Using Head Collars For Training Dogs
Head collars are becoming more popular for people having difficulties walking their dog on leash. A head collar is a device made of nylon straps that fits over your dog's head and muzzle and the leash attaches under the dog's head. There are different brands on the market and every instructor would have his or her favourite but they all essentially do the same job. They control the direction of the dog's head and thus, its body.
They are based on the design of a horse's bridle; after all you wouldn't put a flat collar on a horse and expect to have control over it. A head collar works in exactly the same way. They inhibit the dog's ability to pull because no force is being exerted on the dog's neck or chest. Instead the straps grip the dog's head tightly and a handler can control most dogs with just one hand.
Dogs are born problem walkers. They can't help it. All animals have something called resistance opposition: when force is applied to them to go one way, they stiffen up and pull the other. When you walk a young puppy they will run off and pull, stop dead in their tracks or weave menacingly in between your legs. If you don't pay special attention to training at this early stage, you will find that you will have worse problems later on.
A dog of any size that pulls constantly will not be taken out for a walk because it becomes too difficult for the owner; this is especially true of medium to large breed dogs that are very strong. This denies the dog the opportunity to smell, see and taste all the wonderful things that are in his or her neighbourhood. Going for a walk is also a simulation of a pack hunt and very important for your dog's psychological and physiological well being.
I was first introduced to them over ten years ago when I had a border collie that preferred to crush her windpipe then slow down. Within a few days, I had gone from having my arms stretched and pulled and hating walking her to a pleasant and relaxed stroll around the block. I also took her for longer walks because it was easy and enjoyable.
I come across people all the time who have purchased a head collar but for one reason or another didn't have much success using them to control their dog. This has always baffled me. They are easy to put on once you understand which strap goes where and once fitted correctly a dog won't be able to get it off. I was using them before I became a dog trainer and sold hundreds over the years in my shop.
When you are using them it is important to walk with a loose leash that droops from under the dog's head down to approximately level with its front legs and then up to you. If you pull or jerk on the leash you may cause permanent damage to the back of the dog's head. These devices are not designed for this.
If your dog pulls, simply stop and turn it around. Use treats to encourage good walking techniques and always encourage your dog when it is doing the right thing. If your dog lunges or jumps up at you, stop, put the dog in the sit, wait a couple of seconds and then move off again. Your dog will learn that if it wants to smell and see all those delicious things in your neighbourhood there are some rules that apply about being a well mannered pooch on the other end of the leash.
It can take a few weeks for a dog to feel comfortable wearing a head collar. Some people don't give them enough time and throw them in the cupboard and give up. Don't. Once your dog has become accustomed to wearing one you'll both enjoy walking so much more.
Sue Day is a dog behaviourist with experience in puppy training, dog agility, obedience, and re homing shelter dogs. Sue owns Messy Pawz Dog Training which advocates positive training methods. Sue has made a lot of information available for free on her website: http://www.gratefuldogsrescue.com