Head Halter or Front Clip Harness - which one is best?

Head Halter or Front Clip Harness - which one is best?

Many dog walkers have dogs that pull. The intensity of this pulling can vary from breed to breed and more passive and laid back dogs can often walk very nicely on a lead without too much training. However, the fact remains that owners must take some responsibility and offer guidance and assistance as soon as the dog can go out for its first main walk - training your dog and setting the ground rules early can make a HUGE difference!

When dogs go outside they are greeted with a host of exciting smells. Some dogs will react very differently to others, but many dogs will want to sniff grass, lamp posts, post boxes and anything else where there is a nice smell or scent of another dog. Many dogs will also pull because they are expecting a play session when they get to a certain part of the walk. This is why it is important to vary the routes and the times you play and exercise your dog so they don't always expect a ball, toy or treat at the same point.

There is also the fact that many dogs will pull you along because it has always worked that way. You stand behind the dog and it pulls you to get to where it wants to go. However, if you trained the dog to walk nicely by your side, you would probably not have as many pulling issues or problems.

But let's assume that either your dog still pulls and you want to reverse this behaviour or you would like to use a walking aid to help walking your dog from the start. For the purposes of this post, let's say you are comparing a head halter and a front clip harness - so which one is best? First of all, we'll take a look at the head halter.

What is a head halter?

This walking device is basically a series of inter-joined straps that wrap around the nose and neck. A lead then attaches to a ring under the chin and this is attached to the nose strap. The basic principle is that if your dog pulls, the lead will go tight and the dog's head will automatically be brought back to face towards you. Depending on how much the dog pulls forward and how much you pull back will determine how much the head swings round. This should certainly not be a harsh or aggressive motion at any time as this can cause harm to your dog.

The principle of a head halter makes sense, but you should certainly pay close attention to the fit and how you use it. Some experts say that a head halter also aids in other training as the eyes of the dog can be redirected towards the owner. However, in our opinion a device should have one main use and should not have mixed messages.

At first, most dogs will not react to a head halter in a positive way and many will paw at it because they are not use to it, or it feels a little uncomfortable. In time, your dog can respond well, especially if it associates a head halter with a walk, but I guess you could say that about any walking aid or device - our dogs know a walk is going to happen based on which clothes and shoes we put on - they are not daft, you know!

One final point is about the fit. All too often, we see dogs with head halters that have been fitted incorrectly. Some are either too loose or too tight and many are actually moving very close to the eye area. Please make sure that if you fit a halter on your dog's head that you get it to fit well.

What is a front clip harness?

This walking aid works in a similar way to the head halter in the fact that it directs your dog away from pulling forward in a straight line. The difference is the way this device fits and where it sits on your dog.

Most harnesses will have straps and/or padded areas that fit around the chest, neck, shoulders and rib cage. A strap (usually adjustable) will go around your dog's head and some straps have a quick release mechanism. A further adjustable strap will then be located around the dogs chest and this can fasten to the side behind your dog's front legs.

Like head halters, you want to make sure that you get a proper fit and that the straps are not cutting into the neck or the front legs. Ideally, the straps and/or padded plates should be lower down on the chest and you should allow a small space behind the front legs. If the straps and padded areas are too high around the neck, this can cause discomfort and potentially harm your dog as the dog turns towards you - this is especially true for dogs with tracheal issues. However, a good quality harness in the correct size and one that isolates the pulling forces a bit more around the lower chest should cause no such issues at all.

How do I attach a lead to a front clip harness?

The attachment point on a front clip harness is around the dog's chest. You can attach a single lead to this point only and walk and steer your dog away from moving forward when it pulls. However, an easier an often more secure way of doing this is to attach a double ended lead to this harness. To do this, you attach one end to the front clip and then the other end to the other lead ring on your dog's back - this clip is usually located just behind the dog's shoulders. When you attach a lead to both points you are effectively getting a lead to steer and apply braking forces - the front clip is to steer and the top clip is to apply braking.

This is the preferred method by many dog walkers as it gives owners more control and eliminates any harsh sideways movements sometimes experienced when using the front clip only.

Is a head halter or front clip harness best for my dog?

This depends on your personal preference, the breed of dog and how your dog responds to different walking aids. A head halter will offer control but many owners struggle to justify using one as it has a tendency to cause initial discomfort and can sometimes ride up around the eye area. However, one that fits properly should cause no issues. Many owners do prefer the more subtle action of a front clip harness and the fact that this device does not rely on directing the dog's head from side to side.

Sammi Long is a writer and dog owner - she also holds a Canine studies diploma and owns Wiggles and Wags. See the front clip dog harness selection here.

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