Head halters or haltis
*** Please read fully before making comments. ***
So a guardian surmised this perfectly: “Until I knew about Truelove Harnesses, I felt the only way I could walk my dog was with a halti for fear of being pulled over. I never enjoyed using it and did wonder about the damage it could potentially cause.”
For the purpose of this blog I will refer to halters/ haltis as halters to clear any confusion as I have found in Europe we seem to say “halti” as the brand and in the US the term halter is used. So to make this internationally friendly I am just going to use the term halter.
I would like to clarify as well. I am a full time wheelchair user and I also have arthritis in my shoulders and very limited feeling or sensation in my hands. I use Y Front Harnesses.
I don't think I've spoken to one fear or force opposed professional who has ever said, haltis are fine as a permanent solution. Instead what's normally said is: “although we understand the risk and damage from haltis etc we make it clear that we need to get it off and replaced with a Y Front harness as soon as possible.”
This is very much lesser known information across search engines and scholar papers, trust me I have searched over many hours over many months before completing this blog.
Head halter's can cause severe damage to our dogs. They are a tool that's been designed to "stop dogs from pulling" by altering dogs movement into a way that suppresses their natural behaviours.
They are merely a crutch to make walking easier for dog guardians and most trainers can agree are a very aversive tool and some even claim worse than other aversive tools.
This maybe news for you, this may come as a shock and this maybe upsetting, this information isn't personal or aimed at anyone as individuals, this information is factual and here to improve your dogs welfare.
Sadly there is very little research available as to the damage of these tools, but after much sleuthing, I have found some gems of information to help inform you.
A craniosacral therapist has done a lot of research on the use of head halters and found them to be very harmful in their research of the cranial area and the physiology of the dog. Which is exactly the information I was seeking to pass along.
Halters are rarely fitted well, the halter isn't actually designed for the dog's anatomy, the dog can suffer injuries within the head and neck areas unknown to the guardian, trainer and even the vet! Dog's can still try to express natural behaviours and be adversely inhibited by the halter causing injury.
Over time physically this can lead to serious misalignment of the cranial and facial bones possibly resulting in further symptoms such as headaches, ear ache, blurred vision, impaired swallowing, breathing problems, difficulty swallowing, chewing food, altered mood and much more! (1)
Recent research was done at Nottingham Trent University recently in 2020. The research found that guardians themselves are concerned as to the damage that flat collars are doing to their beloved companions, likening the pressure to that of a tourniquet. (1)
More research was conducted by the Myerscough college. Using temperature as a guide to navigate the emotions of the dog's they were able to work with 22 dogs to assess the changes in temperatures. They did this by using thermal imaging and focused on the areas of the dog's body that indicate stress levels and changes in stress. Dogs' core temperatures will change drastically according to whether they are about to go into a state of fight or flight.
A baseline was used from taking the dogs ear temperature before beginning, they used 21 pet dogs in total and used Y Front harnesses and head halter's.
The findings were that the temperatures of the dog's drastically fell when the halter's were used, which indicated extreme stress.
Physical body language communication could be seen too such as yawning and lip licking, which all points to the damage to the welfare of the dogs.
The dogs had not experienced harnesses before either but they did not attempt to shake or roll to take them off whereas 62% of the dog's attempted to remove the halter, by face rubbing, pawing or shaking the halter off. (2)
Internally the dogs have lots of nerves, specifically the halter affects the cranial nerves, these govern the eyes, ears, throat and nose. They become stretched, distorted and tweaked with the damage to them and the changes in the bone structure.
This can be temporary or permanent depending on whether the bones can realign on their own or whether they become permanently altered. More often than not due to the bones locking into this position, this becomes permanent.
The vagus nerve also runs through the cranial nerves, the vagus nerve travels beyond the throat to the lungs, heart and digestive organs, it also controls swallowing, barking, breathing and regulating the heart.
All body functions in every organism is regulated and controlled by the brain, the cranial nerves are direct extensions of the brain, they send information to all areas of the body.
Trauma whether acute or chronic can negatively impact a dogs health and make life altering changes, making the dog extremely ill. (3)
Suzanne Clothier shares that head halters can compromise dog welfare, even if the dog seemingly gives into the halter . Sharing an experience from her own blog "The problem with head halters."
Suzanne shares that a Labrador was happy and enthusiastic on entering a class and playing tug, when the halter was put on, the dog became very depressed, tail tucked, head lowered and no longer interested in engaging with the trainer who she had previously been playing with. This is a stark contrast from a dog who was previously alert, engaged and happy.
The halter for dogs is also likened to that of the halters used on cows and horses. Whereas halters sit along the long bones of the horse and cows face and away from the eyes, many halters for dogs ride into their eyes causing further discomfort, because when it comes down to it the canine anatomy isn't designed for halters.
Dogs also use their muzzles for their communications, not just amongst their own species but to also engage in the environment and to communicate with us too.
The damage that halter's can do are soft tissue injuries, damage to the spine and cervical bones. (I'll expand on this further along).
Dogs are also not prepared for the jerk that the halter will give, when the human stops and because of the halter working in the way that it does, it's too easy for the human to not be engaged. The halter is merely a crutch and not solving the behaviour or teaching the dog anything at all, but when the human stops unaware of their dog's movements, the halter can snap the dog's head back both sideways and upwards. Or as many of us have seen when the halter is used to jerk the dog deliberately if they try to engage with the environment.
When people have argued that dogs can also go through this in other activities, Suzanne argues that when the dog is aware of a situation, they can engage their muscles and brace for the situation by the brain telling them to, just like us when we engage our muscles in preparation for an abrupt stop or climbing stairs. halter's do not give dogs this grace, thus causing severe injuries in dogs. (3)
Halters are punishment, they are an aversive tool and with this comes adverse effects to emotional safety for dogs. Many trainers including Kommetijie Canine College have shared their experiences of seeing dogs suppressed and emotionally shut down due to head halters. Despite still going through the motions of taking treats and not reacting, this is only due to the suppression of the halter . Which you can read here https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02BEc9YJoDhUMvykRK7ijKnK46nr6RyFyxGXeUH419UXqBcyh5CauKsQosZyK5QXqNl&id=857426880942607&sfnsn=scwspmo
From the study by Myerscough college it was found that the dogs were adversely affected in their behaviour and behaviours that guardians believed they could Control with a halter such as lunging at dogs, vehicles and people and the study found the halter actually increased this behaviour.
It was also considered that the dogs were forming associations of anxiety with the leash due to the pressure that the halter applied to them and the negative emotions that they experienced on walks. (4)
It should be considered that using head halters cause discomfort to the facial area for dogs both externally and internally. (5
Although scientific research is limited, as we have seen scientific evidence is available, as well as of course information shared from trainers, behaviourists and a craniosacral therapist.
So what's the answer? Use a Y shape harness, with a front and back clip attachment. Find a Trainer who can help you to learn to enjoy walks with your dog, communicate with them, engage with them and safely walk together.
If you need help finding the right harness for you we have guides within the Do No Harm Dog Training Group and I also have a tutorial for you to condition your dog to a harness safely. https://youtu.be/D3c5HeSrmK8
Draw what you can from this blog, but please let the take away be the negative effects to both emotional and physical welfare of your dogs when a halter is used.
Page one image: Anatomical diagrams muscle location and bone names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page two image: Suboccipital Muscle Group reference Chau, L. (2022) Suboccipital Muscle Group: Radiology Reference Article, Radiopaedia. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/suboccipital-Muscle-Group
Page two image: temporal, masseter and pterygoideus medialis muscle. Stone , I. (2023) Don’t use a head halter unless you have to: What you need to know, Simpawtico Dog Training. Available at: https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/ (Accessed: 08 October 2023).
Anatomical diagrams muscle location and bone names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page three image: Anatomical diagrams nerve locations and names from Micheau, Dr.A. and Hoa, Dr.D. (2022) Canine myology: Normal anatomy: Vet-anatomy, IMAIOS. Available at: https://www.imaios.com/en/vet-anatomy/dog/dog-myology
Page four image: Vagus nerve diagram Palazzi, X., Pardo, I. D., Ritenour, H., Rao, D. B., Bolon, B., & Garman, R. H. (2022). A technical guide to sampling the beagle dog nervous system for general toxicity and neurotoxicity studies. Toxicologic Pathology, 50(4), 432–465. https://doi.org/10.1177/01926233221099300
Skeleton: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The arrows point to the: hyoid bones, occiput bone, mandibular joint and cervical vertebrae.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: The bones in the skull area can become negatively impacted and even altered due to the pressure from a halti device. Damage to the hyoid bones can impact swallowing and vocalisations. https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/
Muscles: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The muscles in the jaw area are highlighted in red. The arrows point to the: temporalis muscle, rectus captitulation dorsalis, semispinalis capitis, masseter muscle, pterygoideus medialis muscle, Obliquus capitulation cranialis and the Obliiquus capitis caudalis muscle.
The black splat which is a text box reads: These groups of muscles can become tender and sore, contribute to headaches, earaches and general aches and pain around the facial muscles.
This condition is medically known as TMJ disorder or Temporomandibular joint disorder. Stone , I. (2023) Don’t use a head halter unless you have to: What you need to know, Simpawtico Dog Training. Available at: https://www.simpawtico-training.com/dont-use-a-head-halter/
The second black splat which is a text box reads: This is the suboccipital muscle group, these four muscles are paired, three of these muscles form the suboccipital triangle.
They are found below the occipital bone, they are the postural support for the head. They are also responsible for extending, lateral flexion and rotation. They are small muscles that act in unison. Chau, L. (2022) Suboccipital Muscle Group: Radiology Reference Article, Radiopaedia. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/suboccipital-muscle-group
Nerves: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The nerves of the dog affected by halters are highlighted. The nerves are listed below.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: 12 canine cranial nerves, 1. Olfactory nerve, 2. Optic Nerve, 3. Oculomotor nerve, 4. Trochlear nerve, 5. Trigeminal nerve - branches are the ophthalmic nerve, maxillary nerve and mandibular nerve, 6. Abducens nerve, 7. Facial nerve, 8. Vestibulocochlear nerve, 9. Glossopharyngeal nerve, 10. Vagus nerve (see below), 11.Accessory nerve, 12.Hypoglossal nerve. Admin, V. (2016, July 18). Cranial nerves. Veterian Key. https://veteriankey.com/cranial-nerves/
The second black splat which is a text box reads: Vomeronasal nerve also known as the Jacobson organ. This is a specialised sensory nerve which connects the vomeronasal organ within the nasal cavity to the brain. This nerve detects chemical signatures and pheromones, dogs are able to process the information and communicate thanks to this nerve! Dzięcioł, M., Podgórski, P., Stańczyk, E., Szumny, A., Woszczyło, M., Pieczewska, B., Niżański, W., Nicpoń, J., & Wrzosek, M. A. (2020). MRI features of the vomeronasal organ in dogs (canis familiaris). Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00159
Vagus nerve:Nerves: a diagram of a dog like a German shepherd showing the skeletal system to the last rib of the rib cage. The vagus nerve of the dog is highlighted in blue. The vagus nerve runs from the stem of the brain to the stomach.
The first black splat which is a text box reads: The vagus nerve also directly communicates with the gut and is responsible for controlling how the body responds to stimuli. Such as "rest and digest" and "freeze, fight and flight".
The second black splat which is a text box reads: Has the largest concentration of tissue after the brain and the spinal cord. The vagus nerve also has its own nervous system independent of the brain.
The third black splat which is a text box reads:
The vagus nerve is connected directly to the brain and is responsible for connecting and regulating internal organ functions. The vagus nerve is also responsible for some involuntary reflexes. Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018, March 13). Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
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