When it comes to equipment used in dog training, head collars are one of the more divisive topics. Many dog walkers find them invaluable to maintain control and walk their dogs comfortably, whilst others think of them as restrictive and forceful. So, why is there such a difference in opinion and what is the truth?
HOW DOES A HEAD COLLAR WORK?
Head collars are devices that fit over a dog’s nose and neck. They are designed to reduce pulling and to help handlers maintain closer control of their dogs. They work on the principle of guiding the dog’s head in a controlled manner. The body then follows in turn, a bit like a nose-band is used to manoeuvre a horse. Teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead can surprisingly be one of the most challenging aspects of dog training. It is a process that can take considerable time and patience. In the meantime, it is important for owners to feel safe and in control and in some cases, using a head collar can be the difference as to whether a dog is exercised or not. Dogs that jump up, lunge or bark may be a challenge to walk, but it is also important to remember that they may be considered to be ‘out of control’ in the eyes of the law. A dog jumping up at a stranger may be behaving entirely innocent and playful, but the individual on the receiving end may not be as accepting. ‘Out of control’ means just that, whatever the motivation behind the behaviour.
THE PAIN OF PULLING
It is simply a fact that many owners are injured by their dogs pulling on the lead. Walking can sadly be arduous and not the pleasant experience envisaged when acquiring a dog. In a two month period, one hospital in the UK reported 37 injuries to dog owners, mainly caused by being pulled over by their dogs. Injuries ranged from soft tissue damage, joint issues and even broken bones. Sixteen of the patents needed surgery! Before you decide never to risk walking your dog again, these are of course more extreme examples, but for anyone that has walked a dog that pulls, the feeling of frustration, tiredness and pain will be familiar.
IT TAKES A LITTLE GETTING USED TO!
Some will argue that head collars are not kind and rely on forceful handling. Many suggest their dog ‘does not like it’ or ‘constantly tries to paw it off’. These are valid considerations of course, but it is wise to delve a little deeper into why owners feel this way. I work with many hundreds of dogs each year and a reasonable proportion of them will benefit significantly from wearing a head collar. It is however clear, that success and sensitivity of introducing and working with such a collar, very much depends on the skills and patience of the handler involved. The dogs benefitting most from wearing a head collar, are often the ones who find it hardest to accept. With patience and perseverance from a dedicated owner, the dog can soon start to associate the equipment with positive experiences, such as going for a lovely walk. It is understandable that a dog may find wearing a head collar somewhat unusual and even uncomfortable at first. This is just a similar experience to a puppy wearing a flat buckle collar or having a lead attached for the first time. Puppies often scratch at their neck repeatedly or even the rub their face across the floor in reaction to the new item, yet owners don’t just abandon the idea and destroy the collar and lead. Instead, they take time to help the puppy become accustomed to the new equipment. Head collars can be exactly the same. They also are not aimed at introducing forceful handling, but rather to prevent the need for strong handling.
THE SCIENCE BIT!
Whenever there is concern about whether a piece of equipment may cause stress to a dog, it is always helpful to refer to any relevant scientific research, to understand the facts a little better. Ogburn et al (1998)* compared the physiological and behavioural responses of dogs wearing a head collar versus a usual flat buckle collar. To fully understand if the dogs were feeling stressful, they tested blood pressure, heart rates, respiratory rates and even observed dilation of pupils. Very importantly, they also measured the levels of cortisol, often known as the ‘stress hormone’ produced in the body by each dog. The results were enlightening, as they showed NO significant difference in the dogs’ responses to wearing the different types of collar. Furthermore, for both types of collar, the dogs became more accustomed to wearing them as time progressed and they simply felt more comfortable. Interestingly, the research also showed that the dogs wearing head collars were more responsive, ‘obedient’ and guess what….. pulled less on the lead! Avoiding pulling from the neck is essential to reduce the risk of injuries to the neck or trachea. Harnesses also do this of course, but they also allow dogs to pull more from the shoulders, where there is a greater strength. Constantly pulling on the shoulders in this way also has potential for injury to dogs.
WHY DO DOGS PULL?
So, why is teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead so challenging? It’s quite simple really, they just don’t want to be attached to the lead and would prefer to have the freedom to run about. Off lead exercise is of course fun and important for a dog’s needs, but there are times when lead walking is essential and it should be taught to every dog. Pulling on the lead is very rewarding for dogs, it helps them to get to where they want to go more quickly and so it is a worthwhile activity. The use of a head collar improves control enough, that it can make a significant difference to the speed of training, as it can ‘even up’ the balance of strength and power between dog and handler. Over the years, I have witnessed how numerous owners feel that the introduction of a head collar has significantly improved their enjoyment of walks with their dogs. It has helped them to gain attention and improve the listening skills of their dogs too. When this happens, dogs can more easily be taught to walk on a loose lead and many other skills besides! Head collars can also be invaluable for dogs who react negatively to other dogs and / or people and can support teaching new and more preferable behaviours. I have also experienced many cases in which anxious dogs behave more calmly with the controlling effect of wearing a head collar.
WHY CHOOSE DOGMATIC?
Dogmatic collars are available from Pointy Ears Dog Shop, as they have become my preferred choice when introducing such equipment to a client’s dog (or indeed one of my own!).
Take a look at our video for more information –
The webbed collars are particularly beneficial for 2 key reasons –
- The design means, that when correctly fitted, the head collar sits in position over the nose and does not ride up over the eye. This leads to a much more positive experience for the dog
- The Dogmatic head collar is made from padded, webbed material ,which is more gentle against the skin and fur and helps to prevent rubbing
Head collars are not of course necessary or suitable for all dogs, but they may be an essential tool for many dog owners. Introduced in a patient and kind way, they can be a means to allow owners to walk their dogs comfortably and safely, just like driving a car with power assisted steering! Dogs can still pant, drink or enjoy a nice treat whilst wearing a Dogmatic head collar. The introduction process does take time and when you purchase a head collar from Pointy Ear Dog Shop, you will receive a step by step guide on the process to follow.
Still not convinced,? Well perhaps it is worth noting what many dog owners themselves think of Dogmatic head collars. Firstly, Your Dog Magazine readers have recently voted the brand the ‘Product You Can’t Live Without’ for a record breaking SIXTH time. Dogmatic head collars were also awarded the title of ‘Best Dog Collar Manufacturer 2018’ by Global Health & Pharma Animal & Wellness Awards.
Dogmatic Head Collars are available in a range of sizes and colours and it is important to measure your dog carefully using the sizing guide to ensure a comfortable fit.
Shop the range now at https://pointyearsdogshop.co.uk/product-category/head-collars/
Article produced by Joanne Owen BA Hons. ADip CBM
Registered Accredited Animal Behaviourist (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Registered Animal Training Instructor (Animal Behaviour & Training Council)
Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (01216)
This article remains © Joanne Owen 2019
* Ogburn, Philip, Crouse, Stephanie, Martin, Frank, Hout, Katherine (1998). ‘Comparison of behavioral and physiological responses of dogs wearing two different types of collars’. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.