Head Collars for Dogs – Useful Tool or Masking Issue?

As a Dog Trainer and Behaviourist I’m not a huge fan of equipment that just masks behaviour, instead of actually altering it. When I first started training, I really did hate head collars, I found them always ill fitting and people just used them to get out training their dog to actually walk nicely on heel. It was a frustrating sight.

As I got down off my high horse, and actually looked into the people using the head collars.

I realised some people really needed them in order to just be able to walk their dog.

Never mind dealing with other behaviour issues. They were using them to allow their dog the basic right to a walk.

I still think training should become before using equipment, and you should be able to do so on a flat collar, or slip lead. Its easy to achieve with any dog, but not everyone is a dog trainer, and they have limitations.

When dealing with behaviour issues such as aggression, fear and frustration. If the dog hasn’t got enough impulse control to not pull on the lead, their is no way other issues can be progressed as the dog doesn’t want to listen, isn’t focused enough or has been let to do do. Quite often people just want a quick fix in terms of behaviour issues, and really don’t want to listen to me teaching their dog to walk to heel. So rather than harping on about heeling, something which we can come back to I suggest a head collar in order to help the owner see some progress, then come back to the heel issue.

A dog that is stressed isn’t going to learn, it’s as simple as that. That stress can appear when a cue is seen, such as another dog, cat or car. Or that stress can start as soon as the door opens, their is scuffle as they both try to get out of the door first, and it ends in a manic few minutes. Followed by a walk full of stress, anger and plain disheartened feelings. It’s not enjoyable, and a dog should always be enjoyable.

The manic exit at the start of the walk can be undoing all the hard work the owner has been doing in training, its very frustrating to see.

Something as simple as a bad start to a walk, can send owners training back weeks as they start to expect a bad reaction therefore causing it.

If the owners feel they have control of the dog on lead, they feel much more confident when dealing with behaviour issues. Something as simple as giving them back control of the dog can change a persons decision to not re-home a dog, and continue training to get the dog they want.

So my change of heart experience. I had been given a Gencon Head collar by a gentle man at Crufts.



The Gencon sat in my room for a few months, gathering dust and generally being ignored. It wasn’t til I was working with a client over several sessions that it came to head that we needed something more than just a flat collar. The dog’s dog issues disappeared on the training field, but once we moved out to the real world the owner was struggling to hold the dog while we dealt with the reactivity. The dog was well behaved on the training field, but at home he reverted back to his usual out of control self. The owner was getting dis-hearted session by session, and struggling to even walk him at any time.

After some thought and planning I decided to use the Gencon in order to regain some control and manners. We stuck it on at the start of the walk (Not how it should be introduced really), he threw a tantrum of course but once we were on our way things were instantly different. The owner was smiling and relaxed as they walked her great hulking dog, their was no pulling or fighting for who was leading the walk.

Instead it was walking together in tandem, as a team.

Having the owner more relaxed instantly impacted on the dogs behaviour, reinforcing calm behaviour around other dogs. It had such a huge difference to the walk, that the owner could see improvement and wanted to work harder to help her dog. (We sorted the dog in the end, and now he’s a happy social boy).

While I think head collars aren’t a solution to all training issues, they can greatly help with confidence for the owner, as well as add in that much needed respect from the dog.

They do mask the issue of walking to heel nicely, which is basic manners. With the right training, most dogs can be weaned off them, but many people never both or the dogs get so used to the head collars that they won’t learn without them on.

One reason I so like the Gencon is that is transitions to a slip lead so easily, so once the dog has learned to walk to heel. This means actually training using the head collar. Walking and teaching them to heel, adding in treats and verbal praise, correcting or ignoring any pulling. Adding in the desired command. Then taking the leap and transitioning to the slip lead, adding in the chosen command to reinforce the position. It takes work to achieve.

Their are other head collars on the market, and they all work in their own right. Personal experience with the equipment has made me choose the Gencon over other brands as my starting point. I still show clients the other designs and find the right one to suit their dog, should they need one.

Masking one issue to work on another is training, its working on the hardest issue first to build back to the smaller one in some cases.

It’s not ideal for every dog, but works for some.

I try to be as open as possible to all equipment and methods, keeping both a physical stock of equipment and mental list of methods. This allows me to help every dog owner, no matter what the issue we are faced with.

As always this is just my opinion on an aspect of behaviour, training and equipment. I’m not being paid by Gencon or anyone, it’s just personal opinion.