Thursday, March 13, 2014

Comparison: Head Halters

There are a lot of different head halters out there, and I only own three of them. I don't actually use a head halter on any of my dogs, for various reasons. Josie is too old and lame to generate any sort of pulling power. Ru is such a featherweight that I'm not actually sure if I would even notice if he pulled on the leash.

I have used a head halter on Brisbane in the past, but I've never successfully conditioned him to enjoy wearing one. Some dogs fight and paw at their faces when wearing a halter, Brisbane just gives up at life. This is a useful enough feature that I do occasionally put one on him when I need him to just lay there in a pile of despair. I have been told by more than one veterinarian to avoid using head collars on dogs with spinal issues, and they have the potential to hurt the neck of a healthy dog too. I only use a 4' or shorter leash with a head halter, and have to stay attentive and keep the dog from running to the end of the leash and jerking their neck.

Because Brisbane is incapable of looking animated or even lifting his head off the ground when wearing them, Josie is modeling all of my head halters. She is significantly bigger than Briz, but these things fit a pretty decent range of sizes.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is the Gentle Leader. by Premier. It comes in a variety of colors and five different sizes. The Gentle Leader uses a simple design with a loop that goes around the nose of the dog, and another that fits around the neck. The neck loop can be adjusted down very small, and the nose loop is the same width for most of the sizes. This means that a large Gentle Leader can still fit a relatively small dog, which makes them rather versatile. Premier also makes a Deluxe version with a padded noseband.

My experience has been that dogs hate the Gentle Leader more than other headcollars. Josie definitely pawed at it much more during our photo shoot, and it tends to leave marks on dogs with sensitive skin. The Gentle Leader doesn't really have a built-in safety measure in case of escape. The neck loop is supposed to be fitted tightly enough that it can't slip over the dog's head, but Brisbane's neck is fatter than his head and no amount of tightening would prevent him from backing out of this thing if only he could muster the willpower. I would definitely recommend using the Gentle Leader with the leash clipped to a martingale or slip collar because emergency backup measures are awesome.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is the Halti, by The Company of Animals. It is the first headcollar I can remember seeing as a kid. The noseband of this halter sits further down than the Gentle Leader, and I thinks that's why many dogs tolerate it better. This is a Halti sized for Brisbane, but you can see it still fits Josie. When the Halti is pulled tight it closes the dog's mouth, this can be helpful for dogs that bite or attempt to eat things off the ground.

I really appreciate that the Halti has a safety strap with a small clip to attach to the dog's collar. The Halti isn't intended to be as tight around the dog's neck as the Gentle Leader, and this extra safety strap is particularly reassuring when attached to a martingale or slip collar.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is the Canny Collar, and it is a bit different than most head halters because the leash attaches in the back, behind the dog's head. I haven't tried actually using this one yet, but Josie was significantly less unhappy about wearing it. My favorite thing about the Canny Collar is that it does not twist the dog's head around at all. From a training perspective this could be a disadvantage because I would not be able to force the dog to look up at me. However, it seems to be significantly safer for the average dog owner who just wants to go for a walk without their arm getting dislocated.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Canny Collar is built on a flat buckle collar, and this again could be a problem for dogs who back out of collars. One of the neat features about the Canny Collar is that the nose loop can be slipped off and secured around the dog's neck for off-leash play or practice walking on a flat buckle collar.

This would definitely be the first head halter I would recommend to someone who wants to walk and isn't focused on training. I would also probably recommend the Infinity Lead, although I haven't yet found one in a thrift store so I have yet to try it myself. The Infinity Lead also attaches to the dog's collar as an emergency backup measure.

The Snoot Loop, Sporn Halter, and Comfort Trainer are a few more head halters I haven't actually played with yet, but the ones pictured here are the most common and easiest to find. I think the rear-attaching halters like the Canny Collar are becoming more common, something I'm very glad to see. Whether head halters count as positive or negative training equipment probably counts a lot on the dog and handler, but they need to be used carefully to avoid injury.

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