Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ban Squishy Eye Syndrome!

A head collar can be a wonderful tool to use when walking with your dog. We certainly recommend and use them here at Guide Dogs. The concept behind a head collar is that when you lead a dog's head, their body will follow (much like the halter on a horse). They are an effective way to stop your dog from pulling while walking on leash (we've all seen people out with their dogs and wondered, "Who is walking who?" - right?). The collars are designed to allow the dog full freedom of movement (they can even eat or drink while wearing one).

So yes - we love them - they are great! But they do require some skill on the part of the dog handler (ahem... yes, that means YOU!). There are basically two things you need pay attention to when using a head collar: 1 - technical skill, and 2 - focus.

Technical skill: Basically, you need to know the right (and the wrong) way to put on a head collar. There are many different brands of head collars, and each one varies in how they should be worn. Make sure you follow the directions for the specific brand of head collar that you are using - and consult a professional dog trainer if you need instruction. Without a proper fit, you may experience unnecessary problems - excessive pawing, rubbing and resistance, or chafing of the nose.

For the purposes of this post, we'll demonstrate the fit of the Gentle Leader® brand:
  • The nose loop needs to be as loose and comfortable as possible, moving freely from just in front of the dog's eyes to the beginning of the fleshy part of his nose - but NOT so loose that it can come off.
  • The proper fit of the nose loop is totally dependent on the proper fit of the neck strap, which must be high at the very top of the neck (touching the skull) and very snug (only one finger barely squeezes underneath) so that it cannot rotate. (If the neck strap rotates, so will the nose loop, which may cause chafing of the skin.)
  • When properly fitted and viewed from the side, the Gentle Leader® will resemble a "V" for Victory, not an "L" for Loser.
Doesn't this look great?

The proper fit of a head collar.
Focus: Using a head collar is all well and good, but all your good intentions and attention to a proper fit will go out the window if you aren't paying attention to your dog. Yes, that’s right – YOU need to focus on what your dog or pup is doing when it’s wearing a head collar in order for the equipment to be effective. Your dog should be walking with a loose leash, so as to not put tension on the head collar and cause the dreaded, cringe-worthy "Squishy Eye Syndrome!" (Ouch!)

Examples of poor head collar use.
A couple points to ponder:
  • Are you walking your dog with a loose leash? Is your dog looking straight ahead, or are you pulling a little bit too much causing the dog's head to strain sideways?
  • Pay special attention to your dog when you’re descending steps – is your dog straining with its head up?
Used correctly, a head collar can make an incredible difference in your dog’s ability to focus and learn. Used incorrectly, it speaks VOLUMES about YOUR abilities as a dog handler.

When you see a dog with Squishy Eye Syndrome, please be sure to point it out to the handler so they can learn how to use the head collar correctly. Their dog or pup will thank you for it!


  1. Thanks for the great post! I never knew how to properly size a GL until I watched the video that comes with it, albeit boring it's informative! I was actually just going to do a post about proper fit, thanks for beating me to it! :-D I'm sure all the pups thank you!

  2. Wonderful post! I hate squishy eye syndromes as well. I sure it is as uncomfortable as it looks! The other thing that drives me mad is people using prong and slip collars coupled with a a flexi-leash. I mean the flexi-leash is a completely ineffective and dangerous partner for either of these two collar types.

  3. This is such a helpful and simple description of how to use a GL--great visual. Finally, after all this time as a dog person and breeder custodian, I get it! Thank you so much.

  4. Excellent post -- I am passing this link on to my fellow CCI puppy raisers. I have seen some squishy eyes recently. I actually had just included an article in our local chapter newsletter about head collars and this fits right in as a follow up.

  5. Why are you even useing this toture devise? And how is a blind person able to see if he or she has properly used the devise? And we haven't even started with the pronged collar, clicker training,or food rewards that induce random behaviors.
    Ken and Velvet Volonte

  6. Ken and Velvet Volonte
    Blind people are blind but not stupid! I'm sure there are ways for them to know if something is wrong with the dog, just not the same way for people who can see. Besides, I had a neighbor who had a guide dog from this institution and I've seen how good these dogs are trained. For real! :0

  7. Anon - It is far from a torture device. It is no worse than putting a halter on a horse. We use one on our own dog (not a GDB) and when we bring it out, she gets excited as she knows it means we are doing something. It is very easy to use once you learn to fit it. It does take learning, and we had a very experienced trainer teach us. And I HATE prongs and chokes. Never needed to use one. BTW - GLs are not used by the blind, they are used by trainers and raisers teaching the dogs prior to turning over to a blind person.

  8. Great post. I would love to print this out and hand it to people who continue to use GLs like regular collars and pull their dogs around with them. GLs ought to be left to those with the experience to use them or at least access to those who have experience to train them. I especially love the line that says (paraphrasing): "It speaks to your abilities not your dogs".