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Death knell of chokers, an alternative and a behaviourist consultation

The way I suggest you train your dog is not from following one particular method. I am an end user and use the best method currently available to teach my dog to reach the highest level. I wrote very early in these articles if I wish to teach my dog the best way of drug detection I would read the worlds foremost authority on the subject and if others are winning using this method I will use it until such time as a better alternative appears on the scene. Competing in working trials, we are fortunate that there is a willingness to share with others information to help make our dogs better. This is the way we improve the standard and why we attain even higher levels of success. I do not teach the Alan Newman-Moore system I tell you what works. If something better comes along, I change to that. I do not stick rigidly to one method, as it is a weakness. Any Bruce Lee fans may remember the film The Game where Lee had to fight his way up a building and on each floor; there was a martial arts guard. Each guard had a different style until the last floor when he met one who had no style. What Lee was saying was that if you keep to a ridged style it is a weakness. The hardest was to fight someone with no style at all because he can adapt. Here I am saying the same thing do not stay with only one method adapt in order to win. I do not expect you all to wish to be champions but using only proven methods these will work for the level you wish to attain.

Therefore, it is with the enforcement method of training. This was the standard single proven method and it worked but so does torture. (Unless you are, James Bond when he asked Goldfinger did he expect him to talk came the reply ‘no I expect you to die’) If you follow this method, you will never reach the levels professionals or competitors currently achieve unless you have an exceptional dog.

For many years, the use of the choker was the normal way to train a dog. I used it and taught it but not until a talk given by John Rogerson did he turn my thinking completely around. John was a reader of those game books where you go backward and forward depending on your decision. I still cannot work out the answer to the two talking doors where one tells only the truth and the other always lies. I looked around and asked myself why did I not succeed where others were winning. The most important reason was that I needed to have a dog that works with me and not a dog that works for you. The difference is millions of miles apart. I then followed a method of teaching my dog to work with me of its own choice, pleasure and reward be it food or praise or both. The choker-enforced method will make a dog only work for you by the threat of pain. That is why any professional or competitor intending to work at the highest levels no longer uses chokers.

The choker is cruel as it inflicts pain and if you want proof place one your thigh and jerk it. The bruises will go in time. Ask any vet and they will tell you a dogs neck is not made of steel and very hard jerks are cruel and dangerous. To curb rising criticism it was renamed a check chain and I think by the time Barbara Woodhouse promoted it on television people began to see the choker for what it was. I still cringe at the thought of the word ‘walkies’.

Yes, there are better ways but as I have told you, they are a way of life not just to go to some dog training class and for an hour each week learn to train your dog. I personally do not like obedience classes or using a lead to give commands. I only use such classes for sociability but not if they say, I have to use a lead and choker. If I ran a training class it would be nothing like the classes, you are accustomed to seeing. By the magic of the press, far more readers are aware of better training than I can ever reach with classes. A question the other day was at what age should they enrol their 7-week-old dog into obedience classes and when to commence training. The answer is to start now teaching the commands at the outset. By the time you enrol at a training school, you will have all the obedience skills you need but there is still the need to train puppies and older dogs to socialise with people and other dogs. (He does go on about socialisation) For me such a class need only be a regular doggy BBQ with realistic training you actually need in the normal world and to check that your training is working. (Walking in straight lines saying Heel is not reality. Classes should be fun)

I am aware that not everyone can train without a lead so the only alternative to no lead is a head halter. As I have never used one nor seen them used, I cannot comment on them. They are certainly closer to using no lead than those using pain devices. I am very fortunate to have a guest article on the Halti written by its designer Dr Roger Mugford BSc, PhD who is a renowned international expert and consultant on animal behaviour.


The concept of head collars for animal control goes back thousands of years to the first Eurasian horsemen and Inca/Indian Llama/Vicuna drivers. In the world of dogs, the practical use of head collars came with the invention of the Halti in 1984. My inspiration was to transfer an established concept from the equine world to the challenge of managing large dogs. There was one Irish Wolfhound in particular, who I had to treat at our behaviour clinic when I was suffering a particularly painful bout of back pain.

Since then, other designs of head collars have appeared, most of them based upon a simple figure-of-eight pattern (i.e. two interwoven circles). Best known of such designs is the Gentle Leader, also marketed as the Promise system in the United States. Also in the United States is a near-replica of the Halti, manufactured for the Tellington Touch Organisation (the TT Halter).

I have a practical and commercial interest in the effectiveness of competing head collars, but objectively remain convinced that the Halti is not only the first canine head collar, it remains by far the best. Here's why:

1. Forward control. Halti lies the most forward on the dog's nose, and consequently applies most "steering moments". This is particularly obvious when compared with the Promise/Gentle Leader system, where the point of control lies tight against the throat. Consequently, Halti is the most efficient design to stop pulling.

2. Comfort. Halti is the least restrictive of the head collars; it should exert no closing pressure upon the throat. The Promise/Gentle Leader instructions state that the neck-collar section be fitted "snugly high on your dog's neck", and this will induce discomfort in the wearer. In the TT system, forward pressure by the dog also exerts a closing-action upon the collar and which again would affect the dog's throat.

3. Training and safety. Halti has a unique sliding action of the nose section through a ring beneath the dog's muzzle. When the dog pulls forward, the ring rides up and consequently closes the dog's mouth. This is not a harsh action, but nevertheless has the effect of ensuring that aggressive dogs, perhaps being trained to tolerate other dogs, are temporarily and at the critical moment muzzled. This on-off muzzle action finds particular usefulness amongst groomers, dog trainers, veterinarians and the like. Indeed, it is a very effective dog training aid which makes aggressive attacks counter-productive, so they stop.

4. The range. Sizing of Haltis is critical to their comfort and effectiveness. Four sizes cover the majority of dogs, with the remaining minority covered by the smallest (0) and largest (5). In addition to the standard sizes, we provide narrow fittings for such breeds as Borzois, Salukis etc, and these are usually supplied by special order. The Gentle Leader/Promise system may well have less critical sizing, but in commercial terms that is compensated for by the greater simplicity of fitting the Halti; it naturally follows the contours of the dog's head.

5. Cost. Halti is supplied at a consistently lower cost than the Gentle Leader/Promise system, making it the natural choice for either the cost-conscious animal lover or the margin-conscious vendor.


If you want to know more about head collars, just ask our team because we have a vast accumulated knowledge about the subject.


Dr Roger A Mugford
Head, Animal Behaviour Centre
Managing Director, The Company of Animals Ltd

I have been asked to solve a problem for a Staffy type dog that is aggressive to all dogs’ chases cats, flies, defecates and urinates when locked in a room on its own. Unfortunately, this is in England where I do not have access to any bombproof dogs needed to solve part of this problem. David Olley from York runs a behaviourist clinic and I have suggested the owner’s contact him for his advice. I also suggested they first take their dog to their vet for their opinion of the problems and they recommend David for his past successes and that they believed he was competent in administering herbal drugs. (I do not share this view, as I believe only vets should do this as they train for any side effects that could arise) I will stay in the background but will record from start to finish this to give you an insight as to what behaviourist have to do in order to solve doggy problems.

The vet thought the dog was fit and happy but agreed that as the Staffy attacked all dogs than castration would not probably solve the problem. There is a drug now that simulates castration so it can be tested to see if the drug works then castration is worth considering. This dog was seven so it would be a shame to have an un-necessary operation. The toilet problem could be attention seeking but the dog also cocks his legs so marking territory in involved. The dog was able to stay in a room before and been use to being left for many hours. It does seem that when the cat came home the problems seem to start. The dog have to be kept apart in the home as the dog will attack the cat though has been told off for this. The dog also sits trembling, which could indicate a conflict that the dog cannot resolve. (Do you men remember your first date where you wondered should you place your arm around your girlfriend or not. Did you not tremble with this conflict? I know I did.) With the problems, the owners show increasing anger so is giving the dog about 80% negative support against the dog with only 20% towards it. (We hold grudges and dogs do not) The dog only needs leaving in the room and within minuets; the dog will have made a mess. The dog will chase flies for hours, which may indicate a level of boredom or as I said last week is a problem commonly associated with caged animals that have nothing to do. When told off the dog goes and sulks in his bed with head bowed. Following the last attack on a bitch the dog now wears a muzzle and this does take the pressure off the owner when walking as it effectively removes the bullets from the gun. Any fights are now pointless so though attempted the duration is shortening with each attack. The dog has never lost a fight so each fight only reinforces to the dog that it is invincible. Had it lost a few then the dog could have had a different attitude. Being invincible is not a reason to attack. If that were the case, every strong dog would attack every dog around. There seems to be some nervousness here but only by watching an attack on a bombproof dog may it indicate the reasoning. This has been going on for many years and the dog walked in a harness with two leads just in case one broke. This problem I feel sure is simply a lack of association with other dogs, which David’s dogs can redress by creating the situation. This does not mean they will attack a muzzled dog but by the appropriate body stances the dog will learn that showing such aggression is pointless and to learn to meet one another and even play. David has one dog that is just for that purpose and now matter how much the patient dog shows aggression this dog knows he will get the patient to calm down and to play eventually.

The next problem is the messing of the bedroom. This seems linked to the stray cat returning. The owners have locked the dog in a room where it is frightened, alone and with the smell of a cat, it cannot see and not allowed to be with or chase. All these things are stressful and may account why the dog fouls the room. Because the dog also urinates by spot marking instead of a nervous squat, it may be the dog is trying to define its territory. The owner no longer shows anger at the dog and the dog does stop mid stream and will then go outside but there it will not go. So needing to urinate is not the need. Attention seeking could be. I know it sounds daft to do this but quite simply for a dog that is seeking attention and looking for positive responses defecating equals owner comes in and the dog gets its attention.

I am quite happy to set out my early opinions because I want you to see if David comes to the same conclusions and for you to understand that it is very easy to miss diagnose by adopting one type of attitude to doggy problems and to stick rigidly to them. The second is to trust in the treatment or retraining programme and to follow it. Many people will continue until it seems to fail, then go, and try something else then another ending up with a dog so confused it becomes very difficult to diagnose at all. This is why other than for simple association problems I always advise intending clients to go to their own vet. They are behaviourist too (they have to if they wish to keep their fingers) so if they agree the diagnosis and the plan of treatment you can be confident to follow this even if there seems to be little immediate response. Remember what has take a long time to become a problem cannot always be cured in a day unless you can focus directly into the trigger like using the buckets of water. Has anybody tried it yet? If you do remember do not look directly at the dog or it will become a game.

The price for the first consultation is £80 and £30 for treatments with the specialised dogs. If owners have insurance the treatment may be recoverable and another reason why I say to go to your vet. As with insurance companies they may not pay for a behaviourist that not referred to by the vet.

Next week we will see how the treatment is working and discuss electric collars and the invisible fence. If you have any questions or queries, please contact me.


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