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Those of us who own dogs who pull at the leash know how a simple dog walk can turn into a frustrating, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous ordeal. The good news is that there are a number of ways to keep your dog under control. Dog owners should enjoy walking with their pups.
Here we will outline a few halters and harnesses to use when training your dog to walk nicely at your side. Specifically, we’ll review and compare the popular Halti Optifit, Gentle Leader, and Easy Walk to help you decide which is best for your pet.
About No-Pull Harnesses, Headcollars and Halters
Many dog owners opt for using a “no-pull” harness, collar, or head halter. These harnesses discourage your dog from pulling by causing an uncomfortable sensation when he pulls at the leash.
This does not, however, mean that he has learned to walk nicely at your side, it simply means that he has been dissuaded from pulling.
Here we will be focusing on two kinds of head halters (Halti and Gentle Leader), and one no-pull harness (the Easy Walk).
When picking out a harness for training, make sure that it is:
- Comfortable for your dog. Your pup will find it hard to learn if he is uncomfortable! Make sure whatever harness you are using fits correctly (adjustability is a big plus!) and doesn’t rub under his legs or across his chest, and it is not a good idea to use a pain-inducing collar or harness (such as choke or prong collars), especially if you are a new dog trainer.
- Easy for you to use. A complicated harness or one that is tricky to get on or off your dog is not a good option because it will discourage you from walking and training your dog!
- A good fit. Read sizing guides before buying online, or go into a store and have your dog try on a harness. Getting a well fitting harness is essential! Any harness or halter should also be highly adjustable. This makes it simple to adjust to fit the widely varying body shapes and sizes of different dog breeds.
- Safe. Harnesses and halters can be used to increase visibility for safer walks after dark. Many harnesses and collars also have a ‘quick-release’ function to prevent them from harming your dog if she gets caught on something.
The idea behind using a head halter to discourage pulling is that while a dog can thrust their entire body weight into pulling on a harness attached at the shoulders, they cannot put that much force behind their head. Most halters also tighten around your dog’s muzzle when they pull, making pulling uncomfortable.
Halters usually have straps that go around a dog’s muzzle, behind their ears, and attach to a leash at their throat. This design puts pressure on your dog’s muzzle when he pulls and results in his chin being pulled down or to the side.
Do not pull or jerk on a dog with a head halter, rather gently guide them to avoid injury to their head and neck.
Properly fitting a halter around your dog’s face so that it doesn’t ride up into your dog’s eyes, or slip down off his muzzle is very important. One downside of a head halter is that many dogs really dislike wearing them.
It is important to take the time to slowly teach your dog to wear a halter so he can get used to having a halter around his face. Be patient, use a lot of dog treats, and never simply force the halter on over your dog’s head!
Harnesses that use a front clip or compression are intended to prevent your pup from pulling on her leash. A front clip harness (one where the leash attaches at the dog’s chest) discourages pulling by making it easy to redirect your dog’s attention.
A dog pulling on a leash that is attached to her chest will be pulling sideways; this decreases the strength with which she can pull, and it makes it easier for you to gain her attention. A compression harness tightens when your dog pulls, and this unpleasant sensation discourages pulling.
They Are Not A Behavioral Solution
As I mentioned above, halters or harnesses do not teach your dog good behavior, they are simply a tool to help control your dog and can aid in loose leash training.
A no-pull halter or harness simply gives you a mechanical advantage over your dog, and therefore more control during your walks. This can be a good advantage if you own a large, strong dog that drags you down the street, or a reactive dog who might lunge if she is surprised or scared.
There are a variety of harnesses, head halters, and collars that can aid you in training your dog to walk nicely at your side. Here are three of them:
Halti vs Easy Walk vs Gentle Leader
Description: The Halti Optifit head halter by The Company of Animals is a good option if your dog is reactive, strong, and/or pulls hard on walks. The nose strap slides over your dog’s muzzle, and the head strap buckles behind your dog’s ears. There is a sliding camlock under your dog’s chin so that you can tighten the muzzle strap to fit your dog’s face. The Halti has a padded nose strap for your dog’s comfort, and flexible cheek straps to fit a variety of dog face shapes.
Pros: The Halti is highly customizable, which makes for a comfortable and secure fit. It also has a couple of extra safety features, including reflective cheek straps and a safety clip that attaches to your dog’s collar. The Halti also has wider straps than the Gentle Leader halter, which distributes weight more evenly across your dog’s nose.
Cons: A lot of dogs don’t like wearing a head halter, so getting them used to the Halti can be a bit of a challenge. Make sure you take the time to properly train your dog to wear it and don’t just force it over her head.
Description: The PetSafe Gentle Leader’s design is very similar to the Halti Optifit. A nose strap goes around your dog’s muzzle, and through a ring under his chin, while a neck strap buckles behind your dog’s ears. The leash is clipped on underneath the dog’s chin, and when he pulls, the nose strap tightens around his muzzle. This makes pulling uncomfortable and allows you more control. It also allows you to direct his attention away from unwanted stimuli by gently guiding his face away.
Pros: The Gentle Leader no-pull dog collar is relatively easy to fit and adjust, and includes a padded nose strap for optimal comfort. Its safety strap clips to your dog’s collar for added security.
Cons: Like all head halters, it can be difficult to get your dog to enjoy wearing the Gentle Leader, but with patient training and rewarding walks, your dog will soon look forward to you slipping it over his face. Unlike the Halti Optifit, the Gentle Leader does not have cheek straps to ensure that the nose strap won’t slip down over your dog’s muzzle.
Description: The Petsafe Easy Walk dog harness has straps that buckle over your dog’s shoulders, under her ribs/right behind her legs, and a strap across her chest. The leash is attached in front, at your dog’s chest, and the harness tightens when your dog pulls. In this way, the Easy Walk uses front attachment and compression to discourage your dog from pulling at the leash.
Pros: Each of the three main straps is adjustable, allowing for wide customization of fit to a variety of dog body sizes. An Easy Walk is also a good option for brachycephalic (short-nosed) dogs because it doesn’t go around their nose, and it doesn’t put pressure on their necks. This harness will also be easier to teach your dog to wear because it doesn’t go around your dog’s face.
Cons: The strap that goes across the dog’s chest (as opposed to a Y-shaped back clip harness) can impede a dog’s motion by shortening or changing your dog’s gait. Over time this can lead to complications or joint issues. Front clip harnesses, while they often do reduce your dog’s pulling, also get tangled more easily than back clips.
Training for Loose Leash Walking
The most beneficial, long-lasting solution to a dog who pulls on the leash is not equipment, but training. These halters and harnesses are good tools to control and manage your dog on walks during training before your dog is reliably walking calmly next to you.
Here are a couple of training exercises that will help your dog develop good walking behavior:
The Silky Leash Technique
Teaches your dog to yield to small amounts of pressure on the leash. Starting in a fairly boring place and once your dog is calm, put a small amount of pressure on the leash in one direction and reward your dog when he moves or even shifts his weight that way. Repeat, reward, and gradually up the distractions.
Helps teach your dog to handle their environment and manage distractions. Simply count out loud “One, two, three.” On three, reward your dog with a treat.
In the beginning, you will likely need to give your dog the treat right to his mouth until he learns that treats come when you say three. Once he has made this connection, start delivering treats right at the seam of your pants at your dog’s head height. This will teach him to be super close to you when you say “three.”
Eventually, he will learn to stick close to you while walking in order to get treats. Again, repeat, reward, and gradually up the distractions.
No-Pull Training Tips
It is extremely important that your training sessions are consistent, otherwise, your dog will get confused and not learn the desired behavior. However, we don’t all have the time for training sessions every time we have to take the dog out for a walk.
Exercising your dog in other ways (such as fetch or training games) can help take the pressure off of training your dog to walk calmly. Another way to help your dog distinguish between training time and a more relaxed walk is to use different collars or harnesses. Perhaps you use a regular harness for relaxed walks, but clip on a no-pull halter when you head out for a training session.
If your dog is reactive and pulls or lunges aggressively at dogs, people, or other triggers, you may need help from a professional dog trainer.
These issues are also solvable with patient and proper training, but it will take more care and attention because your dog is likely scared of his surroundings. Start in a super safe environment and gradually work up to more distractions, but try your best to steer clear of triggering stimuli so that your dog is able to remain in control.
With a bit of work and a lot of patience, your dog will soon be walking calmly at your side. A no-pull harness or halter such as the Halti, Gentle Leader, or Easy Walk are all great tools to aid your training, although none of these options is perfect for every dog.
Remember that the best option for you and your dog is the device that fits well, is comfortable for your dog, and is easy to use.
Also keep in mind that none of these devices really modifies your dog’s behavior, which can only be accomplished with consistent, positive training.
Let us know how your walks change in the comments below!