View Full Version : Leash Pulling and Head Halters?

18th March 2013, 02:53 PM

I was wondering if anyone here had experience with head halter use with Cavaliers?

Naomi got into the habit of pulling on the leash when she saw our neighbors dog do it (and she had such a nice loose leash walk :( )

As I mentioned in my introduction post, she's meant to be a service dog, so pulling is not acceptable. Leeway can lead to bad habits that are hard to break and could ruin eventual full working public access. We will continue to work daily on the loose leash in our home without distractions, on just a collar or harness (question I need to address with my trainer in long run), however, when we do go outside for potty or walks, she automatically pulls. I can't bring treats and spend 20 minutes walking her through loose leash walking every time she has to pee.

So I picked up a sporn halter. I prefer these, as it puts pressure on the withers to send a signal to nose, rather than on the neck or near the eyes the way other head halters do.

I noticed it seems to ride up on her eyes, but only when it's tight, and I can readjust it so it doesn't do that. There is a chance this is because I have it too loose. Her walk immediately improved, still walking ahead of me, but not pulling.

Has anyone else here had experience with head halters specifically with Cavaliers? Any other harnesses or devices that you would recommend? Training tips for a pulling Cavalier?

Everyone has a unique style, so I'm sure there are some great tips to be found here that I haven't been informed of or thought of yet!

Side Note: Naomi graduated from her first training class; she will be beginning the next level AND puppy agility in the next few weeks!! :D:D:D

18th March 2013, 02:58 PM
They are not really the best option. First off, their muzzles are quite short. Second, given the inclination towards CM/SM in the breed, I wouldn't use anything that pulls on the head or anything that uses negative signals to encourage a behaviour.

The single best harness for reducing pulling (and preferred by a LOT of trainers to halti type head harnesses) are harnesses that simply clip to the dog at the chest. I walk three pullers on a single lead (triple splitter) using them I recommend trying either the Easy Walk, or the Sense-ation or Sense-ible harness (the latter two are by the same company but the Sense-ation I think is the one that has a slightly softer strap).

We have one for my partner's enormous GSD and he cannot pull on it. :D

18th March 2013, 03:20 PM
I have seen those harnesses, but heard mixed reviews. Something to look into, certainly.

Does it have any correction quality? Meaning, after maybe a month or two on the Easy Walk, does the dog walk well on just a collar and lead? Or is it more of a restriction device that does not give the dog the opportunity to pull even if they wanted? I am not entirely sure how these work, so if you can enlighten me, that would be great!

The short term correction of the halter causes the dog to make the conscious decision no to pull, so it is easier to transition from halter to collar as the dog has made the association "pull = correction, loose = positive (continuing forward or even a c/t)" Does the harness do something similar?

Thank you!

18th March 2013, 03:32 PM
I am strictly a non punishment, non 'correction', advocate and would never recommend anything that forces a dog to do anything or would hurt the dog to make it respond in a particular way.

Front clip harnesses are widely recommended by just about every positive method, rewards-based trainer I know including many very high profile trainers. The ideal situation is a dog that learns to loose lead walk in a positive way as part of direct training, but for many dogs this can be hard to achieve especially when walking multiple dogs. It is a normal and natural behaviour for a dog to wish to pull. But not comfortable to walk any dog that does so (unless you want them pulling a sled!! :D).

I'd recommend going to the Sense-ation or Easy-Walk website and read about the approach and how these harnesses work. :thmbsup: That will give a much better level of detail.

But in brief! :) : They simply clip to the front. They do NOT pull, pinch, jerk the dog, tighten etc. :)

18th March 2013, 03:43 PM
I forgot to say I see no reason to work to put a dog back to walking on a collar? A harness is a much better option for a cavalier especially one that may be on a lead frequently. :) There has been lots of research on dogs walked on collars of all types and they have a much higher level of vertebral abnormalities than those walked on a harness. Some neurologists recommend this breed not be walked on collars at all as it could encourage the development of a syrinx and as pretty much every cavalier already has a skull a bit too small for its brain (CM) -- they are predisposed to be sensitive around the neck (talk to vets and they will say this breed tends to always cry out at injections in the neck -- no verified connection but neurologists have remarked on the 'coincidence' --- and hence another cavalier recommendation I'd make is to ask vets to only ever give injections into the thigh or similar, never neck or back).

Friends of mine who run Dog Training Ireland (APDT and CPDT certified trainers) encourage people to use harnesses on dogs of all sizes, and not collars, for walks, FWIW.

So, I just would not be aiming to use a system that will push a cavalier back towards collar-based walks but look for a good harness. :D The best gentle and non-punishment based harness for a puller is a front clip harness. Some might stop pulling on other types of comfortable, normal harness that say, clips via the back, but in my experience (3 puller cavaliers, two who don't!/didn't) they began to pull on the back clip harnesses as well!!

18th March 2013, 03:54 PM
As a Service Animal, she cannot take the Canine Good Citizen exam with a harness. The CGC does not allow halters, harnesses, etc. and require the dog perform the test on a collar and lead. My trainer requires this exam before we work on public access; if she is not able to walk nicely on a leash without equipment, she cannot be a service dog.

As a working dog, she can not rely on equipment to be obedient, but rather must be obedient by training. If I were, for instance, to drop her lead, she should still walk beside me as though the lead was never dropped. It's a long and difficult process.

I agree with your statements of positive reinforcement, and in general prefer harnesses to collars for any dogs. All of my previous pet dogs were walked on harnesses. I will see about purchasing the Easy-Walk (I have seen it in local stores) and hopefully between that and working on loose lead in our own home, she will understand what is expected of her.

18th March 2013, 04:03 PM
Oh! oh oh oh!!! Apparently the CGC may have updates their rules for breeds with health restrictions such as the Cavalier!! Meaning I might be able to use a harness, not an easy walk, but if we can get her to walk well on a harness through the easy walk and wean her off of it, we might have a solution! I need to confirm this with my trainer; I do not like using a head halter with any short nose breed (only dog I felt okay using one was a rough collie with a snout like an anteater; the strap was barely near his face, let alone his nose). If what I read was true, then I will definitely take your suggestion (and go to the store today!).

Then the only hurdle is when she begins wearing her training vest.

18th March 2013, 04:11 PM
I remember you mentioning the test elsewhere. :)

Soft touch say the harnesses are a way to work towards loose lead walking in their FAQ


I guess I'd probably not recommend a cavalier as a service dog if the dog would always need to be controlled by a collar on the neck -- CM/SM is a real problem in this breed and many start to have health issues early on in life as well -- eg many are not going to be able to perform a service role for the normal lifetime of a dog (for example half will have heart disease by age 5 and a sample of 550 cavaliers without symptoms indicated a fourth already had SM at a year old, about half by five years old, rising to a lifetime risk of probably about 70% or more. Now many of those dogs would be asymptomatic all their lives of course, but it is a high level of affectedness with a very poor understanding of what 'symptomatic' is, still, given the main symptom in humans is severe headache). :(

On the other hand they are bright and eager dogs and are naturals I would think for many service activities, all else being equal. :D. And not sure what the normal service period expectation is for a service dog.

Whether all else is ever equal with this breed is probably a debating question on which we'd have numerous and varied opinions! Of the 5 cavaliers I have/have had, I have three who have SM and could not be walked on a collar; two with heart disease by age 6, one of which would not have been able to do much past age 8, who also went deaf by age 6. My one who is healthy and also extremely bright went deaf by age 7 -- there's also a very high rate of deafness in the breed (one of the SM ones has significant hearing loss at age 7-ish as well). One study using BAER to test hearing in cavaliers indicated about half, if I recall, had at least some hearing loss by age 5. This alone might be a serious consideration for a service dog -- unless the dog also works to hand signals? My point really is that basically of five cavaliers that I have none would have been useable as a service dog by age 6-ish, which is shocking to me now that I look at it that way (I never have before...).

It is a depressing list I know, but I think has to be seriously considered before deciding to use a cavalier for what would hopefully be long-term service work, investing a lot of time into training.

I think you mentioned in another thread that you'd indeed looked into many of these considerations, and decided on the balance that this is the right dog and that you wish to work with her towards service certification :). That is absolutely fair enough too!!! :D

18th March 2013, 04:15 PM
I don't like the head harness because the chance you can injure the dog's neck. Training loose leash walking is a little tricky. For neighborhood walk I don't make my dogs walk next to me. But I don't let them pull me, if they pull I stop and wait for the dog to come back into heel position (or if you prefer have the dog come back to your spot any position). This takes time and patience!

For Canine Good Citizen they don't require a heel position but your dog cannot pull you. For heeling I use treat lure and position praise and treat. This is a little difficult to explain in words. But basically use a treat as you walk without leash (in fenced yard) and hold treat near leg where you want dog in the heel position. Small dog may need tool to hold the treat at right position. Praise and treat dog when she heels a couple steps with you. continue until dog understand heel position, slowly wean treats and only praise. Heeling training is so much easier with a big dog. haha.

18th March 2013, 04:24 PM
I used a wooden spoon with some peanut butter on it as the tool -- you can reach it down to the right level.

All went out the door walking 3 on a lead though! :lol: The husky instinct kicks in. :)

18th March 2013, 04:26 PM
My trainer picked my Cavalier from a breeder who has been working for 6 gen to improve the patellas and hearts of the breed (less focus on CM/SM, sadly, which leaves me unbelievably paranoid). It has resulted in a considerably larger than breed standard cav, but with healthier hearts and knees. As far as I know there was no hearing issues in this line, but she is learning hand signals/basic ASL along with verbal for all commands, and the verbal will eventually be faded.

I am not very active due to my disability, so it will be a lot of in home work, suitable for a small breed. Sadly, medical conditions accompany any pure bred, but when working with a SD it is good to know the line before selecting, so "hybrid vigor" from a shelter dog can often be too much of a gamble for working as you do not know the heritage of health problems, etc.

Mind you, if I were requiring a dog for mobility, I would need something much larger! (and probably find myself on a forum warning about hip and disc issues before the age of 1 >< )

18th March 2013, 06:01 PM
Agree 100% with Karlin - I've been using the Easy-Walk for months and it is the best one I've found after trying at least 5-6 different types.

18th March 2013, 06:21 PM
I have and use an Easy Walk harness with Fletcher 3 times a day ALMOST every day. It does help a lot, however my dog training abilities (lack there of) must be showing because it has not 100% cured the problem of pulling. He walks great with a loose lead past other adults, other dogs all fine no problems but if he sees children playing in ANY manner he pulls. I have tried the treat thing (tho peanut butter on a long wooden spoon is a wonderful idea- I might try). I think Fletcher has OCD for kids having fun without him :)

18th March 2013, 06:57 PM
I was required to get the easy walk harness for our Charlie in an obedience class he was in. I liked it ok, but he loves being able to run and roam when I have the retractable. He also starts pulling if he sees children or cars. He just wants to play with everyone he sees.

Sydneys Mom
18th March 2013, 07:31 PM
I use the easy walk harness for BellaMia too. It hasn't stopped her from pulling, but has cut down on and restricted it. She mostly walks really well, loose leash, ignores other dogs we come across, but with people it's a whole other story. She is really excited to see and meet them.

18th March 2013, 08:19 PM
We have a bit of puppy brain going on with Naomi at the moment, she she just wants to see and smell everything (and everyone!).

I read that the Easy-Walk can cause damage to shoulders, such as strain and injury. Anyone experience this?