Many years ago, at the insistence of a highly experienced dog trainer at the local training club, I purchased a Halti Headcollar for my unruly, adolescent, large breed dog. He weighed a mere 33lbs (15 kg) less than I did, which the instructor didn’t appreciate – he felt I needed more leverage.
In case you’re unfamiliar with headcollars, they’re devices that go around the dog’s snout, resting near the eyes. The leash attaches under the mouth, which effectively means you’re controlling your dog’s face rather than his neck (as you would using a traditional collar). As a result, you gain far more control when walking, but this tool is not without its vices.
The Halti Headcollar
A bit of background
Developed by Dr Roger Mugford, leading animal behaviourist, dog trainer and founder of The Company of Animals, the Halti Headcollar design was inspired by the use of halters in horses. At the time of creation, choke chains and prong collars were the go-to tools for fixing poor leash manners. Dr Mugford desired a kinder alternative – one that could provide dramatic results by giving control back to the owners, while still being gentle on dogs.
Mugford has worked with more than 50,000 pets, written three books, including his most recent, “The Perfect Dog”, and has developed a variety of products to aid pet owners in their training and rehabilitation, including the popular Baskerville Ultra Dog Muzzle.
He specialises in animal aggression, and has regularly spoken out against breed-specific legislation, urging that poor training, lack of control and mismanagement are the root cause behind “dangerous dogs”.
His products have been revolutionary in allowing owners to better manage their pets.
The Company of Animals claims:
“The HALTI Headcollar Stops Dogs From Pulling. Its unique design works by gently steering the head and therefore controlling the dog’s direction of movement, making training easy and putting you, the owner, back in control. The HALTI has become the world’s favourite headcollar, as it combines maximum steering efficiency with unparalleled comfort.”
Our experience with the Halti
The Halti itself is made of lightweight, albeit tough, webbing and lined with neoprene for added comfort.
The padding actually was one of the features that pushed me to choose the Halti over other competing headcollars, as this was the only one that offered to cushion. In addition, the Halti was roomy which allowed plenty of freedom for yawning, panting, eating, drinking, barking and generally being a dog. I chose black, which was nice and inconspicuous on my dog’s dark face.
Another unique feature on the Halti was the safety link that attaches to your dog’s collar on the off chance he slips out of (or breaks) the headcollar. I’m someone who appreciates a good backup plan, so this was a significant pro in my book.
Being from a country that has banned the use of pinch, or prong, collars, and is slowly phasing out the use of e-collars and choke chains, there are limited solutions when walking on a regular collar isn’t quite working out. The wide availability of the Halti Headcollar was a huge plus.
One of the major reasons the trainer recommended a headcollar to me all those years ago was due to my dog’s over-the-top reactivity towards other dogs. My boy had a tendency to fixate on other nearby dogs and then launch into a frenzy of barking and lunging. As a small person, having a dog the size of me dragging me, teeth first, to the nearest training team, was not a good situation.
The headcollar was intended to allow better control of my dog’s face, to interrupt or guide him when he started eyeballing other dogs. I personally prefer to use as little force as possible when communicating with my dogs, so I opted instead to teach a ‘watch me’ or ‘focus’ cue. This way the dog learns to look at me (and therefore away from its trigger) voluntarily, instead of being jerked around.
We observed a strange side effect whenever the Halti was on, however – it seemed to subdue my dog! Not as though he’d taken a tranquillizer, but it certainly took the edge off. He would be less reactive in general, ignoring many things that would ordinarily cause him to bark, lunge and give chase such as cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buses and, of course, other dogs. Dogs were his biggest weakness, and it certainly didn’t remove his reaction altogether, but the Halti dialled it back significantly. It was also far easier to reinforce good behaviour (like walking at my hip and ignoring the strange dog) because he wasn’t amping himself up on the collar, and staring daggers into his perceived foe. He just kept his gaze forward and moved on.
Suffice to say, YES, the Halti Headcollar did do as advertised. It’s strange seeing a dog that’s always ‘go go go’ slow down to an easy pace in an instant. I went from having a wild child, headstrong, bulldozer of a dog to a calm, quiet companion who behaved beautifully on walks.
The benefits didn’t even stop there. Having more control over my dog gave me way more confidence, which, of course, transferred down the leash! I was calmer. I wasn’t panicking (internally) anymore. I didn’t need to worry about being pulled in front of a bus ever again! Or losing control of him when he saw another dog.
He became more focused on walks, offering eye contact regularly and walking at my pace – fast if I went fast, slow if I slowed down, and stopping at an instant if I did. It really did revolutionise our walks, seemingly in an instant.
While not deal breakers, there are a few potential issues I found with the Halti Headcollar.
Firstly, he hated it. Back then I didn’t know anything about counter-conditioning, or desensitising dogs to new experiences, especially something as obnoxious as a harness for his face. He would paw and fuss at the very start of walks, but would soon forget it was there once the smells of the neighbourhood hit his nostrils.
I truly don’t think it’s worth holding this against the product, however, as the Company of Animals provides a handy booklet explaining how to properly introduce the Halti and ensure your dog perceives it as a pleasant device. Some dogs won’t have any problem, as they’ll associate the Halti with exciting walks, but other dogs with more sensitives muzzles may need some time to acclimate.
If your dog has a lighter coloured face, uneducated passers-by may think your dog is wearing a muzzle. This is an unfortunate side effect, which can be frustrating to deal with. Prepare for sideways glances or strangers crossing the street to avoid your ‘dangerous dog’.
There is a risk of neck injury to your dog if you’re complacent. Allowing him plenty of leash, only to have him hit the end of it at a full run and be jerked back can cause whiplash. As with all tools, there are safe, sensible ways to use the Halti and irresponsible ways to use it. Simply ensure your dog is never allowed to jerk his head suddenly (especially at speed) and you’ll be no worse off than any other collar.
In fact, the late Dr Sophia Yin, renowned veterinary behaviourist and accomplished dog trainer, claimed she had never seen a medically documented case of neck injury caused by a head collar, in contrast to endless cases of injuries induced by choke chain corrections and electronic collars (not to fault the products – invariably, they would have been used irresponsibly).
Arguably, the most compelling flaw with the Halti Headcollar is one that is not intrinsically the Halti’s fault. It stems from the fact that when used to induce loose leash walking, Haltis, like prongs, harnesses and choke chains, don’t actually teach the dog to walk well on leash. It simply compels him to – it’s a band-aid solution. Now, an owner could absolutely use the Halti in conjunction with training to properly teach the dog how it is expected to walk on-leash, regardless of what gear he’s wearing. Many owners don’t do this, however, and that’s a personal choice. For some people, having a dog that walks nicely, whether thanks to a magical device, or not, is enough.
Try not to focus on the negativity of others frown on the use of headcollars. If you’ve found a routine and product that works for you, your dog and your situation, ignore those who are looking for an opportunity to make themselves feel better by putting down a stranger.
How to use the Halti Headcollar effectively
Find the correct size Halti for your dog
Using a soft tape measure, or a piece of string + a ruler/hard tape measure, measure your dog’s neck as though you were measuring for a new collar. Aim for the highest part of the neck, right behind the ears. Once you have your measurements, use the Halti Headcollar size guide to the right to help you find the right Halti for your pooch.
Below, we offer size suggestions for common breeds which can be a useful starting point. Do keep in mind, however, that not all dogs within a given breed have the same measurements. (press ctrl+f if you’re using windows, or cmd+f for mac, and start typing your dog’s main breed to find their potential size faster):
Halti headcollar size 0
Bichon Frisé, Boston Terrier, Cavalier Spaniel, Dachshund (Miniature), Jack Russell Terrier, Maltese, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Poodle (Toy), Yorkshire Terrier.
Halti headcollar size 1
American Cocker Spaniel, Basenji, Beagle, Border Collie, Border Terrier, Buhund, Cairn Terrier, Cavalier Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, Corgi, Dachshund (Standard), Fox Terrier, Jack Russell. Lakeland Terrier, Poodle (Miniature), Schnauzer (Miniature), Sheltie, Shiba Inu, West Highland White Terrier, Whippet.
Halti headcollar size 2
American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Bearded Collie, Bedlington Terrier, Belgian Shepherd, Border Collie, Boxer, Brittany Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, Dalmatian, Dobermann, Flat Coated Retriever, Greyhound, Hungarian Vizsla, Keeshond, Kerry Blue Terrier, Lurcher, Pharaoh Hound, Pit Bull, Poodle (Standard), Rough Collie, Saluki, Samoyed, Schnauzer, Scottish Terrier, Shar Pei, Soft Coated Wheaten, Springer Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Welsh Terrier.
Halti headcollar size 3
Afghan Hound, Airedale, Alaskan Malamute, American Staffordshire, Basset Hound, Belgian Shepherd, Boxer, Briard, Bull Terrier, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Dobermann, Elkhound, English Setter, Foxhound, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, Irish Setter, Irish Water Spaniel, Japanese Akita, Labrador Retriever, Lurcher, Maremma Sheepdog, Munsterlander, Old English Sheepdog, Pit Bull, Pointers, Poodle Standard, Ridgeback, Rough Collie, Siberian Husky, Weimaraner
Halti headcollar size 4
Bernese Mountain Dog, Borzoi, Bouvier. Bull Mastiff, Gordon Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Japanese Akita, Newfoundland, Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Schnauzer (Giant).
Halti headcollar size 5
Great Dane, Mastiff, St Bernard.
Condition your dog to wear a Halti Headcollar
Those of you who have read Muzzle Training will find this process to be familiar. As always, you can’t escape classical conditioning, so we want to ensure that the dog associates the Halti with good things. Follow our muzzle training guide if you’d like an in-depth, step-by-step method on how to desensitise your dog to having a new gadget on their face.
Teach them how to walk while wearing a Halti
Many owners skip this step, but getting the foundation right can really save time and hassle further down the line, so I believe it’s worth spending at least a few minutes showing your dog how you’d like them to behave while wearing the Halti.
Once your dog has been properly conditioned, put on the Halti, fasten the safety clasp to your dog’s collar and attach your leash. Grab your clicker if you’re clicker savvy, or just use a marker word like “yes!”, or “good girl!”, followed by a treat to let her know she’s just done something great.
While inside, with the leash in your hand, stand next to your dog (left or right side, depending on how you prefer to walk) and take few steps forward. Your dog should follow you – mark the moment that she lines up with your leg (click/”yes” and treat), so that there is a nice deep U-shape being made by the leash between the two of you. If she walks too far, turn around and walk the opposite direction (don’t yank on the leash, she’ll feel the pressure on her own). Once again, mark the moment she’s next to your leg with a click/”yes” and treat. Soon she’ll realise what behaviour gets the reward and she’ll end up staying pretty close to the sweet spot all on her own.
Practice this a few times inside, then take it to the yard and repeat the game. Remember to mark the moment that she’s doing what you want her to (standing near your hip with a nice loose leash) and reward her. She should be walking beautifully with you in the yard before you take it to the street, so that she’s had plenty of practice walking nicely on the Halti.
The point of this exercise is that you want her to know what she should be doing, rather than just being corrected all the time when she walks to the end of the leash.
Who is the Halti Headcollar aimed at?
First of all, the Halti Headcollar is not for everyone or every dog. Dogs who have previously sustained neck injuries, or who have very sensitive faces, would be better off wearing a front-clip harness. In addition, not everyone needs a headcollar to have their dog walk nicely.
I personally feel that the Halti Headcollar is an invaluable resource for inexperienced owners who are unfamiliar with how to teach loose leash walking on a flat collar and need a way to tire out their dogs while they learn the ropes. Dogs need exercise whether you’re new to dog training or not, and walking a dog on a Halti is far better than not walking at all due to frustration from being incessantly pulled and struggling to maintain control.
In addition, owners with disabilities, arthritis, injuries and generally reduced strength can significantly benefit from the increased leverage over all that canine power. Women who are pregnant or owners who are petite with large dogs too can feel safer while out walking their best friend.
Headcollars like the Halti are a wonderful tool for people who would like to teach their dogs to walk nicely on-leash and are transitioning to walking on a regular collar. You can walk with a training lead attached to both the collar and the Halti, and gradually reduce how much you handle the headcollar. Eventually, you can stop using it altogether.
Lastly, as I shared in my story above, I found the Halti surprisingly helpful in managing my dog’s reactivity. Not only did it give me more control, it calmed him down, calmed me down and made training in the presences of his triggers much easier. He was more focused and clear headed, which allowed him to learn more easily during our outdoor desensitisation and training sessions.
Handy tips and safety notes we picked up using the Halti Headcollar
- If your dog is between sizes, or you’re unsure which size you should go for between two options, choose the smaller one.
- Don’t use the Halti Headcollar for hikes, runs or walks that will allow your dog to have plenty of leash room. If he suddenly decides to run after something, there is a serious risk of neck injury when he hits the end of his lead.
- The Halti should not be left on while your dog is unattended.
The Halti Headcollar is an excellent tool for so many situations, I would recommend it in a heartbeat if I was sure the owner in question would use it sensibly. Not everyone has the time or know-how when it comes to teaching your dog to walk nicely on-leash, and I believe the Halti is a godsend for those who are struggling. Owners with disabilities or some form of strength disadvantage can especially benefit from the extra leverage.
The Halti is comfortable, safe, easy to use and, let’s not forget, produces results fast. Conditioning your dog to wear the headcollar is easy if you follow the Company of Animals guidelines that come with each package. Furthermore, teaching them how to walk in a Halti takes mere minutes.
Owners of reactive dogs may see faster improvements, which is worth its weight in gold all on its own (those of you who have faced this before will know what I’m talking about).
Haltis can be considered a band-aid solution, and it’s certainly worth trying to improve your dog’s leash manners without the need for a headcollar. Meanwhile, in the real world, the Halti may enable you to enjoy spending time with your dog in ways you couldn’t before, which keeps both of your lives enriched until that time comes.
If you’d like to give it a try yourself, you can purchase the Halti Headcollar here through Amazon. If you decide to buy, Canine Habit earns a small percentage of the sale as a commission at no extra cost to you.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored review. The Halti Headcollar was purchased for personal use and tested and reviewed without any contact with the Dr Mugford or the Company of Animals. Any comments made and views expressed reflect only the opinions of the writer. Comment below or contact us if you have any questions or concerns.
- Yin, S. (2012, June 4). Are Head Collars on Dogs Dangerous or Safe? It’s All About Technique! Retrieved from https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/are-head-collars-on-dogs-dangerous-or-safe/