At the heart of all of my recommendations for behavior modification is exercise. One of the best forms of exercise is walking with your dog. Not only is it great cardiovascular activity for both of you, but it CAN be great bonding time as well. I all caps CAN because, for many of my clients, walking their dog is a nightmare filled with stories of bad shoulders and backs and pulling. This type of walk is anything but pleasant. Luckily, there is a better way. There are many ways to tame your sled dog in training, I will discuss the easiest, fastest, and most human of these, the Gentle Leader.
The Gentle Leader is a head harness made by Premier Pet Products (they make no pull body harnesses as well for flat faced breeds) that will get your dog to stop pulling nearly INSTANTLY with relative ease. I will be focusing on the head harness in this post because it can be tricky to figure out (it was for me the first time too) and it generally requires some introduction for my patients to accept it.
Proper fit is very important because if the harness is uncomfortable your dog will definitely protest more to the introduction. The neck strap should be very snug (you should be able to fit only one finger under it) and be positioned on the highest part of the neck, just behind the ears. The nose strap should be adjusted so that it can move forward to the point that it can just touch the skin part of the nose, but not slip over the end of the nose. Your leash will attach to the metal ring under you dogs chin. This is the same concept as a bridle for a horse, only without the mouth bit. If we can control a 1,500lb horse with this type of equipment, think what it can do for a 50 lb dog :-).
In the beginning most dogs will resist this collar, to varying degrees. It is best to introduce your dog to it in a manner that causes your dog to form a positive association with it. In others words, break out his favorite treats! DO NOT try to just put it on and go. If he protests to the point where he gets it off after a stressful struggle, it will be 10 times more difficult to get him to accept it the next time. Get your treats ready before you even open the Gentle Leader package. Have your dog sniff it briefly and give him a treat BEFORE he has a chance to react negatively to it. Use your happy voice and be upbeat. Continue to take it out of the packaging, rewarding your dog with treats and praise for his curiosity. After you have it out of the package and your dog has received several treats, put it away. Later that day, get the treats and the Gentle Leader out again and repeat the process by letting him sniff it and rewarding calm behavior. How fast you progress is up to your dog. Next would come touching it to his nose by having him take a treat while your hand is through the nose strap. The strap should touch his nose briefly in the beginning and should stay in contact with his nose for gradually longer periods of time. When he is comfortable with the nose strap, fasten the neck strap. Leave it on him for a second or two and then remove it and reward calm behavior. When it is time to take him out for his first walk, be ready to roll right away. Have yourself together (shoes, jacket, etc…), have the leash ready, and be AT the door that you will exit the house from. Put the Gentle Leader on your dog and head out the door immediately. This walk should be a short one. If your dog starts to protest, gently pull the leash up towards your face and say “no” or “uh-uh” or whatever word you want to same and give him a treat AND release the tension the second he stops protesting. This video covers this entire process.
• Make sure the head halter is fitted properly.
• It should be snug around your dog’s neck and high behind his ears, but loose enough around his nose so that the nose strap can slide easily down to the fleshy part of his nose.
• A head halter is not a muzzle – the dog can still eat, drink, pant, bark and bite, if he chooses.
• NEVER use a hard jerk with the head halter.
• Do not use the head halter with a retractable lead. It not only teaches your dog to pull, but if your dog runs quickly to the end of the lead, he may give himself a hard jerk.
• Your dog should wear his head halter only during on-leash walks with you and/or when you’re directly supervising him. If your dog wears the head halter around the house, he’ll have plenty of time to work at getting it off, and will eventually succeed.
This collar is designed to teach your dog not to pull. Over time you can stop using it and go back to attaching the leash to his collar. This is a great training tool and it can be used in a variety of situations. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask and thanks for reading :-).
Pictures provided by Grant and Caroline’s pix, macwagen, and Automania via Flickr. Thanks!