Training Tool Choices: The Harness or The Head Collar?

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By Mandie Sweetnam

 

 

As a dog owner, deciding between which harness to use can be very confusing, especially with so many decisions. If you’re looking for something that is comfortable, an excellent fit and stylish, the Sure-Fit harness is the way to go. This harness is a back-hooking harness and will not, I repeat, not help you if your dog pulls on the leash. This is because it isn’t designed to discourage pulling like the front-hooking Easy Walk harness or the Gentle Leader head collar.

 

The Sure-Fit is ideal for comfort but isn't helpful to discourage pulling

 

Not to worry – The Gentle Leader and Easy Walk are both training tools that have been designed specifically to discourage pulling (and even some other unwanted behaviors).

The Gentle Leader is hugely popular among trainers and veterinarians because of its ability to allow dog owners to walk their pet comfortably on a leash. What many people don’t realize, is that it also helps to train against other undesired behaviors such as excessive barking, lunging, jumping and in some cases anxiety and aggression. (Please consult a trainer or veterinarian if your dog is displaying anxiety or aggression)

 

 

Comfortable, yet efficient

 

 

As the old saying goes “Where the nose goes, the body follows”, the Gentle Leader can be used to give you more control of your dog’s attention. Lunging and jumping, for instance, are typically not a desired behavior in your dog, but when you can redirect the dog’s attention back to you, the jumping and lunging will begin to stop. The Gentle Leader prevents these things the same way it prevents pulling, by applying gentle pressure on the nose that is released immediately after the dog stops pulling. For the owner, pulling and jerking on the leash is never necessary and is counterproductive to your training.

 

 

Gentle Leaders can be used on most dog breeds above the age of 6 weeks

 

 

The Gentle Leader shares traits, other than its no-pull benefits, with the Easy Walk Harness. Neither device is damaging to the trachea. They both prevent gagging, choking and coughing. Both can be used daily and both are approved for use on puppies of 6 weeks of age or older.

 

 

The Easy Walk harness has its own benefits as an alternative to the Gentle Leader. I will often ask people if their only concern is their dog pulling their arm on daily walks. If their answer is yes, I will suggest the Easy Walk Harness. The acclimation process for the Easy Walk is generally shorter than the Gentle Leader and it’s as easy to fit, if not slightly easier because it goes on the body instead of the head. Like the Gentle Leader though, the proper fit is important.

 

Great fit on Magoo!

 

The Easy Walk is also the preferred choice to use on brachycephalic breeds or short-nosed dogs. (Pugs, Boxers, etc) The recommended fit of the nose loop on the Gentle Leader is not always appropriate for these breeds because of the shape of their noses. Luckily, the Easy Walk has a size that fits them – with 8 different sizes available.

 

 

Many dog owners actually find that they have a need for each harness at different times. For example, I use the Gentle Leader if I’m taking Tombie to the vet because we’re in close quarters in the lobby and she wants to visit with everyone. The Gentle Leader helps me keep her safe and keep the situation under control. Since it’s her head (nose) that is the issue, the Gentle Leader is the best fit.  When we go to the park, I use the Easy Walk because we have a little more space and she’s more relaxed. Many dogs may only need one or the other for all situations.

 

 

 

While both of these training tools are a huge help, they are still only tools. To really train your dog not to pull on the leash, you’ll need to be consistent with your harness training and top it off with rewarding them when they’re not pulling. A training tool will only work if used properly.

To maximize your training experience with the Gentle Leader head collar or the Easy Walk harness, you’ll need to remember these few things:

  1. Pick the harness/tool you need to train with based on your training goals
  2. Size and fit the harness properly  – measure the girth for the Easy Walk
  3. Use the harness consistently  and reward the behaviors you like

For extra help in deciding between the Easy Walk and The Gentle Leader, our customer service line is always open. 1-800-933-5595. We have informative brochures available also!

 

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3 Responses to Training Tool Choices: The Harness or The Head Collar?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi,

    I have been using the Gentle Leader on my standard schnauzer. The first week was fine, we watched the instruction video several times and had a perfect fit. The second week, he started running away from it when we would put it on his face, he wouldn’t even take the treat we would offer to put the nose strap on. Today, when I tried to put it on, I had been used to his running away but now he would snap at the nose strap so much, I didn’t even have a chance to put it on him. Any suggestions as to get around this?

    • Michelle Mullins says:

      I’m so sorry to hear your dog is not enjoying his Gentle Leader. Here are some tips on changing his mind about it!

      To overcome initial negative experiences a dog may have had with the use of a headcollar or avoid a negative experience altogether I suggest you back up the process a few steps.

      Always start the process of fitting and wearing when the dog is hungry and use food as rewards. Right before mealtime is a good time to start. You will need to get some tasty treats the dog loves and finds motivating. Break the treats into small pea-sized morsels. It is important to know food is the reward if it is something the dog likes and it is given AFTER the dog performs the desired behavior. To be effective, rewards must be given while your dog is still engaged in the behavior or within seconds of the behavior ending. Timing is critical. In addition to the food, petting and praise should be used simultaneously as rewards.
      Start by target training the dog to your hand. Let the dog see and smell one of the treats you have, then close your fist around the treat and put your hand down near the dog’s head. When the dog touches it’s nose to your hand, open your hand flat and let it have the treat. Move your hand around repeating this process. The dog should quickly learn to follow your hand in order to receive a reward.
      Once the dog is reliably targeting your closed hand, place the nose loop of the headcollar over your upper arm (you may have to hold it in place away from your hand). Continue to have the dog target the closed hand and reward for successful attempts. GRADUALLY move the nose loop down the arm and closer to the hand that contains the food reward. If the dog becomes anxious or fearful, go back to the point where the dog was not displaying any reluctance. Your goal is to go slowly so that the dog never reacts fearfully. If you move your hand with the treat slowly up and in front of the dog’s nose, the head will lift as the nose follows your hand up and the dog should lift its nose and sit. Give the food reward. Once your dog has no problem taking treats from your hand with the headcollar draped over the arm close to the hand, try holding open the nose loop with one hand and holding the treat just behind the open loop so that the dog has to put its nose partially into the loop to get the treat. Repeat until the dog is taking treats with no hesitation. (This is why the treats need to be small in size.) Next bring the treat back farther behind the nose loop so that the dog has to put more of its nose through the nose loop to get the treat. Make sure you give the reward immediately. Remove the nose loop or let if all off. Wait a few seconds and then repeat. Repeat this process until the dog would rather sit with its nose pointing upward, anticipating the next treat than let the loop come off by dunking it’s head or shaking it’s head. Another option is to try putting a blob of peanut butter or yogurt on the fridge door right at this nose level. The peanut butter will keep him occupied while you put on the Gentle Leader. Have him wear the Gentle Leader in the house while making good things happen to him when he has it on – eating, playing, etc. This process may take more than one session and you can always go back a step a two to keep your dog’s experience a happy one. Keep the sessions short. The goal is for the Gentle Leader to predict good things.

      It sounds like you made sure to get a proper fit. Just to review here is a short checklist.
      Neck Strap
      Should be snug
      Should not rotate around the dog
      Should be positioned high on the back of the neck, just behind the ears.
      Nose Loop
      Loose enough so the dog can freely open his mouth
      Should not be so loose he can paw it off

      Some handling tips that can help your dog enjoy the experience include:
      Use the tension on the leash gently and always release tension as soon as the dog is walking beside you. Constant tension should be avoided as the dog will find it annoying.
      Treats and praise should be used each and every time he displays the loose leash behavior.

      Some dogs take to it instantly and others need a longer acclimation period. If you continue to have issues with avoidance, etc. please let us know so we can help you find a solution. We want you and your dog to enjoy your experience with our Gentle Leader.

  2. Pingback: Dog Training 101 | Life with Lucky

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