Also called the Halti, Gentle Leader or Promise Collar (among other less-common names), this type of training collar works on the same premise as the halters used on livestock. It makes containing large or boisterous animals much easier. People who work with livestock are able to safely and effectively work with said animals without being dragged about.
The head halter is not a muzzle! The dog should be able to eat, drink, yawn, bark and pick things up while wearing it. It is in no way meant to be used as a muzzle.
The head halter is especially useful for training dogs that are boisterous, strong or heavy pullers. It is also great for owners who cannot physically control their dog (injury, stature…) but it is recommended that the dog be of five months of age or older.
The head halter can be unsafe if used improperly, as a dog that lunges for something can hurt his neck as he is whipped around when the leash runs out of slack. In some cases, the feeling of a band on the nose can stress out a dishabituated dog, therefore it may actually work to increase tension during training. It goes without saying that it should be avoided in these cases.
Not all dogs like wearing a head halter, this means that they’ll have to be gradually habituated to it and some people just don’t have the time or patience to successfully complete this step. Also, the noseband falls off of brachycephalic (squished-nose) breeds rather easily, and for some, there isn’t even a snout on which to place it!
To properly fit a head halter, the collar portion needs to be snug enough that you can fit one or two fingers between it and the dog’s neck, while the nose band needs to be loose enough to allow the dog to use his mouth as he would if he didn’t have a head halter on at all, remember: it isn’t a muzzle.
When a dog hits the end of the leash and applies pressure to his collar (such as when he sees another dog approaching) his neck assumes a more vertical and rigid position, thus raising the head. A stiff neck (which causes stiffness of the whole spine) with a raised head and fixed eye contact is very confrontational body language. This dog may be challenging another dog without really realizing it. When two dogs meet on a walk, often they have no choice but to greet each other face-to-face, this body position is also rather confrontational and can exacerbate tension. Two individuals who would otherwise have had no issues meeting leash-free can become reactive when the other inadvertently displays tension (I’d like to note that this absolutely does not mean that all dogs will be okay if left to greet each other off-lead).
Elimination of fixed eye contact and turning away of the head are both ways dogs communicate disinterest and avoidance, these gestures can help defuse a potentially tense situation. Since the head halter doesn’t apply pressure to the neck, but to the nose, the handler has the possibility to turn the dog’s head away, eliminating eye contact and postural rigidity. Having greater control of the dog’s gaze can also help direct his focus away from the other dog or distraction and onto you; but – and this applies to all training tools – it is only as effective as the method employed: it is not a magic wand, and as such, it will not magically train your dog for you.
Good luck, and happy training!
Like almost all training tools, the head harness doesn’t come with sufficient instructions. Check out our YouTube channel for plenty of how-tos to get you started.