Case for GLs
I love Suzanne
Clothier -- just bought her new book -- but she wrote an article about
head collars that I strongly disagree with. I think head halters are
a wonderful device for management, for safety, and for getting a reinforceable
behavior in die-hard pullers. Do I pop them on every dog? No. I much
prefer to teach a dog to walk on a flat collar or harness from the beginning.
My dogs have never worn them, but I own one, and if Pax goes through
a particularly out-of-control adolescent period, I won't hesitate to
condition and use it temporarily.
Let's look at
The head collar itself doesn't teach the dog a darn thing. It can,
however, be used to prevent a dog from dragging you all over the place
(undoing your training) until you've taught him to walk on a loose
- A head halter
is not a magic cure for a pulling dog. Dogs can, and will, learn to
pull on a head halter, just as they learn to pull on a choke or prong.
It should be used in conjunction with a training program -- reinforcing
for desired behavior -- even if you never plan to wean the dog off
of the head halter.
- Safety. If
a person is young, small, elderly, fragile, or disabled, a head halter
can be an extra level of safety, sometimes making the difference between
having and not having a dog. Even a very calm dog can bolt unexpectedly,
pulling someone down. I'll never forget when my Newf caught sight
of my husband and bolted. His leash was tied to a belt loop on my
jeans. Fortunately, the loop broke. Had it been around my waist, I
think he'd have broken my back -- or at least injured me badly.
- The head
halter can help set you up to succeed. In order to train a dog to
walk on a loose leash, you have to have reinforceable behavior --
and you have to be able to maintain a high rate of reinforcement.
(Failure to do so is probably the biggest mistake I see, head collar
or no head collar.) With a distracted dog or a confirmed puller, how
can you do that? With a head halter, you can circle the dog to regain
lost attention. Plus, dogs tend to be more subdued when wearing the
halter, also giving you more opportunities to reinforce.
the dog by the nose." You're not -- no more than you're leading
by the neck with a regular collar. Ideally, a leash, no matter what
it's attached to, is a tether for safety, and the dog learns to walk
next you (as opposed to learning "don't pull"). If the dog
is manically pulling, it's learning exactly what you don't want it
to learn. The head halter makes it easier for you to keep your dog
from undoing your training. You don't use a head halter to hold the
dog in position -- he should still be learning to walk on a loose
- I've never
heard of any scientific study that compared a lifetime of results
of prongs versus anything but choke chains. I *do* know that the GL
company aggressively tracks rumors of injuries resulting from use
of their products and actively solicits customers to report injuries.
The fears about potential problems simply have not been borne out
in reality. If you put a head halter on a flexi, and the dog were
to bolt to the end, sure, there's a risk of injury. Don't do that.
Use it correctly on a short leash, and if you need to regain attention,
pull *sideways* to circle him, not up and back.
- And because
it was brought up, let's talk about whether the GL is aversive. There
are two separate issues that people raise -- and they are unrelated.
One is "The GL is aversive because dogs don't like to wear them
/ are subdued when wearing them." The other is "The GL is
an aversive because it decreases pulling."
address the "my dog hates to wear it" issue. Most dogs
freak out when you first start using it. Most dogs react the same
way when you begin using a collar and leash as well. Do they like
head halters? I would guess that no, they don't. So they probably
What if you condition your dog to the head halter, associating it
with all good things? Many, many people do that, and their dogs
cease to react to the head halter. Obviously the halter is no longer
an aversive. Have we committed a crime by initially exposing the
pup to an aversive stimulus and then counter-conditioning the response?
If so, we commit the same crime when we condition to a collar and
leash -- or to nail clippers or to grooming or to being restrained
or to be intimately handled.
point -- some time ago someone posted the abstract of a study that
examined the physiological response to a head halter. The study
found that even the dogs who rolled and pawed at the halter did
not have the physiological responses associated with increased stress.
Nor did the dogs who appeared to be "calmed" by the halter.
(Conclusion: the pawing is not "stress" and the calming
is not "shut down.")
-- "the GL reduces pulling." As I already mentioned, the
GL itself doesn't really stop pulling. It makes pulling more difficult
because the dog has lost leverage. It is much more difficult for
an animal to pull against pressure on his head than it is against
pressure on his neck and shoulders. (That's why horses are worked
in head halters, not collars.) There is pressure when the dog pulls,
but frankly, I equate that with the pressure exerted by a regular
in my opinion -- the GL is a tool that can be used or misused, just
like any other tool. I equate it much more to a flat collar than to
a prong or choke, which work on pain, not leverage. No matter what,
it doesn't teach the dog to walk next to you on a loose lead anymore
than a choke or prong does. And, minus reinforcement for correct behavior,
many dogs learn to pull on it, just like many learn to pull on chokes
I first recommend
that people teach their dogs to walk on a flat collar or harness. However,
if someone isn't willing to do that, has a dog that outweighs the person
who is walking it, or is elderly or physically disabled and could be
injured if pulled over by an unexpected lunge, I'm going to continue
recommending a properly-conditioned head halter. The head halter can
be associated with good things so that the dog won't dislike wearing
it, doesn't hurt the dog, doesn't have the potential of misplaced aggression
(as with prongs), and makes walking safer.
mca @ clickersolutions.com
copyright 2002 Melissa Alexander
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