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Stop the worry and love the head halter


Well-timed treats are key to overcoming dogs' initial objections to this form of guidance while on a leash.

Do you recommend head halters in your veterinary clinic to owners who mention that their dogs pull on a leash? Maybe you hesitate because clients can find it frustrating to put the halter on: Dogs often object to placement of this bizarre contraption about their nose-they might even learn to run away at the sight of it.

You can override clients' (and dogs') objections by showing clients how to gradually accustom their pets to this device that imitates natural, stress-free control.

During the CVC Special Insights Seminar on low-stress techniques at CVC Kansas City, Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM, and Mikkel Becker, CPDT, showed attendees how to get dogs to thrill to the sight of that head halter. Watch one unsuspecting dog take its first steps toward better control on a leash in this clip:

As you can see, Becker presents a tongue depressor smeared with peanut butter and other yummy treats while she helps an attendee place the collar. It's classic counterconditioning: Get the dog to think head collar = treats = good things. The eventual goal is that the dog will voluntarily stick its head into the collar and be ready for adventure.

The dog in this video took to the head halter easily, but Landsberg says you may have to help the client work on each part slowly and take it in steps if the dog begins to object. Start with the nose loop. Be sure the client holds the treats just outside the loop so the dog has to stick its head through to get the treats. Do this until the dog balances the loop on its nose with no problems. Then work on acclimatizing the dog to the collar separately-have the client give treats while hooking and unhooking the collar around the dog's neck. The fit of the collar can be adjusted in the process.

Once the head halter is successfully on, Becker advises keeping the dog busy by giving it treats and, once the halter comes off, immediately taking the treats away.

“Just remember, the dog is putting its own head through the head halter or into the muzzle, so it's their idea and it's associated with lots of good rewards,” says Becker.

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