Why I Dislike Head Halters

Why I Dislike Head Halters by Pamela Dennison
© June 2004. May not be reprinted without written approval.

Ah, head halters. I used to think they were great when they first came out – a great alternative to choke or prong collars. Until I saw them in action. My first exposure to them was an Australian Shepherd mix. Guy brings him in for training. I ask him to show me what he’s got. He puts the dog through his paces. I asked him, “Why did you come to me – you’ve got great obedience (as in competition obedience).” He has a head halter on the dog. I ask him to take it off. Once the head halter is off, the dog knows nothing and I mean nothing.

Ah. . .

I see many other dogs with halters on and off – same thing or the dogs know nothing with it on or off. I have seen other training schools just slap them on a bucking, rearing and struggling dog, with no instruction, no desensitization and the owners are still popping and jerking on their dogs. The dog is learning nothing about loose leash walking and in fact are learning to be quite unhappy.

There may be some people somewhere that know how to properly acclimate the dog to a halter and VERY quickly wean off of it, but not in my experience. I see too many people that own dogs that just want a quick fix – they don’t want to train their dog. I even see them at competition trials; dogs on head halters outside a ring that they are going to compete in. Paleeze! Train the damn dog!

I feel they are dangerous – the dog isn’t trained to walk on a loose leash with distractions and so flings himself toward a squirrel or other dog and he is wearing a halter. Gee – guess what is going to happen to his neck? Maybe whiplash? Most likely. The head halter also inhibits the use of any calming signal that the dog may want or need to show, thus making him more nervous.

When working with aggressive dogs–provoking stimuli is there, your dog goes ballistic (because you pushed the session so that your dog will have a reaction) and you yank your dogs head around, FORCING him into a vulnerable position. Not a good start to the desensitization process in my opinion.

So what is the answer? That 8 letter word again (which we all know is twice as bad as any four letter word) t-r-a-i-n-i-n-g. Teach the dog to look at you while walking, teach him to nose target your hand so that if you need the dog to look away, all you have to do is present your hand (away from provoking stimuli) and say “touch” thus making it into a game and make it FUN to look away from provoking stimuli.

In my aggressive dog classes (or any classes for that matter), I do not allow chokes, prongs, muzzles or head halters because we do t-r-a-i-n-i-n-g.

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