Adagio has been living with us for almost two weeks. He’s learned a number of things. He seems to respond now when he hears his name (usually). He’s learned to pee (usually) when we take him outside and command him to “Hurry!” He’s becoming accustomed to our household routines. And he has begun to tolerate wearing a halter. Barely.
All CCI puppies must wear the things (known commercially by brandnames such as “Halti” and “Gentle Leader”). By the time a dog weighs 60 or 75 or 90 pounds (as all these dogs eventually do), it is vastly easier to control them with quick pops to their muzzle than it would be with any device around their muscular necks. I tell inquisitive bystanders it’s like using a halter on a horse — more practical than trying to direct the beast with a rope around its neck. But in order for our dogs to tolerate the halters when they’re adults, they must get used to them when they’re little. Every CCI puppy we’ve raised has hated his or her halter at first, even though they can eat, drink, bark, lick, and nip when they’re wearing them.
To help with the training process, we learned after a puppy or two to introduce the hated control device only during mealtimes. The idea is to associate it with something intensely pleasurable: eating. We began feeding Adagio with a halter on right from the beginning.
He doesn’t run away when he sees it. That’s good. We attach it and give him a piece of kibble.
We put him and his bowl in the kennel, where he invariably dives in and crunches away with gusto.
When he’s very hungry, he will work through the full cup of puppy chow. But more often, about halfway through, he’ll back away and start pawing at his muzzle…
…flinging himself on the kennel floor…
…and trying to rub the halter off.
Working like this, he can get it off in short order, but we reposition him in front of the bowl and usually, nose to kibble, he’ll eat some more.
We’ve been slipping the halter off around this point, to end the training session on a positive note.
That’s it, as far as we’ve gotten. Eventually, as he gets bigger and hungrier, we expect he’ll routinely eat without all this folderol. The next step will be to slip on the halter and take him for little walks around the yard and on our block. But that’s Halter Training 102. We’re not there yet.