by Edie Jane Eaton, TTEAM and TTouch Instructor
Canine halters have become more commonplace. They can be very effective for dogs that pull on the leash or are reactive to other dogs or people, and are very helpful if you are looking for a way to influence your dog’s balance and posture.
Among the difficulties encountered when introducing dogs to the halter are having them try to rub it off, walking with their noses to the ground, or being so distracted by it that they cannot focus on what is being asked of them. The TTouch method for introducing and using the halter can help to avoid these difficulties. The process is the same regardless of the brand or design of halter you use. There are many different kinds - which is wonderful considering that dogs heads come in many shapes, and one brand by no means fits all!
Fitting the halter
The halter is fitted so that the dog can open his jaw wide enough to yawn - without coming against any pressure of the material or rings. If using a Halti brand this means being able to put, from the back, both thumbs at the same time on the inside of the rings and have the thumbnails not touch the jaw. This manner of fitting may seem heretical to many, and some of the reasons for allowing it to fit loosely are:
• The dog is always held with two leashes - one on a flat collar or harness, the other at the halter. It is preferable to use a double-ended leash, with a lightweight snap for the halter. This removes the need for a tight-fitting halter that is necessary if there is no other connection with the dog.
• It is commonly observed that dogs that have issues with a halter improve immediately when the halter is loosened.
• It seems to work every bit as well as when using it tightly, and must be much more comfortable for the dog!
Introducing the halter
If at any time in the process the dog shows concern, he is not pushed to accept more, but ways are found to make it easier for him. This might mean taking a break, going back a step, or changing some aspect of the process. The steps used to introduce the dog to a halter are as follows:
Circular TTouches are done all over the dog's face where the halter will lie, and the dog's response to these TTouches is observed. If he has trouble being handled around the muzzle you can explore touching with the back of the hand or using a sheepskin or other soft material.
A light elastic (face wrap) is put loosely in a figure eight over his muzzle, crossing under his jaw, and tied loosely at the back of his neck. He wears this while doing things that are pleasant, usually for only short periods, but several times if that is necessary.
With a leash on the collar, the halter is then fitted - loosely - over the elastic. It seems to make the process easier for the dog if the elastic is left on to begin with. Without adding the weight of a leash the halter is again left on while having fun - or eating a meal or being given treats. The dog should not run loose or be left unattended during this time.
When the leash is first connected it is not used at all. The added weight of the leash is a change that the dog needs to become accustomed to before any signals are given. You will find as the handler that it takes quite a bit of awareness to maintain a loose leash!
If having the leash connected to the halter is difficult for the dog, an intermediate and sometimes very successful step can be added. Remove the halter and fasten the leash to the face wrap where it crosses beneath the jaw. This is much more acceptable for some dogs, and can help them to get used to the leash.
The process described above may take longer than "just doing it", but will make it easier for dogs who are having difficulties. With many dogs one can go speedily from step to step, but breaking down the process allows you to see more clearly where it may not be OK for the dog.
Using the halter
The TTouch technique of using the halter is also a little different from other methods. One aspect to keep in mind is that it is used to "influence" the dog by showing the dog what is expected of it, rather than being used for the purpose of "control", which implies prevention of some behavior. In order to influence the dog easily, it is important for the handler to stay at the dog's head, rather than falling behind to a position where she can "correct", but not "direct."
All the signals are in the form of "ask and release." When we take the time to watch how animals respond it is evident that most of the time they react on the release rather than while the signal is being given. This observation makes it clear that it takes a moment for understanding to be transformed into action. We might need to re-think the snappy responses we often ask from dogs, and look at what happens to the dog's balance and demeanor when we give sharp and sudden commands.
The signal to come forward is used on the collar only -- at the back of the neck. If the dog is pulled forward by the halter, the tendency is for the head to rise which causes the back to drop. This makes it harder for the dog to step forward under himself. Using the collar for the forward signal allows the back to soften and lengthen, so it is easier for the dog to be successful in doing what is being asked.
Similarly, the signal to turn - again a (ask and release') is made by showing the dog which way to turn his head, while asking for the "forward" with the leash connection on the flat collar. If the turn signal is to be clear, the signal from the halter leash needs to come from a little to the front and to the side. rather than behind; or behind and to the side as so commonly happens if we are standing behind the dog's shoulder. It becomes really easy for them to learn to turn their heads if the first few times we have a treat for them in the hand holding the halter leash!
When stopping, the principal signal is given on the flat collar and the halter is used for fine-tuning. A benefit of the double connection is that if the dog pulls on one, the pressure on it can be released, and the contact picked up on the other. Allowing the dog moments of falling forward as you switch from one to the other leash makes him have to catch his balance. If you keep taking away what he is leaning against he stops leaning!. You will find that you will be able to use a light signal in this manner - even with very strong dogs.
Why use a halter?
It is a great tool with a dog that pulls on the leash. It helps to bring a dog into balance, which is accompanied by mental and emotional balance.
• It provides a very clear way to show the dog where you want him to go.
• It helps to teach him to deflect his gaze when he may be provoking antagonistic behavior in other dogs. Turid Rugaas has pointed out that turning the head is a common way dogs de-escalate tense situations.
• It provides the handler with a sense of security with a dog who exhibits unwanted aggression. When the handler feels more secure she can think more clearly and be a better teacher for her dog. He in turn can gain confidence from a leader who demonstrates that she knows what she is doing.
• And, by no means lastly, since there are probably many other reasons people use halters, it is a great way to help your dog to increase his tolerance for new experiences.
Tofu wearing a Snoot Loop.
Tofu wearing a Gentle Leader.
Java wearing a Gentle Leader
Tofu wearing a Halti and facewrap.
Tofu wearing a Black Dog halter.
Tofu wearing a Kumfi halter
Kathy Cascade leading a dog with the double-snap leash.
Kathy Cascade leading Tofu who is wearing a Snoot Loop..
It can therefor not be changed. Responsible user:Bibi Degn