A while back, I found out about a product called the Gentle Leader. This is a head collar with a loop that goes around the nose, and it is supposed to be a humane way to get your dog to walk nicely on a leash. After watching some videos about this tool, I went to Menards the next day and bought one. Though Lily and Roxy both walk pretty well on a leash, Luca has a tendency to pull. I’ve tried different training methods and other tools without much success. Therefore, I figured I would give the Gentle Leader a shot. Today, I will be providing information about this tool as well as detailing my experience with it.
How Does the Gentle Leader Work?
Though there is a lot of information about the Pet Safe Gentle Leader on its website (and in the box when you purchase one), I’ll give you a brief overview here. The Gentle Leader is a head collar; unlike a normal collar, it sits high on your dog’s neck, right behind the ears, and has a loop that goes over the nose. Dogs should be able to comfortably breath, pant, and eat while wearing the Gentle Leader. Because the collar is above the dog’s trachea, it will not cause any choking when the dog pulls. The leash is attached under the dog’s chin near the neck. This configuration is similar to a bridle on a horse: it gives you control of the movement of your dog’s head. When your dog tries to pull, he will find himself inhibited by the head collar. It’s hard to describe, but your dog physically cannot pull his head toward the direction he wants unless you allow him to. According to the manufacturer’s website, “The nose loop redirects [your dog’s] head towards you when he pulls forward, preventing pulling and giving you his full attention.” A collar that will stop your dog from pulling but also doesn’t choke, pinch, or otherwise hurt your dog almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Luckily, the Gentle Leader actually works.
My Experience With the Gentle Leader
First of all, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a collar that you can just slap on your dog and expect him to transform into the perfect walker. Though it does prevent pulling, you’re not actually teaching your dog anything if all you do is put this collar on. Instead, I find that the Gentle Leader works well in tandem with positive reinforcement training, and the instructions that come with it also advise you to use it this way. The collar will keep your dog from pulling your arm off, but you also need to reward your dog for keeping the leash loose while walking. Rather than treating the Gentle Leader as a quick fix, you should treat it as a training tool.
The first time I walked Luca with this collar, I was honestly amazed. He wasn’t pulling. He couldn’t pull. I was happy and excited for future walks in which I wouldn’t have to use pinch collars (which I dislike but have used out of necessity) or just deal with having my arm pulled off. I wouldn’t have to bribe Luca with a treat to walk by my side, only for him to just speed up the moment I gave it to him. I felt like this could really be a game changer for me. And though Luca and I are still on this journey of learning leash manners, I honestly think it has been game changing. I’ve had this head collar for maybe a couple months now, and I find myself so proud of Luca’s progress. Actually, I think it’s really important to note that Luca is making progress with me despite some factors that are working against us. First of all, my dad takes Luca for a walk almost daily. My dad allows Luca to do whatever he wants during the walk and does not use the Gentle Leader, despite my efforts to try and show him how to use it. This means that Luca is not receiving consistent feedback about his behavior during walks. Secondly, I do not walk Luca every single day. Despite these inhibitors, when I walk Luca using the Gentle Leader and reward him for good behavior, he walks on a loose leash for the majority of the walk. I’ve started removing the nose loop during the last leg of our walks when he has shown consistently good behavior.
The other major thing I love about the Gentle Leader is that it prevents lunging. Luca doesn’t lunge very often, but there have been a few occasions where he has gotten excited over a bird or some other critter (he is a hunting breed, after all). During one such instance, I knew he was about to lunge: I tightened my grip on the leash and braced myself…except nothing happened. I wasn’t pulled off balance by my dog’s strength; I wasn’t giving it all I had to keep him from pulling us into a ditch. I wasn’t holding on for dear life. I was standing comfortably on the pavement as if Luca hadn’t even attempted to lunge. The Gentle Leader had done the work for me. I am continually impressed by this tool.
How I Use the Gentle Leader
There are plenty of training videos online as well as information that comes with the Gentle Leader (all of which you should look at before using the product), but I’d like to share what techniques have been working for me.
I like to use a combination of techniques during my walks to help Luca keep a loose leash. The first one is, of course, positive reinforcement. I bring treats with me and intermittently reward Luca for walking on a loose leash. If he makes a decision to pay attention to me instead of something of interest (sometimes I will use the focus command), then I reward him. You should reward any behavior you like, a lot at first, and then intermittently. When Luca pulls toward something, I gently pull the leash back toward me. Even though the Gentle Leader inhibits pulling on its own, I have gotten better results when I pull Luca’s head toward myself when I feel strain on the leash. When he returns to a loose leash after one of these episodes, I reward him. The leash should only be taut when redirecting the dog; otherwise, it should remain loose. According to the pamphlet that comes with the product, you should not continuously pull on the leash for more than 20-30 seconds because this action prevents the dog from opening his mouth. The last technique I like to use is changing directions. When Luca pulls toward something, I go the opposite way. Whenever I do this, he usually does return to walking on a loose leash, so I reward him with praise or a treat.
Though Luca is not quite ready to begin his transition off of the Gentle Leader, he is definitely making progress. As I mentioned earlier, I can take the nose loop off after we’ve walked a bit and he has shown consistently good behavior. Your ultimate goal with a tool like this is not to have to use it for the rest of your dog’s life. Instead, it is to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash. You should eventually be able to wean your dog off of the Gentle Leader. Still, even when your dog becomes a pro at walking, it’s good to reinforce desirable behaviors. You may not have to bring treats on every walk (and sometimes the walk itself can be used as a currency), but every now and then you should remind your dog that he is doing a good job so that he will remember his leash manners well into the future.
Is the Gentle Leader Safe?
When I was looking into this product, I found a number of users saying they felt this head collar may not be a safe option for their dogs. Of course, I had to see what I could find out as I did not want to use something on my dog that could potentially harm him. The Gentle Leader is a collar that dogs do take some time to get used to. Just as when they are puppies and you put a collar on them for the first time, a head collar is completely foreign to them. Many dogs will paw or scratch at it, and when they first experience the Gentle Leader inhibiting their ability to pull, they may fight against it by shaking their heads. Some users feared that this shaking of the head could cause trauma. Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist, wrote a detailed article on the subject. According to her, it is unlikely that a dog would be injured by shaking his head while wearing a head collar; this movement is just like the movements dogs naturally make while playing tug-of-war. Others were afraid that their dogs could get whiplash from running to the end of the leash too quickly and their heads being turned around by the head collar. Dr. Yin stated that she had not found any documented cases of injury due to head collars, but that dogs like this may need to see a chiropractor or massage therapist. If you’re considering using a head collar, you should definitely read Dr. Yin’s article in its entirety. It has a lot of great advice about how to use the collar safely so that you’ll never have to worry about injury.
Personally, I am not worried for Luca’s safety because I did take steps to help him get used to the Gentle Leader. Every now and then he still paws at it while it’s on his face or will start rubbing his muzzle on the floor, but he never shakes his head and doesn’t pay much attention to it while we are on walks. When I grab it off the hook near the door, he gets excited because he knows that he will be going for a walk. It is true that this type of collar takes some getting used to for the dog, and as the human it can be a bit difficult to determine the right fit. In my experience, it’s better to have the nose loop seemingly too loose than too tight. If the nose loop is too tight it can be bothersome to the dog. My dog hasn’t had any chafing or any injuries from the collar at all, but I noticed that I could go even looser with the nose loop than I had thought. The instructions say that the nose loop should be loose enough for you to push it to the flesh of the nose, but that the dog shouldn’t be able to paw it off. The neck strap, however, does need to be quite snug so that the collar will not slide around.
Is the Gentle Leader Worth Trying?
Overall, I am quite satisfied with the Gentle Leader, but I would like to point out that the Gentle Leader isn’t the only head collar out there. There are other similar collars like the Halti or the Snoot Loop, but the Gentle Leader was readily available in my area, so that’s what I grabbed. From what I know, all of these collars are meant to work in essentially the same manner, though they may look a bit different.
If I had to give the Gentle Leader a rating, I would give it a 4/5. It does a great job of reducing and preventing pulling and works especially well in tandem with positive reinforcement training. However, there is definitely a learning curve when it comes to using it, and my dog still paws at it from time to time, which is why it doesn’t get a full 5/5.
If you are struggling to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash, then a Gentle Leader could potentially be a great tool for you. However, there are some other options on the market, such as front-clip harnesses like the Easy Walk harness that may be more suitable. If you try a head collar and your dog just can’t get used to it or is constantly fighting it no matter what you do, then something like the Easy Walk harness could be a better, safer option.
*I am not sponsored by or otherwise affiliated with any of the brands mentioned in this article.