HALTI is best known for its market-leading head collars, harnesses and training leads that help dog owners address their no. 1 behavioural complaint – dogs pulling on the lead. It all began with the creation of the original HALTI Headcollar by Dr. Roger Mugford in 1979 and has evolved into a comprehensive range of non-pull solutions for all types and sizes of dog. This includes the top rated HALTI Optifit Headcollar which adjusts to the shape of your dog’s face for exceptional comfort and control, and the HALTI Harness, designed to stop a dog pulling by providing steering control from the chest. Both are designed for use with the HALTI Training Lead.
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Halti Training Guide
A guide to training and behaviour written by Dr Roger Mugford
The History of Headcollars
There is nothing new about leading animals by the head: the Incas had headcollars for their llamas 1000 years ago; in Ancient Egypt they were used for leading camels and riders have guided their horses by the head for over 4000 years.
Cart dogs with leather headcollars were used in Belgium during World War One and in Switzerland a figure eight headcollar was traditionally used to train Bernese Mountain Dogs as cart dogs.
I am Dr Roger Mugford who designed the Halti nearly 20 years ago. I have regularly managed carthorses, bulls and sheep with various designs of headcollars. I also suffer from back problems, so it was natural that when confronted with giant, strong breeds like an Irish Wolfhound called Ben, I should tinker with straps to create the first British design of canine headcollar: the Halti.
The Halti has been acclaimed worldwide as the most effective design of headcollar, which naturally follows the contours of a dog’s face. It is positioned well down the dog’s nose giving maximum steerage and control for basic training and all other activities with your dog: from a quiet walk to leading an unruly or potentially dangerous dog past animals or people.
The particular advantage of Halti over other designs of headcollar is that it has a unique on-off muzzle-closing effect: when the dog attempts to lunge forward or attack, his jaws are closed by the slip ring under his chin. When he is relaxed or friendly, he can reopen his mouth. At all times that the dog is behaving well he can pant easily, loll his tongue and act just like a dog. The soft material and careful design and construction gives maximum comfort and, in many dogs, creates a pronounced calming effect.
Beware of some designs of canine headcollars that are overly restrictive, whose fitting instructions unkindly emphasise that you should have a tight fit around your dog’s muzzle and neck. This can impose pressures upon the underlying soft tissues of his head and neck, with a likelihood of damage to the delicate glands and nerves around the eye orbit and the pressure-sensitive areas behind the ears and upper spine.
Halti transfers the physical load of a heavy dog to the most resilient structures of the head, converting unwanted forward motion (pulling) into a gentle turning action.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF DOG TRAINING
The old equipment and ideas of choke chains for training dogs has largely been discredited today.
The Halti gave a new breed of reformed dog trainers an alternative to the old choke chain ways. Dogs are learning about us and about their environment all the time. Never underestimate a dog’s intelligence or enthusiasm to learn; they truly are a sponge for knowledge, as quick to learn the wrong lessons as the right ones unless you structure training correctly.
Dr Mugford’s “Dog Training the Mugford Way” outlines a new philosophy of training called errorless learning. Basically, this structures the dog’s experiences so that command and response are accurately linked and positive rather than negative associations are made with them. Here are some examples of errorless learning using the Halti:
Walking to heel
It is natural for your dog to walk ahead of you: you are his companion and he probably wants to walk faster than you or maybe he wants to lead. This can place him in danger and it can certainly make your walks uncomfortable!
Halti works best if used with a long lead of minimum 1m, or one of the several types of retractable lead. The latter allows a light click by pressing the stop button as well as transferring a gentle tug via the Halti to the dog’s head, and thereby initiating a slow down or ‘heel’ response.
Overtake your dog as he slows down, and when your knees pass his head praise him with “heel”. If he is Clicker trained, click. The preferred zone in which your dog walks is then 30-50cm in front of your knees. Moving ahead brings the likelihood of pressure on the lead via the Halti.
If your dog is very clever, he may learn to defeat the Halti principle by stiffening his neck muscles, making the whole spinal column from head to tail like a stiff cylinder. The way to beat that cunning canine manoeuvre is to step to one side and guide him sideways. Halti is the world’s best headcollar because it sits further down the dog’s nose than other designs. This gives increased turning power to you. So if your dog pulls on his Halti, step to one side and turn him sideways, even in a complete circle.
Some dogs find the sit posture uncomfortable, maybe because they have hip or back problems. Watch how your puppy or adult dog chooses to lie naturally, and if he rarely adopts the sit posture spontaneously, think twice before applying the training procedure suggested below. If in doubt about your dog’s movement and comfort, consult your veterinary surgeon.
Not only is the ‘sit’ position the most useful your dog will ever learn, It is also the most convenient position from which to train a ‘stay’ response. The Halti provides a simple tool whereby you can easily train the sit posture. Hold a titbit in your right hand, then with the left hand gently lift his head as you give the sit command. Usually that is sufficient for him to drop his bottom, but for a few defiant dogs you may have to push their head gently backwards, so the hind limbs go down.
A few such repetitions, always rewarded with titbits and praise, should be sufficient to teach the sit command. Usually it is the first response we teach any dog when they come into our home and the Halti method is as suitable for puppies as it is for adults, regardless of lack of previous formal training.
To not follow you is a tough assignment for a dog: you are his best friend and he naturally wants to be beside you. However, there are times and places when you must be separated, so start young with the following simple procedure.
Use a long line or lead, of 5-10 metres length. Have him sit, then step back with your right hand held flat towards your dog. Look directly in his eyes and say “Stay”. Move back then forward again to reward him and to be reunited. The distance covered may, on those first occasions, be no more than half a metre. As you repeat the exercise, gradually increase the distance to 10 metres, then 20 metres, then, with an exceptional dog, to a 100 metres sit-stay.
The simplest way to teach “down” is to wait until your dog lies down spontaneously. Simply say “Down” in a friendly voice, and give a titbit. Wait for the next occasion and repeat! Soon, your dog learns that when you say down, he should adopt that posture and expect a reward. This method of training is called instrumental conditioning, where your dog decides upon the behaviour most likely to gain a positive response from you or from the environment.
Some dogs may not be responsive to the instrumental training method. First ask your dog to sit, then use a titbit or a squeaky toy in front of his forelegs to persuade him to adopt the correct ‘down’ posture, if necessary adding a slight downward pressure on the Halti.
‘Come’ training is linked to your dog learning his name to gain his attention and the command “come”. He should expect something good when he arrives. Come training should be taught when you first acquire a young puppy, because then (from 8-16 weeks) the following instinct is strongly formed. Have your puppy on a long lead, and step backwards, encouraging him to follow with his name and the word “come”. In time this will become an engrained response and you can remove the lead.
If you have rescued a dog that has not received much training, a more skilful approach to recall training is required than ‘come’ training a puppy. The extending lead plus Halti is an ideal aid for such dogs. Say “come” and gently pull your dog toward you to receive a titbit reward. As always, stepping backwards creates a more powerful learning situation combining the dog’s natural desire for contact with you, with a small degree of compulsion or authority.
Make a dog recall
Dogs that run away and won’t return to you when liberated off lead usually have a good motive to prefer freedom to restraint. Restriction with a human is simply not so much fun as playing with other dogs, chasing rabbits, sniffing and other favourite dog activities.
A dog that cannot be recalled reliably is a menace and deeply frustrating. Introducing a consistent programme of rewarding the dog when he recalls correctly, either by offering titbits or by having a play session with a Kong, may provide the answer. We would advise carrying out these exercises in a safe, enclosed area.
An excellent safety first procedure is to attach a long lead (say 3-10 metres) to your dog’s collar or Halti. This will greatly simplify him being recaptured when running free, usually by stepping on to the lead then calling or reeling the dog towards you. When your dog is off the lead, ideally leave the Halti on him so that he thinks he is still under your direct control. This is an old horse-trainer’s trick when the reluctant nag is more docile and catchable when wearing its halter.
Body and spoken language can be very important in alternatively tempting or driving a dog away from returning to you. Keep your voice fun and your body language rewarding.
Walk away rather than run after the dog that won’t return to you. When he does return, offer praise, titbits, a toy or a game, always making sure that you can touch his collar before he gains these rewards. Do not immediately put him back on the lead. Vary the place that you re-attach the lead on your regular walks. Keep the dog guessing whether or not the lead is being attached as a game, or for the beginning of a controlled walk home.
Finally, it is hard, but essential that you do not scold or punish your dog when you finally do recapture him. You can only appeal to his sense of fun or love if you want to make him recall successfully.
Dr Mugford’s Animal Behaviour Centre has used Haltis for puppy training nearly twenty years, and the outcome has usually been successful. For many, the Halti is just a transitional form of physical control, before moving on to the conventional wide collar or some of the specially designed orthopaedic harnesses (eg the Roadie).
A word of warning for training all puppies: be gentle and slow in all movements. Remember that their neck muscles and ligaments are not as strongly formed as in adults, and there should be no harsh jerking. Many puppies were injured with choke chains by using excessive force and harsh methods in those bad, pre-Halti days.
Guide dog training
Many of the leading Guide Dog and Seeing Eye organisations use Halti to simplify and speed their important work with guide dogs. Some guide dogs are over-enthusiastic to walk faster than the capability of their blind owners. The Halti, linked to a light lead, slows the dog up, whilst still guiding with the traditional rigid harness.