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Q: I've heard that head halters can cause serious injuries if used incorrectly. A too-abrupt tug could jerk a dog's head, causing neck or spinal injuries, couldn't it? — S.T., via e-mail
A: Anything's possible, which is why I don't recommend using a head halter with one of those long, reel-type leashes. The force of a running dog hitting the end of a 30-foot line does have the potential to cause injury.
In truth, just about every piece of canine equipment has the potential for problems if used incorrectly. Slip-chain collars can choke a dog or injure his neck. Breakaway collars, designed to release a dog who's caught on something, can result in a dog being off-leash when it's least safe. And head halters can jerk a dog's head around.
This can affect your dog's demeanor. Dogs who don't know how to walk nicely on leash end up not being walked at all — and that can contribute to obesity and behavior problems.
Luckily, the same people who came up with the head halter have more recently come up with a product I like much, much better: a front-clip harness called the Easy Walk. There are a few different ones on the market now, and they all work on the same theory: When the leash is clipped to the front of the harness (as opposed to the top center of the back), a dog's own forward momentum is used to keep him from pulling.
I've been recommending this product for a few years now because it really works. It's especially wonderful for people who run with their dogs and for making it possible for supervised children to walk even a big dog. Mind you, it doesn't train your dog not to pull on the leash. If you switch back to a collar, your dog will pull again. It's a management tool, and a great one.
The Easy Walk is available from pet retailers or from Premier.
If you don't know what's right for your dog or how to use it, find a trainer who can help you choose the appropriate equipment and show you how it works. Every piece of training equipment is right for some dogs, but no single item is right for all. And no piece of training equipment is safe or effective unless it's fitted and used properly.
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