Leash Walking Manners – Getting Your Head on Straight

Horses are big and they weigh a lot.

Luckily, we have mystical contraptions for them that help us train and manage them.  See: The Halter. And guess what? There are halters for dogs, too! (We use the Gentle Leader.*)

These devices work through the magick of Physics, a strange parallel universe whose deities rain down gifts like moment arms and force vectors on us.

Since I am no high priestess of this arcane world, let me sum up: control the head, control the body. Ranger is big and strong, and he can and will pull you onto your rump if he sees something exciting. This can be dangerous for adults, scary with a stroller, and it makes handing the leash to a child for a stroll completely unsafe. So to help Ranger walk with his humans more safely, we’re going to give him a doggie halter.

Most dogs hate these. If you have ever bought one (or “boughten”, as my 7 year old would say) and tried to just throw it on your dog to convince him that it is all the rage as a fashion statement, you were probably met with a flailing mass of pawing, alligator rolls, and determined Removal Tactics.

We can avoid this! By backing off and introducing the halter a step at a time, and paired with tasty treats, you can teach your dog it is a good, exciting thing instead of something awful.

First, I’m going to teach Ranger that when the halter comes out, so do treats. This will help build a conditioned emotional response to the halter. Kind of like hearing the ice cream truck.

Next, I’m going to reward him when he touches the halter with his nose. Since dogs will usually orient on something new, he’ll naturally move his head to it when I bring it out.

My daughter pressed something weird on my phone so this video is super awesome slow-mo.

We did each of these for a couple of minutes, until we got to this point. As you can see, I am holding it open so that his nose will start to go inside.

Once Ranger was putting his nose in on purpose, I used a lure to guide his face ALL the way in so he could really get used to the feel of the nosepiece.

Next, I started to apply pressure while his nose was inside. Paired with a yummy treat, this takes something that could be unpleasant and turns it into a neutral or even positive feeling for the dog. HE is moving forward into the pressure to get the treat, so the nose pressure is his choice instead of something forced upon him.

Last of all, I buckle the headpiece around Ranger and give him a “jackpot”, several treats in a row. Then, I quickly take the headpiece off. If you have a very sensitive or stressed dog, this part can be broken down into smaller steps. You can see Ranger back away a little, so we may work on this a tad more until he stands still.

If your dog looks nervous or shies away at this part, make sure you are not looming over him or scaring him by thrusting the halter into his face, and reward gentle touches of the headpiece instead of going for a buckle on the first try.

And there we are! The first lesson in accepting the halter is complete. Next, we’ll make sure that Ranger is ok walking around with the halter on, and I’ll give a couple of safety tips. Then we can really start working on leash manners!

*The Gentle Leader link is an affiliate link. You can use it if you want to, or if affiliate marketing tortures your soul, don’t. Disclosure: I recommend the Gentle Leader because we love it, not because they pay me to or have any idea I am recommending it.



  1. Natasha · November 15, 2014

    So, I’ve tried to work on getting Parker to accept the head harness, and he still goes into “stress” mode with it. I fed him with it on. Gave him tons of treats. But whenever I put it on him, he would just stand/sit still and not move. Should I just spend longer conditioning harness = good things like yummy food? Maybe higher value rewards?


    • HandsFullDogTraining · November 15, 2014

      The answer to this is kind of like a choose your own adventure book. One option is to ditch the head halter and try one of the front-clip harnesses like the Easy Walk: http://store.petsafe.net/easy-walk-harness (not an affiliate link). Your dog may just not like things on his face but be ok with a harness. If you really want to use the halter, then I would do the initial training differently and really focus on the dog reaching out to touch it and then slipping his nose through of his own initiative. You could also associate the halter with play instead of food, as play can be especially effective at counter-conditioning. Bring out the halter, then bring out a favorite toy and play tug or fetch while in the presence of the halter or while gently touching the halter to his face. Being exposed to the halter repeatedly in a positive manner may decrease his stress response over time until he accepts it. If he starts to react MORE to the halter coming out, then stop, because it means the counter-conditioning is not working. Make sure you look up the signs of stress I posted earlier (https://www.4pawsu.com/stresssigns.html) so you are aware of when he is uncomfortable. You want to stop pushing the issue before he is REALLY stressed.


      • Natasha · November 15, 2014

        Awesome, thanks. We currently use the easy-walk front clip harness and while it’s fine for early morning walks, he still finds a way to pull and pull heavily around dogs/people. I’ll take the conditioning a little slower and try and incorporate his ball more.


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