It’s a tough question at times, but what is the right way to use a headcollar?
I see so many people using headcollars when walking their dogs around Basildon or Billericay. If you ask them, the most common reason is that their dog pulls and the headcollar stops them pulling.
Is that right though?
I’m not actually sure it is. It feels very much like we’re compromising our dogs comfort for our own aches. And that? That is never the way forward and rarely results in the right and desired outcome!
For context, I walk big dogs, lots and lots of big dogs. However, none of my dogs walk on a headcollar anymore. Why? Well, for me there are two main reasons;
- It’s not comfortable for the dog.
- It’s not necessary.
So, we’ve phased them out. Initially, if a dog comes to me on one, I’ll accept, but we usually phase it out quite quickly. To me? The headcollar is a symbol of laziness.
Yep! Sorry if it offends, but I’ll explain! I promise, check through and hopefully you can see why I think that.
What is a dog headcollar?
There is a range of headcollars for dogs, popular ones are Halti’s and Canicollars, a figure 8 and various others.
The basic principle is that something on them tightens around the dog’s head or nose when they pull, which, in effect, takes the power out of your dog’s movement. In turn, this gives you back your control over a dog that’s pulling. It is an aversive training method, though, it is not quite in the same bracket as, say, a prong collar.
Why do people use a headcollar?
From my experience, this is because its “The only thing that stops their dog pulling”. Yep! It’s literally designed to do that. If I’ve ever asked further their dog won’t walk nicely on a lead, and they’ve ‘tried everything’. If you scroll through Facebook questions asking for help with their dog that pulls? This is such a common answer “Get a headcollar! Changed our lives”. And it will! For sure. But… is that what your dog deserves? Are you just switching the discomfort from you, to your dog?
NOTE: Something I have seen done – DO NOT EVER use one of these with a long line or flexi lead! If they come to a halt, you could snap a neck!! Please be careful!
Why don’t I like headcollars?
They are an aversive training method. A gentle one, a fairly friendly one, but there is no escaping that they are an aversive training method. Consequently, I, as a lover of dogs, and a trainer (in training!) cannot support the use of these long term and especially not as the main way of controlling your dog.
Question – What is an Aversive Method?
Aversive method means a method in which something that applies unpleasant pressure or pain is applied to an animal to force them into an option that is desirable to their handler.
Typically, aversives result in your dog displaying other behaviours to counter it, a basic example is a puppy that gets shouted at for peeing on the carpet, so, it pees behind the TV instead. Puppy is doing the right thing in it’s head, because it’s just not allowed to pee on the carpet… You’re showing your dog what’s wrong to do, as opposed to what is right to do.
We have a language barrier with our dogs, that much is obvious, but we have to guide them to what we want, and not tell them off for what we don’t want.
When is the right time to use a headcollar?
In my opinion, there are TWO times when a headcollar is acceptable to be used;
1 – Training
When you’re training your dog to walk nicely on a lead? Absolutely acceptable to use it to aid teaching. It can be used to teach a dog how they are supposed to walk and slowly wean them off the headcollar and on to a harness or collar! Phase-out the headcollar eventually. Perfectly acceptable!
2 – Strong and/or high prey drive dogs
This one is slightly different, extremely high prey drive dogs who are likely to lunge or dart for their quarry are definitely great candidates for headcollars, and especially if they are powerful animals. Think Husky and Malamutes. Personally? I still passionately believe they can be trained, and Skye, our resident Malamute at Rove is complete proof! But, so long as this is the back up for the owner and not the primary means of containing your dog – that I can understand.
How can you move off of a headcollar?
Simple stuff. Grab a double-ended training lead (like a Halti training lead, it’s why they exist!) and attach one end to your dog’s headcollar, and one to their harness. Gradually change how you hold the lead over time (so you don’t lose their lovely loose lead walk that the headcollar has gifted you!) and if they’re doing good? Move your hand up the lead towards the harness. Eventually, try unclipping the headcollar and let them wear it loose. Then phase out altogether. They shouldn’t notice that it’s ‘gone’ and you should have imprinted how they should walk enough for them to do it without relying on the device.
So, does it make an owner lazy?
I’m sorry! I’m not, but, hey… I genuinely believe every dog can be trained to walk nicely with time, patience and consistency. Sure, keep it on for back up, but it doesn’t need to be the sole reason your dog walks nicely. Sure, they’re gentle (one is even called a gentle leader), but they can rub, they are definitely uncomfortable. Which means that the pet parent is choosing to take the easy route as opposed to persist in training.
Train! Please! I implore you. Train and be free of a headcollar! If you don’t know how, make sure to get advice from a force-free trainer, like those at the IMDT.
Don’t banish your dog to a life of headcollars!
What do I want you to take away from this? Well, I don’t want you to be angry, I want you to realise that you and your dog can be more. Training takes time, but it should be comfortable for both of you. It’s not a case that you have to pick which of you is in discomfort. You shouldn’t have an achey shoulder or back, and they shouldn’t have pressure put on their faces. Loose lead walking is totally doable!
Please! You can totally do it. Every dog can be trained. With teaching, patience, and love, you can get them to heel or walk loose lead with great consistency. Don’t be lazy, you can do it! Sure, there will be days where it sucks, but there will be so many more where you and your dog are happy and comfortable walking around.
Need some help doing this? Why not get in touch and we can totally discuss how to get you and your dog walking wonderfully together! Or, if you know someone who needs this? Tag them on Facebook! And stay tuned, because we’re going to be coming out with a bunch of awesome Harness reviews and collars!