Halter training 101

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. 012318 halter1We 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.

012318 halter4When 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…

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…flinging himself on the kennel floor…

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…and trying to rub the halter off.

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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.012318 halter5

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.

 

Meet your halter, honey

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.

063016 haltered

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.

Until Beverly.

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.

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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&gt;.</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.

 

 

Snout demons

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It burns! It burns!!! (Is that it?)

As with all our previous CCI puppies, any time we return from a walk of any length, Kyndall entertains us with extravagant contortions in order to rub her snout — newly released from its halter — on the rug, the floor, her paws. Here’s one recent morning’s display:

What’s remarkable is that when she’s wearing the halter, you’d never know it bothered her. We’ve had plenty of dogs try to claw their halter off. Dionne (our previous CCI trainee) managed to slip off a couple and destroy them before we noticed. Kyndall never does that. Only when the halter’s off does she act like a dog possessed.

I don’t get it. But it is entertaining.

 

 

Horrible humans muzzle puppy

122314 Kyndall and halter1One of the most common questions I’ve fielded over my years as a puppy raiser is, “Why does your dog have to wear a muzzle?” First, I reply that the straps around my puppy’s muzzle aren’t a muzzle, but rather a Gentle Leader “It’s like a halter for a horse,” 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 CCI says all puppies should start wearing their Gentle Leader or Halti (another brand) as soon as possible. It gives the puppy raiser and (later) the professional trainers much more control than a leash attached to a collar.

What I usually don’t go on to say is that most puppies despise their halters. 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.122314 Kyndall w halter2

With Kyndall we did not start with her first meals, however, as she appeared to be such a dainty eater. She’ll chomp through a half or two-thirds of the cup of puppy chow we give her three times a day, then abruptly turn away. She’s done.

This pattern has persisted. We think she’s just too little to be able to consume it all. But we nonetheless started the haltered feedings yesterday. This means we have to sit by and watch intently until the instant she appears to have finished, then whisk off the halter (or else the frantic nose-rubbing will start.)

It seems to be going okay so far, though we haven’t yet tried the next and much harder step: attaching the halter to both Kyndall’s nose and to a leash and trying to get her to walk with us with it on.

That event will come soon, but for the moment, she has her own regimen for training us. One of her first goals is to make Tucker tolerate her cuddling up to him on his bed. He hates this idea. He’s pretty sure (from sad experience) that any such cuddling is likely to quickly devolve into nipping and wrestling. But last night he was so sleepy he put up no resistance, and she enjoyed a few sweet moments (before being ushered into her sleeping kennel).

122314 Kyndall and Tucker