Head Halters: The Device, the Uses and the Controversy
Head halters for dogs, commonly sold as the Gentle Leader, Halti or Snoot Loop, are devices that fit over a dog’s nose and neck. The halters are not to be mistaken for a muzzle, but they are a walking device that gives more control than a collar or harness. The basic premise of a halter is: Where the head goes, the body will follow. Head halters fit similarly to a halter on a horse; the leash attaches just under the mouth. There may be some similarity between the head halter tightening on the muzzle and a mother dog correcting her puppies by putting her mouth over their nose. Head halters are beneficial training tools, but there is also the possibility for misuse. For this reason, involving a professional, starting with your veterinarian, is always recommended to see if the head halter is the right fit for your dog.
Right for Some Situations
Not every dog is a candidate for a head halter, but the devices are valuable in certain training situations. Dogs with aggression issues are one example where head halters may be recommended. Owners with limited physical ability walking a hard-to-control dog can also better direct the dog with a head halter than with other walking tools. The halter minimizes forward motion, such as pulling, and gives directional control. By pulling gently upward, the person can use the halter to close the dog’s mouth, which can help control nipping and mouthing. When the halter is used in combination with training a desired response, such as teaching a loose-leash walk, it can be a transitional training tool that is used temporarily to teach a particular behavior.
Potential for Misuse
Opponents of head halters note the possibility of damage to the neck if the dog hits the end of the leash and his head is snapped back. There is also the possibility for misuse of the halter if sharp-jerk corrections are made. Head halters that fit too tightly can also cause eye damage or rub fur off the muzzle. Some dogs also become distressed or depressed from the halter, especially if gradual adjustment to the device is not made.
The Right Fit
When the head halter is used properly, it can be a safe and effective tool. Dogs should be gradually accustomed to wearing the head halter by encouraging them to put their nose through the muzzle loop of their own free will. The fitting should be associated with treats and should only be done over a period of time as the dog remains relaxed. If the fitting is done right, the dog better tolerates wearing the head halter, because it’s associated with reward. Proper fit of the head halter is essential. Without the right fit, the halter may be tight all the time, giving the dog little relief or ability to discern a loose leash from a tight one. Instead, the halter should fit comfortably with room for the dog to engage in regular activities, such as panting. Handlers need to give plenty of slack to the dog when he is giving the desired response. If direction is given with the head halter, it should only be with a slight pressure, and never a jerking motion. The owner should immediately release any pressure as soon as the right response is given. A dog wearing a halter should also be kept on a short leash with a small amount of slack to prevent the animal from hitting the end of the leash with momentum, helping to safeguard against the possibility of neck injury.
Most head halters clip under the dog’s chin, adding the benefit of being able to redirect the dog to face his owner when needed. For dogs that bark on leash at other dogs or people, directional control is especially important. There are alternative versions of halters that clip on the back of the dog’s neck, behind the head. Although they may not tangle under the feet as easily, they do not offer the directional control to turn the dog with ease — part of what makes a head halter effective. Shorter-nosed dogs are more of a challenge to fit in head halters, as the nose strap easily falls off. Some halters make attachments for shorter-nosed dogs to keep the halter on the face. Alternatively, shorter-nosed dogs can also benefit from a front clip harness. Those looking for a head halter might want to check out these recommended brands: Gentle Leader: Simple design that goes around the neck and the nose of the dog. Can be adjusted to fit closer to the dog’s nose. Halti: One of the original head halters. Easily attaches to collar for added safety. Snoot Loop: Another variety of head halter with one version specifically designed for short-nosed dogs. Comfort Trainer Head Collar: Designed to fit more loosely, creating minimal pressure when worn. More on Vetstreet.com: