Head Halters Are the New You

Often times during the process of training loose leash walking, we need training wheels.  Owners have often voiced to me feeling guilty for using a tool, but I am happy that owners know their limits or their dog’s limits. It’s okay to use a tool. I would rather have a dog out for a walk because the owner is using a tool than a dog being kept indoors because the owner isn’t able to safely walk him.

trainingwheels
Even after training with me for 10 years, I will use a head halter on Boy from time to time. Sometimes I do it just so I feel more confident because I am nervous or because I know that we will be in a new environment and I just want to set both of us up for success.

There are a lot of tools on the market which can be overwhelming to the pet owner. I recommend different tools for different reasons, but the one head halter that works for the majority of dogs that I train is the Holt.

holtIf you’ve ever tried to use a head halter with your dog you may have noticed that as soon as you get it on he throws himself around trying to rub the collar off in the grass, but once they get use to the feel of the collar they are fine as long as you make it a positive thing. When using the head halter it’s important to take time to go through the process with your dog to make wearing the head halter something that he wants to willingly do for you and that it’s a good thing. Below I have created a Protocol to help prepare your dog for new beginnings.

Michelle Huntting’s Protocol for Head Halter Desensitization

Purpose: This is a head halter desensitization protocol with the purpose of using positive training to help a canine have a positive, comfortable, and relaxed response to the head halter, and to encourage him to freely and willingly allow the head halter to be put on.

The following protocol is designed to be used in short sessions and without progression to the next step until the dog is showing a happy, relaxed response to the current exercise.

How long should I conduct a session? This answer depends on the dog, but the general rule is 3-5 minutes. If you have an older dog that has been clicker trained, there is a good chance that you will be able to train for a longer period of time. I would not, however, work longer than 15 minutes. Adjusting to the head halter is not an easy process for any dog, and we always want to end a training session with the dog wanting more.

How can I tell if my dog is uncomfortable? With this protocol the goal is to keep him comfortable and associate the head halter as a good thing. One of the signs that he is uncomfortable is if he were to back up. If this happens then simply slow down the process and go back to the last step that he was comfortable. Be sure to keep the sessions short as well. Do not push your dog too far too fast.

What you will need: clicker*, treats, and head halter

*The clicker is not required for this protocol, you may offer a verbal marker or simply present treat as soon as desired behavior is performed.

Head Halter Desensitization Protocol

  • Present head halter to your dog and give him treats.
  • Place head halter behind your back.
  • Repeat several times until you see the dog is happy to see the head halter and anticipating the treats.
  • Place head halter on the floor and when the dog moves toward the head halter, click, and treat.
  • Continue to repeat until the dog is consistently touching it. (You can leave the head halter out on the floor, but if you see that he is not completely relaxed with it in sight, then after he touches it, treat, and then place the head halter behind your back. Continue this process until you see a relaxed response.)
  • Once you have a consistent response, start delaying the click to work toward a longer nose hold (or longer touch) on the head halter.
  • Repeat until your dog has a consistent longer nose hold.
  • Once you have a consistent nose hold, hold the head halter with the entrance toward him. (You will need to hold the halter open with your hand. I would suggest using your dominant hand with your fingers spread wide to keep it open).
  • Click any time the dog starts putting his nose toward or in the entrance area.
  • If canine holds his nose in all the way, give a jackpot. (As a reminder, a jackpot is a handful of treats delivered one treat at a time but quickly). You can bait the dog at this time by holding a treat on the other side of the head halter. Once the dog is consistently putting his nose into the head halter, start clicking the longer he holds with his nose in the head halter.
  • As he puts his nose into the head halter, move the straps up and down; click and treat.
  • Once your dog has a relaxed response, start moving straps up around his ears; click and treat.
  • Repeat until he’s relaxed.

No clicker needed for remaining steps:

  • With the head halter straps loose, quickly latch and unlatch, and deliver a treat. Continue doing this until you see a relaxed response.
  • Tighten the straps, introduce the head halter, quickly latch and unlatch, and deliver treat.
  • Place the head halter on, latch and delay a few seconds, unlatch, and deliver treat.
  • Continue the process of latching/unlatching, and treat as you lengthen time.
  • Be sure to vary the time by keeping the leash attached for 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 3 seconds, 1 second. Continue this process until you have attained a comfortable 30 seconds.
  • Do 5 separate sessions of 30 seconds at a time, rewarding throughout.

Leash

  • Clip leash on/off head halter. Be sure to treat during this process.
  • Allow the leash to hang for 5 seconds while treating.
  • Clip leash on/off head halter. Be sure to treat during this process.
  • Allow the leash to hang 10 seconds while treating, unclip leash, clip leash on, allow leash to hang 3 seconds, unclip leash; leash on 20 seconds, unclip leash; leash on 10 seconds, unclip leash; leash on 40 seconds, unclip. Continue varying the process until you’ve worked for one minute. Be sure not to act excited when the leash is unclipped. You want to use your happy rewarding voice while the leash is on the dog.

Walking with Head Halter

  • Encourage the dog’s head to stay up so he doesn’t have the opportunity to rub against the ground or try to pull the head halter off. Be sure to hold the leash in toward you so there is one foot of length between you and your dog and you are ready to pull up if needed. Every time your dog looks at you during this process, click, praise, and treat.
  • Start walking your dog around the house, the driveway, and the yard for short sessions. Clickable behaviors include appropriate walking beside you or looking up at you.
  • Gradually continue to increase walk time with the head halter on. Be sure to deliver lots of treats and praise during this time.

HeadshotMichelle_BoyAugust

Blog written by Michelle Huntting
Find more information on leash walking from Michelle Huntting’s book, Control On Leash.