Estimated read time: 12 minutes
Pulling on lead is the most common problem faced by dog owners. If you have ever experienced this when walking your dog, you’ll know how stressful, frustrating and embarrassing it can be.
Not to mention the potential for injury if you are pulled off your feet.
In this post, we’re going to explain what a head collar is and help you decide if it is the right training aid for you and your dog.
Why us? We have helped over a million owners around the world like you to enjoy walking their dog on a loose lead. No pulling, frustration or stress.
Happy dogs and happy owners. Let's get started.
What is a head collar?
A head collar is a tool designed to help train your dog to stop pulling on lead and walk nicely to heel. It is sometimes called a head halter, a halti collar, an anti pull head collar or a dog nose lead.
There are several brands of dog head collar on the market. The best one for you and your dog will be one which is comfortable, simple to fit, easy to use and effective.
"The best head collar for your dog is comfortable, kind, safe & effective"
What are the benefits of a head collar?
The most obvious benefit is that a head collar can help to train your dog to walk on a loose lead without pulling. Like any tool, it makes a job easier.
Head collars also often have a calming effect on some dogs. There is less excitement and/or distraction when training so that your dog is more focused on you.
Although their main purpose is for training, head collars can also be beneficial for dogs that jump or lunge at other dogs, passers-by or traffic. You can gain control over your dog more easily if you are able to control her head.
A head collar can stop your dog from picking up waste food and other undesirable items from the floor.
Why does my dog pull on lead?
Dogs respond to a tight lead with an ‘oppositional reflex’, or thigmotaxis. This means that they pull back in the opposite direction to any pressure they feel on the lead.
This results in a perpetual tug-of-war with the stress, embarrassment and potential for injury to you both. As owners, we think that by pulling tightly on the lead that we are in control of our dog but clearly we're not.
To stop the pulling, we have to teach our dog what we want them to do when they feel this lead pressure.
"You will never walk a dog well on a tight lead"
A loose lead is essential when walking your dog
If our lead never loosens, we are simply restraining our dog from moving forwards instead of training them not to pull. This is where a head collar can help.
A good head collar will loosen around your dog’s face when the pressure on the lead is released. This is how your dog learns to stop pulling.
When you apply gentle backwards pressure with your lead, your dog has to stop moving forwards. By immediately releasing the pressure, your dog experiences the lead going slack.
Your momentum then allows you to catch her up and offer vocal praise. She learns the position you would like her to be in when on your walk.
"Training, not restraining, is the name of the game"
Do head collars work?
For most dogs, yes. A head collar helps dogs to learn good walking habits. This works for young pups and older dogs whose training to date may have been been limited.
For persistent pullers and rescue dogs whose history is unknown, it can be an invaluable tool. It is sometimes the difference between whether a rescue dog is returned to a shelter or not.
"A head collar is an effective training aid which can speed up the time it takes to train your dog to walk to heel"
Are head collars safe for dogs?
Absolutely. It’s important to follow the fitting instructions and check that the collar cannot come over your dog’s head before you begin your walk. The fit around your dog's neck should be more snug than her normal collar.
If you are concerned that your dog may slip out of the collar, a good idea is to use a double-ended training lead. Clip one end to the head collar and another to your dog’s regular collar for backup.
Never walk with too long a lead when using your head collar. If your dog moves quickly and reaches the end of a long lead, there is potential for injury to the neck or spine.
A lead of around 120cm is ideal. This allows for close control without the lead being too long.
Are head collars cruel?
Not at all. They are used by many respected organisations such as Irish Guide Dogs, ISPCA & Dogs Trust. Many trainers, training schools, veterinarians and rescue shelters recommend them as part of their training programmes.
Ultimately, they are only as good as the person on the other end of the lead and the time they put in to training their dog. When walking, only a gentle ‘pressure & release’ action should be required if your dog pulls.
"If a head collar is pulled hard or yanked, there is a risk of injury to your dog"
Head collars that fasten under the chin tend to close your dog’s mouth when pressure is applied to the lead but there is no real benefit in clamping your dog’s mouth shut if all we are doing is teaching her to walk to heel.
Others allow your dog to keep her mouth open so that she can breathe and pant during training.
Your dog’s comfort should come first
The most important consideration when choosing a head collar is that it should be comfortable for your dog. It should be safe for you both and effective in helping you learn together.
Some collars have several straps around your dog’s face while others may only have a single noseband. Choose the one you think will be most comfortable for the type of snout your dog has.
A padded noseband is a feature of some brands but is not always necessary if the fabric over the nose is soft, strong and comfy.
How does a head collar work?
- Most head collars work on the principle that if you can control your dog’s head, then the body will follow. A bridle on a horse works in the same way.
- Pressure is applied to the nose and released when your dog stops pulling. The release is a ‘negative reinforcement’ to encourage the behaviour we desire, which is to walk beside us with the lead loose.
- This ‘pressure & release’ action harnesses your dog’s own energy to teach good walking habits.
- It’s important to combine this 'negative reinforcement' with positive reinforcement training. A head collar alone is not a substitute for good training.
How do you fit a head collar?
Each brand of head collar has its own unique fitting instructions. It's important that you follow these closely for the comfort and safety of your dog.
Despite this, some people will not read the instructions. This is a mistake. Your dog’s success or otherwise depends on you knowing how to use this training tool properly.
"Not all head collars have the same design, nor do they work in the same way"
On most brands, the lead attaches underneath the chin. Others use a behind-the-head fastening. Your dog feels a clear difference between ‘on’ and ‘off’ with this design as there is no continuous downward pressure from the weight of the lead or clip.
An extra benefit of this design is that your dog cannot get their paw onto the lead and pull the head collar over their head.
How tight should a head collar be?
A head collar should fit snugly so that it cannot come off and potentially put your dog in danger. If you are attaching your regular lead to the headcollar only, this is doubly important.
If in doubt, use a double-ended training lead. Attach one clip to the head collar and the other to your dog’s regular collar.
Can a puppy wear a head collar?
Starting your puppy training with a head collar is a great way to get off on the right foot. We wouldn't expect a baby or toddler to adapt to a new experience immediately and it is the same with our dogs. Start slowly and patiently.
Do you remember how strange it was the first time you wore a watch? Or a cycling helmet? For puppies, wearing a head collar can be a similar experience and it may feel a little strange at first.
Susan Garrett, the respected Canadian dog trainer, recommends starting early and taking several weeks to condition your puppy to a head collar before using it on a walk.
A progressive approach will set your dog up with good training habits for life. We recommend that you wait until your puppy is happy to wear her regular collar and understands the idea of walking on lead. For most dogs, this will be at around 4-6 months old.
"A head collar can instil good walking habits for life"
Your adult dog and head collars
Most adult dogs will accept a head collar instantly and others will take a couple of weeks to get used to wearing it.
Very few dogs will never accept wearing a head collar. This is usually due to the owner using it incorrectly or not persevering if the dog didn’t like wearing it at first.
At first, some dogs may dislike the feel of having a head collar on their nose. For these dogs, it’s important to gradually condition them to wearing it.
Conditioning your dog to a head collar
The basic steps to condition your dog to wearing a head collar are:
- Establish a positive association with the head collar, such as using your dog’s favourite treats when you bring it out. Let her sniff the collar.
- Once your dog is happy to see it, the next step is fitting the collar part around the neck and putting the noseband over the nose. Hold a treat in one hand and put the noseband over this hand so that you can place it over your dog’s nose and pop a treat into her mouth at the same time. Wait for a few seconds, then slip it off and ignore your dog.
- Repeat this step a few times. If you dog paws the slip line off, simply stop the treats/attention/vocal praise and ignore. Wait a short time and start again.
- Once your dog accepts wearing the head collar, let her wear it around the house for short periods with the lead attached.
- Now you’re ready to go into the garden or outside the house in an area with few distractions. Do short bursts of training of up to five minutes. Be sure to reward your dog with vocal praise/treats when she is walking well on a loose lead.
What is the best head collar for my dog?
When choosing a collar to stop your dog pulling on lead, every brand will claim to be ‘the best’. But there is no 'one fits all' solution.
The best head collar for you and your dog will be the one which is the most comfortable. It should be simple to fit, easy to use, kind, safe & effective.
Your choice will depend on your dog’s size, breed & temperament plus how much training you wish to do. Do you want to use your head collar permanently? Or would you like to eventually train your dog to walk on a regular collar and lead?
Some brands encourage permanent use. Others are designed so that you can slip the noseband on and off during training. These collars are best if you want to gradually wean your dog off using them.
Some breeds like Pugs and French Bulldogs have virtually no nose and a head collar will simply will not work for them. Others, like Boxers, have a short, wide snout which makes some brands of head collar unsuitable. If in doubt, invest in a body harness.
"Choose the right head collar for you and your dog"
The Canny Collar
The Canny Collar is a simple dog head collar with a single, self-adjusting and removable noseband.
The innovative 'behind-the-head' design makes it easy to fit and simple to use. This means that it will also not ride up into your dog’s eyes nor yank her head to one side.
“The Canny Collar was voted 'Best New Product' by the UK Pet Product Retail Association shortly after it was launched and is now used by trainers, veterinarians and rescue shelters worldwide”
How does the Canny Collar work?
The Canny Collar works using the recommended 'pressure and release' system. If your dog pulls on the lead, she will feel pressure on the bridge of her nose. When she doesn't pull, there is no pressure.
Once the pressure is immediately released, the lead slackens when your dog is walking at your side. With your arm relaxed, the Canny Collar automatically does the corrective work. You are free to praise or reward your dog for walking calmly by your side.
Your dog soon learns that by not pulling ahead, the walk is more comfortable for you both. You can positively reinforce the experience with vocal praise and/or her favourite treat.
Why is the Canny Collar different to other head collars like the Halti or Gentle Leader?
Apart from its unique design, the Canny Collar functions differently:
- The Canny Collar fastens behind the head rather than under the chin. The immediate benefit is that there is no yanking your dog's head to one side nor riding up into her eyes.
- The Canny Collar uses a single piece of material over your dog’s face which attaches to the lead at the back of the head. It expands to fit the wider snout of a Boxer or contracts for the slimmer snout of a Greyhound. This gives a perfect fit without affecting the functionality.
- The Canny Collar can be quickly and easily switched into a regular dog collar. Simply flick the noseband on and off your dog's nose when needed. By doing this you can eventually train your dog to walk on a conventional flat collar.
- The Canny Collar doesn’t have to be removed when your dog is off lead and can be safely left on while your dog runs free.
- As the lead attaches behind your dog’s head, she cannot get her paw over it and remove the Canny Collar.
A kind head collar
The collar itself is generously padded for comfort and the single noseband is soft and comfy. This allows your dog to breathe freely, open her mouth and enjoy her walk.
"The lightest of touches is needed when your dog pulls"
When the lead is loose, your dog feels no pressure at all on her face as she walks calmly by your side.
A million owners can’t be wrong
If you're looking to stop your dog pulling on lead, you’ll be in good company. More than a million dog owners worldwide have now discovered the simple pleasure of walking their dogs on a loose lead.
If you have a giant breed, the Canny Colossus is the larger version of the Canny Collar and is a head collar especially made for large dogs.
But don't take our word for it, read some Canny Collar reviews here. Join these happy owners today and make walking your own dog easy and enjoyable.
A head collar is not a substitute for dog training
Whilst head collars can help with training your dog, they are not a substitute. This is something that all responsible dog owners should do to ensure that your dog becomes a responsible canine citizen and is welcomed by other dogs and owners.
Dog trainer Susan Garrett is very clear that a head collar is not a ‘set it and forget it’ device.. You cannot just fit it and then absent-mindedly walk your dog down the road.
Susan has used a head collar on every dog she has ever trained since 1990s. She does this because it commits her to a training session every time she walks her dog on one.
Be a responsible dog owner
Putting your dog on a lead is like driving a car – you don’t just switch off. Your responsibilities are to be aware of what is happening in the moment and to know what is going on around you.
When walking your dog, look for potential hazards up ahead so that you are prepared for what may distract your dog. The aim when training on a head collar is to move our dog’s focus from everyday distractions back to you.
"A head collar is not a device that can help with more serious behavioural issues encountered when walking your dog"
If your dog is unsociable or aggressive to other dogs or people, look for a qualified dog trainer or behavioural therapist.
Is a head collar to be used forever?
A good head collar, combined with training, will mean that your dog should be able to walk on a regular collar and lead without pulling. The Canny Collar is designed for this purpose.
If the head collar is loose around your dog’s face and you prefer to simply leave it on then it is fine to continue like this. The aim is to make walks for both of you easier and more enjoyable.
You may or may not need a head collar to help you train your dog to walk well. But it can speed up the learning process.
If you decide to purchase one, the best collar for you and your dog will be comfortable, kind, safe & effective. It should be simple to fit and easy to use.
A head collar is not a substitute for training which is something every responsible dog owner should do.
Now that you've read our guide to head collars for dogs, we’d like to ask about your experiences. Please let us know below!