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Head Halter vs No-Pull Dog Harness: Which One Do You Need?

Updated on May 10, 2016

The best way to get your dog to behave on a walk is proper obedience training. With a bag of treats, a clicker, and the right obedience trainer most dogs can learn to walk nicely by your side.

However, dogs have a problem with translating what they learned in class to the real world, and some dogs may still need a little guidance on a walk. Others see a squirrel and take off running no matter how long they've been in training. Or you might have an aggressive dog, who still needs his exercise, but you need a way to control him when you're out on a walk. Without the proper equipment, it can be dangerous for both you and your dog, if he, or she, suddenly decides to take off on you with your arm attached to the other end of the leash. You could break your arm or dislocate your shoulder, and the dog could hurt its neck or strangle itself if its collar catches on his throat.

Neither of these situations is desirable. Fortunately, there are products on the market that can help you control your dog while out and about, but limit the danger to you and your dog. Unfortunately, dogs have as many unnecessary accessories as humans, and therefore it can be hard to tell which product you need.

Forget choke chains, and spiky collars. Though there are many videos and websites 'toting' their usefulness, and plenty of people saying these products cured their dog of pulling, they can be dangerous to your dog. And don't even think of regular harnesses unless you have a small dog. These only make your dog pull more.

I am going to narrow your choices down to just two: a head halter, and a no-pull harness.

Harley, my German Shepherd, with his head halter on.
Harley, my German Shepherd, with his head halter on. | Source

Head Halters

Head halters are a fairly popular option for controlling a dog on a walk. Even Tia Torres, the owner of the largest pit bull rescue in the world, Villalobos, and star of the reality show "Pit Bulls and Parolees," uses head halters.

The round part of a head halter fits over the dog's muzzle, and then it clasps on the back of his head, just below his ears. From the muzzle, some head halters have a piece that hangs down that connects to the collar. Always go with this option. On this piece, halfway between the collar and the head, is a ring where the leash attaches. Make sure the halter isn't too tight, because you don't want to restrict your dog's ability to breath or drink water.

For dogs that are iffy about wearing it, or just plain don't want to, you'll need to train them to wear it. Start by having your dog voluntarily put his nose through the loop by holding a treat for him on the other side. If you have a clicker, it helps to click when the dog puts his nose in the loop, and then give your dog the treat after the click. Once your dog is comfortable with this stage, you can work on clasping it behind your dog's head and giving your dog a treat. Take the halter off after only a few seconds and work up to longer times.

The head halter helps control the dog by pulling his head to the same side of the leash when he pulls. This helps stop his forward momentum and keeps him from pulling too hard.

Harley in his no-pull harness.
Harley in his no-pull harness. | Source
Harley in his no-pull harness.
Harley in his no-pull harness. | Source

No-Pull Harness

A no-pull harness is another popular tool for controlling an unruly dog. There are several types on the market, but each works in similar ways. They go on like a regular harness, with a strap over the back of the dog by his shoulders, and a strap under his belly. Except, with a no-pull harness, the leash attaches to the front of the dog, on his chest as seen in the picture above, instead of on his back. This encourages the dog not to pull. For extra control, some no-pull halters have two attach points, the one on the chest, and a second one on the back, as seen in the capsule to the right. For big dogs that pull a lot, I would absolutely go with this option, because you are going to need the extra control.

Your dog shouldn't be too iffy about this, but if he is, you can train him to wear it similarly to the head halter. Start with just placing the harness over his head, or letting him walk into, and give him a treat, and work up to clasping it under his belly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Type

Now, I just want to insert my little disclaimer here that no, I am not a dog trainer or vet, and I'm not even a groomer. But what I do have is experience working with my own dog, who is aggressive towards humans and other dogs, and literally weighs just as much as I do. He also likes to chase any small animal or bird that moves. I've been using a head halter or a no-pull harness for almost three years with my dog and we've been in obedience and behavior training just as long.

And yes, that is my handsome dog in all the pictures, thanks for asking. And yes, it was very hard to get him to sit still for those photos.

Head halters and no-pull harnesses each have their own advantages and disadvantages. The head halter gives you a lot of control on the direction in which you want to move your dog. For example, if your dog is reactive or aggressive towards other dogs and he's going nuts, or worse, gotten into a fight with another dog, it's easier to pull him away and control what direction you want to pull him away in with the head-halter. Another advantage is that it stops his forward momentum pretty quickly, so if your dog takes off running on you after a squirrel or a rabbit, you can stop him fairly easily with the right leverage.

However, one disadvantage of the head halter is that is puts pressure on the dog's nose, especially if he is pulling continuously, though this shouldn't cause damage to your dog. Another disadvantage is that your dog can fight his way out of it. It takes a lot of effort and fighting on the dog's part, but it is possible for your dog to slip out of a head halter. I know, because it happened to me twice. That's why you need halter that also attaches at the collar. This way if the dog does slip out of the halter, he's not completely free.

The advantage of a no-pull harness is that it does a really good job in restricting the amount of pull your dog has, and it is a bit easier to stop him if he takes off running on you than with the head halter. You also do not have to worry about the harness putting pressure on his nose.

However, the disadvantage of a no-pull harness is that you have little control in the direction you want to go. So if your dog is reacting to one of his stressors it can be a bit more difficult to pull him away than with a head halter.

Head halter (right) and no-pull harness (left). The silver strap on the harness goes over the dog's back.
Head halter (right) and no-pull harness (left). The silver strap on the harness goes over the dog's back. | Source

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Head Halter vs No-Pull Harness: Which One Will Work Best For You?

Which one you need depends on the purpose you need it for. Do you want better control, or less pull? If you have an overly excited dog or puppy who just pulls, pulls, pulls because he wants to go the beach, or sniff that other dog, or say hi to that bunny, but he's generally friendly, a no-pull halter is probably a good choice.

For an aggressive dog, a head halter works best for pulling a dog away from a potentially scary situation. It also has the added benefit of looking scary and deterring people from approaching the dog, which is what you want. People tell me all the time they knew my dog wasn't friendly because they saw him wearing the head halter. Or you can get a no-pull halter that says CAUTION in big letters so everyone knows not to approach. However, it really depends on you as well and what you are comfortable with using. You may have to try both to see what feels right.

Of course, if you have a dog like mine, you can always try both at the same time. You then get a leash with two clasps or a rope with a clasp on each end and attach one to the halter and one to the harness. This way you get the benefit of both. And yes, I have done this as well, though it is not something I try now.

There is no substitute for proper training with your dog and developing a good relationship where your dog trusts you as a leader. But we all know how excited young dogs can get, especially when you are taking them to their favorite place, like the park or the lake. And some dogs will just never be friendly and you need the added security to help control them in public. In this case, a head halter or no-pull harness is the perfect tool to help you safely navigate your dog through the scary world.


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