Every service professional knows that you can’t do your job without the right tools. Dog training is no different. When it comes to leash walking, there are certainly a lot of tools out there. There’s harnesses, choke chains, front clip harnesses, nylon slip collars, martingales, prong collars, electronic collars, and head halters. Here at Applause Your Paws Dog and Puppy Training in Miami, Florida, we prefer to use head halters to leash train dogs. Yet, despite the fact that a head halter is one of the most humane training tools on the market, dog owners seem to have pre-conceived ideas as to the function of a head halter and why it isn’t a good training tool. In this post I hope I can set you straight! Head halters are in our opinion the BEST leash training tool for your dog or puppy. The only time when they aren’t appropriate is if they can’t be fitted properly because of a dogs breed. If a gentle leader can’t be worn properly then our second favorite is a front-clip harness. But, back to the Gentle Leader head collar. Below is our short list of things people say to us, and what we explain in return.
Common objections to using a head collar:
- People think my dog is wearing a muzzle and/or that my dog bites
Why do you care what people think?! It’s YOUR dog. It’s no one’s business but yours. Take people’s ignorance of your dog’s head halter as an opportunity to educate them about the tool. You may be surprised at how many people simply are uninformed. So the next time someone sees you and your dog in a gentle leader and says “does he bite?” just answer “no, he’s very friendly! Would you like to pet him? The collar I’m using gives me extremely effective control of my dog so that he is polite when he meets people.”
- My dog doesn’t like it and “always tries to get it off.”
Two things. Number one: I hear what you are saying but what you are saying means “I don’t have the patience to let him learn the gentle leader isn’t that bad.” Secondly, if he is always trying to get it off the you are likely always ALLOWING him to try and get it off! Pull up his head already and don’t let him try and get it off! Just about every dog I’ve ever met doesn’t like a collar the first time you put it on. Don’t you remember when your dog was a puppy and he freaked out the first time you put his new little puppy collar on him? He probably jumped around, tried to bite it getting it stuck in his mouth, tried to paw at it but then gave up shortly there after because he realized it just wasn’t going anywhere and he had to deal with it. Here’s the reality: Yes, in a perfect world we’d all take a week like the Gentle Leader box says to condition our dogs to love the head collar, but if you’re super frustrated walking your dog right now who has a week. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So put the head collar on and walk already! Let your dog flail around a little bit. He won’t choke himself because the collar doesn’t tighten, and worst case he’ll get it off and you’ll just put it back on. Tough luck puppy….because last time I checked I am EXHAUSTED with your dragging me, pulling out my arm when you lunge forward in excitement towards other dogs and people. Trust me on this one… I have only met ONE dog over the past ten years of professional dog training that would not tolerate a gentler leader. Your dog is likely not in that minority.
- How long before I can go back to using a “normal” collar. I don’t want to have to use the Gentle Leader forever.
This probably my least favorite of the three common objections, for several reasons. Firstly, who told you that having pressure around your dog’s neck is “normal.” Putting any collar on the dog is a violation of their right to be naked (furrrr!!!!), free and happy! But, for safety, training and and identification reasons we do choose to collar our animals. But that doesn’t make a flat or choke chain the “norm.” Get with the program! Tradition is what dictates the use of choke chains and other tightening collars. Modern, science based dog trainers know that these outdated tools are not the most humane nor affective tools at teaching dogs to do what we want them to do. So don’t get hung up on what is “normal.” You need to be more concerned with what is healthiest for you and your dog! My dogs are off-leash reliable. Anyone that has met them knows that I can have them just about anywhere off a leash and they listen to my commands. And that irrespective of what kind of TOOL I choose to use for a casual walk that I could put them on any type of collar and they would choose to heel (because I have trained them to like heeling). Yet, I still CHOOSE to walk them on a gentle leader when we’re out and about in public because once they are used to it it’s simply more comfortable for them, I believe, than a collar. If they feel the sudden urge to stop and smell a nice spot on the road they don’t have to choke themselves to do it! If they suddenly see a bird and stop in the road because they are curious, again…just being a dogs as dogs often do…..and I have to encourage them forward with the leash I’d rather tug forward on a tool that isn’t hurting my dog. That is my preference! Yet, my dogs heeling is NOT dependent on the type of collar I choose to use. My dogs heeling is dependent on the time and energy I put into leash training them.
Regardless of what kind of tool you use to train a dog to heel, the steps are the same. Reinforce good behavior, find a way to prevent the bad behavior, or give a consequence for the incorrect behavior.
So, now that you know how I really feel, how do you really feel? What’s more important to you? Image? Ease of training? The dogs health?
Here’s a few articles you need to read…. food for thought:
Ocular Trauma caused by choke collars
Pathologies of Dogs Associated with the Use of Choke Chains
Brain Damage after Punitive Training Techniques
And lastly, here is what prompted today’s blog post: Meet Jagger, a 1yr old brindle mix from the shelter. In this video he is getting his very first leash training session with my current animal behavior college student Amy. When this video was taken Jagger had been wearing the gentle leader for about 15 minutes. The first five he did what every dog does (paw at it, open their mouth weirdly, shake their head around a few times), but quickly realized the gentle leader was….well….gentle. And what would have been an otherwise painful and tiring session for the HUMAN became a very nice productive session for both dog and handler. Gorgeous 🙂 And he did pretty good for his first day of leash training!