt, ask your trainer.


Good Luck and Happy Walking!

-M3