Over the years, we’ve heard repeatedly that one of the most important tasks of any puppy-raiser is to teach his or her pup how to walk nicely on a leash — without pulling or needing to be yanked about. On the day we receive our baby dog, we also get a brand-new halter for the puppy to begin wearing, right from the start. The halters are mandatory for all CCI puppies, even though the general public often confuses them with muzzles. I can’t count the times I’ve had to explain that the thing around my dog’s nose is NOT a muzzle but rather a halter — like what horses wear, I chirp. “She (or he) can eat, drink, lick, bark, and even bite with it on — not that one of our puppies would ever dream of biting anyone.” The second part of the answer is that the puppy is wearing it because the Gentle Leader or the Halti (two of the main brands) gives the puppy raiser and (later) the professional trainers much more control than a mere leash attached to a collar.
The tricky part of this aspect of the training is that most puppies despise their halters at first. They claw at them as if their whiskers were on fire; they try to rip them off. Often they succeed, and we’ve had more than one puppy chew up and destroy a brand-new Gentle Leader, ensuring that it, at least, won’t torture any more innocent young animals.
To counteract this initial aversion, one of the trainers years ago suggested that we put on the halter every time we fed our puppy. Since eating brings most of these dogs delirious pleasure, this would help establish a halter=pleasure association, we were reassured. We’ve tried it with several dogs since then and have come to think it works.
Beverly has so despised her Gentle Leader that at first she would only eat with it on if we fed her the pieces of kibble by hand. She would chomp a bit and then try to get it off of her face.
But we’ve been persisting, she’s slowly been improving, and we’ve now developed a new strategy. We put on the halter, get her started eating, then watch her like a hawk until she stops eating and starts working on Halter Removal. That process looks like this:
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/172964417″>Intro to halters</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user25079241″>Jeannette De Wyze</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Then we take away the food bowl — until the next meal. She’s now consuming usually a half to three-quarters of a cup of dogfood per serving. And feeding her a bit less seems to be making her hungrier — and more inclined to ignore the halter at the next meal. A positive feedback loop! Of course we still haven’t begun to try taking her for a walk with the Gentle Leader on.
We don’t want to press our luck.