Headcollars; the how why and why not of their use.

A short video on head collars. Like every training tool which uses negative reinforcement, it requires that we pause and think about thier application before we use them.

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9 thoughts on “Headcollars; the how why and why not of their use.

  1. Fantastic video. Really enjoying your video training snippets as it’s so important to understand how these tools actually work, operantly, because people will only be motivated to change once they are in full possession of all the information.

    Your empathy for dogs is wonderful. I hope people who watch this are also inspired to consider the dogs emotional world more because it is key to our understanding of their outward behaviour.

  2. Thank you for this video, John. Would you give your opinion of dog harnesses? The new “Easy Walk” harness, which we have been using for lead walking, attaches to a ring on the chest rather than one on the shoulder and tightens if the dog pulls rather like the head collar in the video. Would you discourage this? He’s quite a powerful dog and this particular harness helps, but maybe it’s not a good training aid after all.

    1. I wouldn’t use any piece of equipment which tightens or constricts when applied. The reason any tools like that works is that the dog now changed his behaviour to avoid the discomfort.

  3. Great video, our own dog is a puller, caused by extremely high arousal levels through a mixture of anxiety and excitement. He HATED a head collar and I think it made his anxiety far worse because he felt like his fight flight option was taken away from him. A front & back clipping harness is all we use now. No it doesn’t stop him pulling but I would prefer for his state of mind that he feels safe, we can’t work with him if he can’t respond to us. I don’t condemn the use of head collars but I do think people should think carefully before using them.

  4. I have seen many dogs in this make or similar (not sure if allowed to name them) and NEVER seen a dog happy in one. Nor do they seem to stop a dog from pulling. they just twist their heads to avoid any pressure. Having worked with horses most of my life and dogs a little later, I can see the rationale behind the design. If it holds a horse, it can hold a dog. There are a couple of things wrong in this thinking, that I can see. The first is purely physical. In using this design on a horse (the ‘Be Gentle’ halter being a release type for very strong horses, normal design for most), we are using any rope attached FROM BELOW. This applies pressure to the poll and the nose of the horse, in a consistent way, around the whole head. And the horses head is a completely different shape to any dog, with nerves in different places. The only times a horse has managed to run from me, out of control, they have been small ponies when the pressure has become inconsistent because thier head height is below that of mine. The pressure is then applied SIDEWAYS instead of downwards, so rendering the halter next to useless. In cases like these, a simple jointed snaffle bit would be used. So, a bridle instead of a halter. Pony pulls, pressure appplied to the upper parts of it’s mouth, so it drops it’s head and is more controllable.
    This design can never work for dogs due to anatomy, and simply because of height. Even the greatest Dane will never have his head high enough for a handler to apply even pressure in any kind of a comfortable way, unless he wants to undertake the walk on his knees! Also, most people walk dogs on only one side. Usually their right. A halti or similar will cause the dog to gain muscle in the wrong places and become ‘one-sided’,as horses can. This will be initiatially uncomfortable for the dog, then entrenched. (this can be seen very clearly in Hydrotherapy sessions, the dog swimming obviously better on one circle than the reverse,)

    Mentally, a dog will see this as ‘restraint’, as it is restraining his body in all of the wrong ways. In my experience (and I am not a trainer, just a groomer) this can cause more aggression out on walks, as the dog is uncomfortable and can show this in unexpected ways. If your neck hurts, along with spinal muscles, would you be snappy? I know I would. Strong dogs need a restraint that acts from above, not below. There used to be a product on the market called ‘Easy Walker’, I think. It consisted of a collar with d rings front and top. Then a soft cord went from the top rings and clipped to the front, under the dogs front legs, and the lead attached middle top. If the dog pullled or lunged, it tightened under his legs, where there are a lot of nerves. But it released immediately he stopped. It was gentle (as restraints go), but must have been effective, as the really bad dog I tried it on was able to be walked by a 6 y o girl, very pleasantly. Nothing else had worked, and he was on the point of being re-homed, as he had hurt even the father when he lunged. He became pleasant to walk, and then was better in the house as he was getting out more..

    For small, light dogs, I have used the half choke chains. They are a collar that can be left on with a tag that a dog can escape if he gets it caught, and can be used to stop a mildly pulling dog to enable children to walk them, as they release immediately the dog stops pulling. Full choke chains should be banned to the general public, as most do not know how to put them on properly.The wrong way can ‘lock’, literally choking the dog. I use as necessary in the bath to prevent other injuries by jumping out, but always on a yachting quick release clip. On the table, I use a soft slip collar, again along with a quick release, to prevent jumping from a height. I can release if a dog panics and can not be soothed.although most never need either restraint. (Broxie is a huge case for norestaint!)

    Anyway, those are my reasons against ‘headcollars’ for dogs. I would rate the ‘Easy walker’ far more highly if that amount of restraint was absolutely necessesary, as it would not cause the same musclular problems. However, it takes about 30 seconds longer to put on than a headcollar, which are NEVER adjusted correctly or worn properly (another problem, does anyone READ the instructions?!) and for an excited dog could take a full minute or more, but that is time gained for a more pleasant walk.

    But, in theory, no-one should need any restraint, not even a plain lead, if proper training and trust were in place, except on a very busy main rd, or in places where leads are law. My dog only has a lead out with strange dogs or with my kids, in case he anticipates our rd crossing. Never with me, he’s better without it, as many could be.

    Loving your vids, but if one criticism, perhaps do more than one take. You think too much on screen and repeat stuff that you said a minute earlier, which could put some people off watching more otherwise, ace, You have the nouse, the knowledge, and are not afraid to show that you are learning and using more. Being open to new ideas is great, especially when you have the background knowledge to back them up and be curious. Not every method works for every dog or owner. The only trainer I could get to teach my young boy to train our dog used clicker training. Great on the face of it, but an 8 yo can’t organise his hands quick enough for command, treat and click all in one go (neither could I, come to that!) so he lost interest.

  5. Fanstic and very informative videos. Your blog made me realize that positive reinforcement is the way I would like to relate to my dogs. In fact my worldview has been turned upside down by your blog. I used to think that the Cesar-style method was the one – this is due to its popularity and me being a new dog owner convinced by a dog trainer that I have to be the dominant one.

    In terms of constraining devices, it seems that a regular collar and leash are also in a way constraining for a dog that pulls. I also noticed you have several dogs in a back attaching harness in your pictures/videos. It would be interesting to know the rationale behind that.

    I am desperately looking for the best way to train my 10 month old Old English not to pull so a video on that topic would extremely appreciated…

    Again, wonderful info, kind philosophy and great presentation. I wish you lived in Vancouver, Canada so we could meet you!

    All the very best.

    Respectfully,

    Iryna Davies

  6. A useful video, on a topic I’ve given some thought to. Our Bullmastiff is almost a year old and over 100 lbs and has managed to pull me off my feet several times. We have worked very hard on training her and she is stellar on leash…until there is a distraction, which could be a person (she loves people), another dog (ditto), or anything new appearing on her horizon. She is always on alert, it seems. Our trainer has finally suggested a Gentle Leader. I can control her with this, but she certainly doesn’t like it, and I don’t much, either. I try to use it only for control, she wears a harness with her lead clipped to the front ring, as well as a second lead attached to the Gentle Leader. So I am holding two leashes, and keep the one on the GL slacker unless I have to use it. I really don’t know how else I can manage, since we don’t seem to be able to get past her distractibility. It’s like her brain switches off and she is oblivious to anything except what she’s focussed on. Your Youtube video on switching off was good, but the dogs seem to be several steps past where we are and I don’t know how to get there! Too bad we don’t live in Glasgow, I guess!

      1. I loved this! This is the way Rosa likes to walk, everything needs to be sniffed, and why not? And it’s a pretty nice way to spend time.

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