Saturday, February 5, 2011

Haltis, Easy Walks & Muzzles: I'm Just Being Honest

The Easy Walk
   I've already expressed my profound love of the Premier Easy Walk harness.  Cassie, like many medium-large dogs, was an instant puller.  She actually used to pull in both directions (backwards and forwards) and she would become very excited during classes and would charge through the door and race for other dogs.  A great deal of time, patience and training has helped to bring an end to all these issues (for the most part) and the use of the Easy Walk in the early days did a great deal to help!  What I liked best about it, as one of my trainers pointed out, is that it doesn't put any pressure on the fragile muscles and bones of the puppy's neck and head, instead transferring all the pressure to the chest.  The Easy Walk made Cassie more manageable and, therefore, easier to focus for training.  It wasn't a long term device (though we do still pull it out for large crowds and lots of children), but was instead simply a short term management tool and training device.  Once the training was completed and there was no longer any bad behavior to manage the device went away and we are now on a very nice martingale collar (she still likes to pull backwards from time to time).
The Halti
   Now that Cassie is a year old and a good walker, I decided it was time to start training a new behavior...running!   This brought on a new set of issues that needed to be curbed and corrected, namely her herding instinct.  Many people will tell you about herding dogs (Border Collies, Aussies, etc) that will nip at the heels of fleeing children.  My herding dog, unfortunately, chose to herd me during our brief stints of unbridled running.  It was becoming such a problem that even our agility practice in the backyard was becoming a daily onslaught of nips and increasingly upsetting bites.  So with my arms black-and-blue, I went to my trainers in tears.  They suggested moving onto the next step in the harness line: a head harness. My trainer recommended starting with the Halti, so that is where we started.

   The Halti is a fairly simple device that fits over the dog's nose and secures behind its head.  It's not a muzzle, but it can be used to slip a hand up the nose loop and close the dog's mouth while turning its head away for a moment.  That should be enough to control the episode of nipping, while not harming the dog in any way.

  One of the key elements of the Halti (or any head collar I've seen) is the need to desensitize the dog to its presence.  So, over the past two weeks that's what we've been working on.  We're up to the point where she'll happily wear it around the house with a leash trailing.   We haven't yet gotten to the point where we could resume our walks (let alone our runs) with the Halti.   In the meantime, I have resorted to a somewhat more drastic management device: a muzzle.

The muzzle
   I'm not happy about it.  The muzzle I purchased makes her look like a dead ringer for Hannibal Lecter and I'm acutely aware of the looks we get from the neighbors, but it has allowed us to start desensitizing Cassie to the movement of me running.  For the first time we're able to run like a normal pair without my having to worry about soaking bruises afterwards.  I'm not going to recommend the muzzle I bought from Amazon.  The basket is made of cheap plastic and the straps are very flimsy, but what is most inconvenient is that the buckle that allows you to resize the neck strap is useless.  It constantly slips loose and the whole muzzle comes off.  So I'm going to look for a better one, unless I can phase out the muzzle completely before then.   Like I said this is a temporary management tool; we're going to wean her off the muzzle and onto the Halti and then hopefully onto nothing at all.  Training devices can't become crutches, I'm aware of that, but this seems to be the best solution for the time being.  We'll keep you updated on our progress.  Now stop looking at us like that!


  1. I've always wanted to try a Halti with my pups; but our guide dog school doesn't allow them.
    I wish you luck with finding the perfect muzzle - or soon, not having to find one at all!

    Rudy's Raiser

  2. Thanks for the support! I'm not happy about either the muzzle or the Halti really. It stinks that she has to wear it in public when we run (she's obviously not a danger to anyone but the back of my legs and arms), but we are working through it. Time is all that is needed.