Head Collars & No-Pull Harnesses

NO_PULL_HARNESS_FeaturedHead collars and harnesses are two effective and humane options for teaching your dog to walk well on a leash, and can be a valuable part of your training toolbox when working with a leash reactive dog.

There are three main types of harnesses-those that clip on the dog’s back: those that connect to the leash at the dog’s chest and those that connect on the back and the chest (such as the Positively No-Pull Harness). Harnesses are a fantastic tool for teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, and do not put the pressure on your dog’s neck and spine that a traditional collar does.

Back-Clipping Harness
A harness that connects to the leash between the dog's shoulders is a great option for a dog that does not pull on leash.

  • It takes the pressure and discomfort of a collar off of your dog’s sensitive neck, and will eliminate coughing and choking.
  • These harnesses work well on small dogs and dogs that are not inclined to pull or lunge.

However, the back-clipping harness is not a good tool for dogs that pull or are reactive on leash.

  • Back-clipping harnesses can engage a dog’s opposition reflex, which can actually encourage pulling.
  • They also minimize the handler’s level of control over the dog, making it difficult to walk a reactive dog or one that pulls.

Chest-Led Harness
Fortunately, there is a tool that can help eliminate pulling and can give you more control over a leash reactive dog.

  • The chest-led harness such as the Positively No Pull Harness has a clip located on a strap that lies across the dog’s chest and a clip attached on the back just behind the shoulders for added control.
  • The dog’s center of gravity is located at the chest, so when he pulls, the chest-led harness will simply turn the dog around.
  • These types of harnesses are humane and do not cause dogs any pain or discomfort.

Victoria's No-Pull Harness
Leash pulling is often successful for dogs: when they pull and are allowed to get where they want to go, so the unwanted behavior is inadvertently reinforced. The Positively No-Pull Harness clips at the chest and the back, and was specially designed to be effective, force-free, and pain-free. Chest-led harnesses can be used in conjunction with behavioral training to eliminate pulling or leash reactivity.

If you have a dog that demonstrates severe leash aggression, you should consult a positive trainer in your area to help you.

Head Collars
If you have a dog that pulls or is reactive on leash, it is important that you use safe, humane training equipment that can help make training easier and make walks less stressful.

One option for a dog that pulls severely on leash or has serious issues with leash reactivity is a head collar. It is important that you acclimate your dog to the head collar slowly, as many dogs are unsure of it at first.

  • Start by pairing the presence of a head collar with a reward. Show the dog the collar, then reward him treats, play, or toys while the collar is in view. Remove the collar from view and stop the reward.
  • Touch the dog’s nose, head, and neck with the collar, and follow immediately with a reward. Repeat until the dog is comfortable with the presence of the collar.
  • Place the collar portion of the head collar around the dog’s neck. It will fit similarly to a normal collar. Practice taking this on and off the dog while rewarding the dog when the collar is on.
  • Feed the dog a treat through the nose loop of the head collar.
  • Gradually increase the amount of the loop that goes on your dog’s muzzle.
  • Leave the nose loop on for gradually increasing periods.
  • Put the nose loop on the dog’s muzzle and bring the straps behind his head. Gradually increase the time that you leave the collar on and continue with the reward.
  • When the dog is completely comfortable with the head collar, it’s time to clip the straps. Reward your dog with treats or a favorite toy or game.
  • After you have clipped the straps and the dog does not seem distressed or uncomfortable, you can attach the leash and begin training.

The collar should be fairly snug, with room for one finger between the collar and the dog’s neck. If the collar is too tight or too loose, it will be uncomfortable for your dog and ineffective for training.

Tips for Training With a Head Collar

  • You should never use leash jerks or corrections on any dog, but especially not a dog wearing a head collar.
  • Some dogs may never acclimate to using a head collar. Do not force your dog to wear it if he is clearly distressed or anxious. There are other alternatives.
  • A head collar is best saved for dogs with extreme leash reactivity and pulling. Mild to moderate cases may be best suited to a front-clipping harness.

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12 thoughts on “Head Collars & No-Pull Harnesses

  1. Jaan Hurditch

    Some dogs just love to pull.. My husky cross just thinks it's a game and I know lots will disagree but with a harness on I'm quite happy for her to pull me around the local hiking trails.

    If you're having trouble controlling your dog who likes to pull maybe check out http://www.leash-mate.com

    Happy walking!

  2. irreverance

    Note: I am not a professional trainer.

    My first thought is that It sounds like your dog really needs to burn some energy. I can't tell what your lifestyle is like based only on this blurb. One thing you might consider if you find walking difficult is to play high-energy games in the house. I have a 70 lb GSD/Husky mix. We play "chase the bottle" a lot. I throw the bottle, then he grabs it, and we play keep away. It involves a lot of jogging (my house goes in a circle). This will allow her to get a bit of exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding time (make sure the toddler is out of the way).

    My second thought is that it sounds like you haven't worked with her with regards to training. Have you taught your dog basics, such as "watch me", "sit", "stay", and "leave it"? I don't know. But you will want to train your dog to walk on a leash, and those responses will be foundational to that exercise.

    Once you have burned off some energy, you will be ready to train. When you reach the point where you are ready to train leash walking, I would recommend a front-clip harness (since you are concerned about a head collar doing harm). If you need help, consider strongly talking with a professional positive trainer (as opposed to a "traditional" trainer). Honestly, I think you may be at the point where a trainer is your best bet.

    Also, as already mentioned, you may want to consider whether your household is conducive to the dog's growth and well-being. I can't make that assessment for you. You will have to weigh whether the responsibility is too much. If it is, you may want to help her to connect with a family who can take her to the next level of who she is meant to be. If you choose this path, I urge you to be very discerning. You're looking for the quality that matches your desire for her to have the best.

    I know you're in a tight spot, and I wish you the best of luck sorting out what is best for your family (including your dog, of course).

  3. Kaitlyn

    I wouldn't use a head halter any more than I'd use a prong. You can counter-condition until the cows come home but they still work on the same principle (discomfort) as prongs. Why else would a dog pay attention to them? And I'm talking dogs who haven't been trained properly to loose-leash walk all of a sudden being perfect with a head halter on...just let that sink in. It's obviously uncomfortable.

  4. Dave Greaves

    I agree with kate. not only the brand but also the fit is critical. I have every brand of head collar I have been able to locate and by far the one I recomend and like best is the halti. there are a bunch of sizes of them and the packaging is only a crude guidelines.. my two goldens wear 2 different sizes and one of them I had work done on to better fit him as he is actually between 2 sizes. Whebn used and fit properly its about impossible to fail with a head collar. there is a learning curve though for people, you cant just buy a instant cure all for bad behavior.

  5. Dave Greaves

    thats not true.. people assume that head collars are muzzles all the time as well.. but but true at all.. prong collars and head collars have nothing in common and are based on very different princeables

  6. Dave Greaves

    Yes some dogs are natural instinct driven pullers. I had a malmute once id swear could pull tree stumps out lol! You can tell the pullers by how in there stride they always keep a foot on the ground.

  7. Joanne Surman

    I have a 9 yo rehomed foxhound who is scent led - nose to the floor and pulls. We have limited cash(! who doesn't?) - a chest harness which doesn't seem to work, then we brought a no pull harness that goes round the front of the chest which works a little better, but she still pulls. I then brought a Halti head collar, this is great, except for the way she walks (nose to the ground) and the position of where the lead clips in under the chin, her front paws clip the lead and it rubs against her shoulder. Any other products out there I could use - or just any other ideas?? Thank you

  8. Kaye Hutchinson

    I have a year old boxer who pulls..can anyone tell me which is the best lead/collar to use to help. I saw "me or the dog" today with a boxer who had one that went around the nose..always worried about this as she has such a short nose. Any help would be great thank you X

  9. Valerie Elston

    We have a 10 month old husky that pulls we bought a schnozz and hated it being put on she now has a fear of anything going over her head we have been using a back clip harness which has done nothing I reAlly have no idea what will be best to control her pulling

  10. TraceyF

    Hi there. I've done a lot of research about dogs pulling on leash. I have a home dog boarding business and so many of the dogs that stay pull on leash. Often they will only be here for a short time too so no chance to put in much training! Harnesses that clip on the back are just not recommended at all for dogs that pull as it just encourages the dog to pull against it. Harnesses with a clip on the chest, in theory are better as when the dog pulls, they should end up facing you. I have researched harnesses and I use the Tellington T Touch (I live in the U.K.) but there are probably other ones that are suitable too. I like this brand because they leave the shoulder free to move and due to the number of clips there is no need for the dog to step through anything or have anything go over their head. However, having used various sizes on various dogs - as with all things dog related.....they work on some and not on others! I can see that there is a place for head halters too - but don't have a deal of experience with them. Some of my clients use them though and definitely get better control. The conclusion I've come to from experience and research is to find a suitable (but humane) tool to help get you both from A to B (so borrow various head halters, harnesses if you can to see what works) but aim to go back to basic training for loose leash walking at home and use a Basic flat collar for that. In my experience there is no quick fix or perfect tool that works for all dogs and so just be prepared to put in lots of training. Without a doubt, if you are in a position to burn some energy off your dog before you embark on training or an on lead walk it does help (but I know not everyone has that facility). Sorry about the epic!! Hope it is of some interest.

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