Friday, 22 November 2013

Caesar - King of the Head Collar

They're not cheap.  In fact, I nearly fainted when I realised how much a medium sized head collar could set you back.  But, is there such a thing as value for money in the head collar world or do you simply get what you pay for?  Here's the low down on the four head collars that we've tried:
  • Halti
  • Dogmatic
  • Gentle lead - Full Halter
  • Canny Collar
Caesar came with a Halti.  It's a shame I didn't know this as I bought one before I even got him.  The reason for this was that I knew he needed a head collar.  Possibly 2 was a little excessive.  I knew that he needed a head collar because I'd once attempted to walk him on a collar and lead - never again.

In all, the Halti fit snugly on his face and didn't look to be in any danger of falling off.  It had the extra safety precaution of the clip onto the collar.  This meant that, should he manage to free himself of the head collar, he was still attached to the lead (a bonus point that not all head collars offer).  Although this has never been too much of an issue with Caesar, I do have a friend whose dog has a larger neck than head and this means that He can slip move things over his head.  The Halti would not prevent this entirely, but would make it more difficult should he attempt to do this.
Being the sensitive soul that he is (in more ways that one), Caesar becomes very sore on his neck from wearing a collar.  One strength of the Halti was that it had a padded nose band so that it did not irritate the skin on his nose.

Halti's, unlike many other head collars are available from major retailers such as Pets At Home so it is sometimes possible to try before you buy.  This means no expensive return postage problems.  

Another bonus for larger dog breed owners, like myself, is that Halti do not charge extra for larger sized dogs.  This differs from some of the other head collars that can add up to £4 extra onto larger dog head collars.

The fact that the Halti simply slips over the nose means that there aren't a lot of points to hold the collar in place.  Therefore, when Caesar decided to ignore it's existence and pull anyway, it slipped up into his eye. Caesar learned to walk reasonably well on the Halti.  However, when seeing another dog, he would ignore it and pull hard causing the band to move into his eyes.  This caused higher levels of stress on walks.  

The Halti, like many other head collars does require you to have an idea of the size of your dogs head.  However, these sizes are defined by breed.  The problem occurs when, like many of us, your dog cannot be defined by one breed.  It's hard for me to decide whether Caesar's head is larger than a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and if his face could be described as 'Labrador sized'.  Every time I have had to buy a head collar for Caesar that requires sizing by breed, I have always got it wrong and had to return it.

Also from a picky dog walker point of view, I was never keen on the look of the Halti, despite the option of buying it in 4 different colours.  For me, it didn't look particularly friendly and I felt the black band and halter looked somewhat unfriendly.

Dog biscuit sized review:  Cheaply priced and widely available but not well fixed to the dogs face.  Could fix low level pulling problems but for persistent pullers (such as Caesar) it rides up into the eyes causing stress.

The Dogmatic
Attending dog classes saw the end of the Halti era.  And, my new dog trainer recommended something a little more sturdy.  She gave the choice of two: Canny collars and Dogmatics.  Seeing the colourful and friendly looking Dogmatic, I decided to buy it despite it being the most expensive head collar on the list.  At almost £20, it wasn't exactly a bargain but I was immediately drawn to it.  The Dogmatic comes in several different colours and some of these come with fun puppy designs.  I decided it was exactly what I needed to make my oversized squealing, lunging Staffy cross look a little more friendly!

Let's get my own obsession with Caesar looking friendly out of the way first.  In my humble opinion, you can't get a friendlier looking head collar.  Not only are Dogmatics colourful, they are decorated with small friendly looking puppy faces.  You can also get a range of leather dogmatic collars which come in plain different colours.  Pretty nifty really.
The entire head collar is bulkier than the others and has metal fastenings which allow it to be maneuverable in some ways, but this also stops it from moving about on Caesar's face.  It works in a simple but effective way and, besides the Halti which was introduced at the rescue centre, I have seen the most dramatic affect after the introduction of this collar.  

Overall it feels more robust but has padding to ensure the comfort of the dog.  It feels secure and well fitted to the dog's face and somewhat adjustable for the size of your dogs head.  Caesar has tried in every way possible to remove his Dogmatic but never one has he succeeded.  The head collar seems to stay firmly in place once fitted correctly and offers a sense of security for the owner.  And, having owned one for a year, it has proved fairly resilient to Caesar's constant attempts to yank at it and pull it off his face.  It's true the Dogmatic has been through a lot.  Namely; sea water, claggy mud piles and sand.  It has been scratched, bashed off the floor and bitten but still stands strong.

Perhaps most importantly for me, the Dogmatic gives me a sense of control.  With the lead fixing point under the chin, I can turn Caesar's face away when necessary.  This has proved useful when walking past another dog as it can help me ensure that Caesar cannot lunge in their direction.
Although probably my favourite of the head collars, I have to admit that the Dogmatic is Caesar's least favoured headwear.  And, having owned and worn it during walks for over a year, he still has to be chased around the house in order to get it on and, once it's in place, he spends a great deal of his time trying to get it back off again.

To be fair on the head collar, Caesar has worn it for the majority of walks for over a year and it has remained fairly in tact. As you can probably tell, he's not particularly well behaved while walking on the lead so he does require something quite resilient.  After almost eighteen months of constant wear, it is beginning to show some signs of fraying around the chin.

A minor point but one that has got me into trouble before now is the lead fixing position of this head collar.  Because the lead is fixed under the chin, the front most part of the dogs body, an excitable dog (like Caesar) can swing their back end around freely.  This is not a huge problem for most people but I have had unhappy grandparent related coffee table, tea spilling incidents and also knee bumping incidents when trying to control Caesar on the head collar.  At one point, I adopted a double ended lead/body harness approach to try to counter this but found it not to be too much of a problem for most of the time.  The lead fixing point can also mean that, if Caesar stops and I continue to walk, the bottom band of the head collar and metal fixing ring can get stuck in his mouth as they rise up in front of his face.

The final drawback of this head collar is not my own but feedback from another dog owner.  I happily recommended this head collar in the early days of buying it for Caesar and another owner bought one accordingly.  However, she found it impossible to find a size for her dog that fit properly.  One size was too large around her face and another was too small.  There was no happy medium.  Because of the way the head collar fits, I can see how this could be the case.  And, admittedly, when I bought Caesar's, I had to send it back (and pay for packaging to do so) in order to get the next size down.

Dog biscuit sized review:  Good for me but Caesar hates it.  Sizing can be difficult and this can incur additional return postage costs which add to this already pricey head collar.  However, I feel in control of Caesar at all times which is important with a reactive dog.

Gentle Lead - Full Halter
I have a tiny bit of a confession with this one.  I bought it by accident!  My friend was telling me how well her Gentle Leader was working so I decided to investigate.  Unfortunately, I cut off the word "leader" and simply used the word 'lead'.  This brings about completely different results.  And turns a Halti like lead into something that looks more like a piece of rope with some fastenings.  

I have to be honest and say that, of all of the head collars, this is by far my least favourite.  However, the Gentle Lead does come in nice bright colours and only one size.  This means that you cannot possibly get the sizing for your dog wrong (a bonus for someone who always does this)!  It is also, by far, the cheapest of the head collars.  Coming in at under £7.  Perhaps I should have seen this as a clue when buying it!  I can't deny, however, it does look quite nice when it's on.  Caesar seems the least phased by this head collar, probably because of it's lightweight look and feel.

Out of all of the head collars, I feel as if I have the least control with this one.  Fitting it was difficult and the instructions was a complicated diagram with a list of parts which was extremely hard to understand.  I managed to fit it by process of elimination in the end.  I don't feel particularly in control of Caesar having used this head collar and the rope feels flimsy and insufficient for larger breeds.  In addition, the thin rope hurt my hands when Caesar pulled continuously.

Dog biscuit sized review:  It's a nice colour and doesn't require sizing.  However, personally, I don't trust this head collar and ceased using it within a week of buying. I have to admit that this wasn't due to any particular incident; I just did not feel that it was robust enough for Caesar.

Canny Collar

The Canny Collar is the latest addition to Caesar's head collar collection.  After I could see the Dogmatic head collar coming to the end of it's life, I decided to experiment with a different type.  Being a fan of the Dogmatic, I thought the Canny Collar, which works differently, might be a useful tool in aiding me to mix and match.  Perhaps, I mused, this might help me to train Caesar to walk on the lead better - he wouldn't get too used to one type and find ways to pull.

The Canny Collar looks smart and does not make too much of an impact on the dogs face.  It is a simple band that fastens over the nose which makes it easy to put on (once you get the hang of it).  At the time that I purchased mine, black was cheaper and so I chose black, not wanting to pay more for a different colour.  I've since noticed that you can choose any colour on the Canny Collar website without paying the extra.  In addition, the website itself has a measuring guide for dogs to help you choose the right size, rather than referring to specific breeds.

I like the Canny Collar as it works in a completely different way to the other collars.  It fastens at the back of the dogs head with two small rings and is built into a collar for extra reassurance.  If, unlike Caesar, your dog can come off the lead, the nose loop can simply be removed and fastened onto the collar using two clips which come with the Canny Collar.

Caesar doesn't mind this collar too much and it isn't very difficult to get him to put it on.  He also doesn't seem too distressed by wearing it during a walk.  The positive side of having a head collar that fastens behind the head, is that the head does not jerk to the side if you or the dog tugs on the lead.  And this works hugely in the favour of this head collar.  On one walk, using a front fastening head collar, Caesar stepped onto the road when a car was coming.  Panicking, I jerked the lead back instinctively and he gave a yelp as it jerked his neck to one side.  This could not happen with Canny Collar as the mechanism pulls the dogs head downwards and not sideways.

I found fitting the Canny Collar very difficult and, having had it for around a month, I still think there's a possibility that it could be a size too big - Caesar keeps slipping the band off his nose.  At first this was fine but, when done at the crucial moment, for example when holding 2 dogs and a 3 bags of shopping, it can be a real problem.

Out of all the head collars, I feel that this has the least impact in terms of pulling.  While it feels sturdy and I'm sure that it will stay on in some form, preventing Caesar from running away, he finds it fairly easy to resist and can pull with some force when on it.  In it's defense, I have to say that it is still a great improvement on lead and collar walking as it does not allow him to pull with as much force.  However, when he is determined to get somewhere, he can get a good pull on this head collar without causing himself too much discomfort.  

Dog biscuit sized review: Well thought out design means that the dogs head is not jerked - this is possibly why it is one of Caesar's favoured head collars.  The other reason, of course, could be that it allows him to pull more than most of the other collars.  

As I hope you have seen, each head collar has benefits and draw backs and it's up to you to decide what the most important factors are for you.  Each of the head collars described, has both good and bad reviews on it's website and this is largely down to individual preferences by both dogs and owners.  I hope the review helps you to select one that suits both yourself and your dog.

Have you tried one of these head collars or perhaps a different kind again?  I'd love to hear your comments.

Rescue Advent Calendar
There's still time to enter your rescue dogs into the Saving Caesar rescue advent calendar.  If you would like to see your own rescue dog and their story appear behind one of the windows of the online advent calendar, fill out the form and send it back.  You can write as much or as little as you like about your rescue.  There is no charge for entering and no personal details are collected (first name only required).

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