Gentle Leader Training: 3 Common Misconceptions

By Daniel Stevens and Martin Olliver

The Gentle Leader® is a dog collar that looks and works differently than a traditional dog collar that goes around the neck. It is a "head harness" that consists of a nylon nose strap and neck strap. The lead is attached to a ring at the end of short strap that extends under the chin. Based on the premise of a horse's bridle, The Gentle Leader® allows owners to control the head of the dog, and by doing so they can easily control the movement of the animal.

The straps are each designed to have a specific function: the nose loop is said to mimic the practice of demonstrating pack dominance between two animals by firmly taking a dog's muzzle in their own; the neck strap is intended to calm the dog by mimicking the practice of a mother grasping her pups by the back of the neck.

Dogs tend to respond to an applied force by exerting an opposing force, which is why they often respond to a backwards pull of lead with more pulling. The Gentle Leader® is designed to reverse this behavior, and arrest forward movement when force is exerted on the neck.

Here are some common criticisms of the Gentle Leader® and our response to them:

  • The science is suspect. Some have questioned the concept behind the Gentle Leader®, specifically whether or not the individual straps actually accomplish what they are said to. We are slightly sympathetic to this view, in that the explanation of the lead's mechanics can sound over-determined. But regardless of whether these straps are actually mimicking pack behaviors, there is not doubt that the lead effectively controls the dog's head. When you've used it and seen it work, it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.
  • It looks like a muzzle. It's not a muzzle. A dog on a Gentle Leader® can vocalize, eat, drink, and smile.
  • Dogs hate wearing it. Many dogs will make a tremendous fuss about wearing it at first. Some will act like it's intolerable, and try to paw at it or rub their face on the ground. This display is temporary, and it's important to realize that they are not responding to pain but rather to a form of discipline.

Also, it's likely that people are so used to seeing dogs pulling on their lead and gasping for breath they no longer see THIS method of dog control as inhumane. As more people become educated about alternatives to conventional collars and leads, the more they will accept them.

The same goes for their dogs. In any case, they’ll get used to it, and fairly quickly too. We start many dogs on the Gentle Leader® collar and eventually move off it to a regular neck collar, once the unwanted behaviors have disappeared. Some owners (such as those in more rural areas) find that they don’t need a lead at all.

(Note: Like any piece of equipment, the Gentle Leader® must be used safely and properly. NEVER yank the Gentle Leader® lead).

  • In one case we've found that the dog's skin showed over-sensitivity to the nylon on its snout. We refitted the collar (both straps are adjustable), but that didn’t work. The irritation remained, so we just stopped using it.

Our opinion of the product differs from trainers who see it only as a restraining mechanism, rather than a more versatile training tool. We found the product effective in correcting pulling, lunging, and jumping, and had marked success in using it to help owners facilitate basic training commands such as "sit" and "down." The product information notes that the collar will stop unwanted barking, but we found the lead less effective in this regard.

As its name implies, we do find the Gentle Leader® more gentle and more humane than a lead that "teaches" by reminding the animal that you can stop their breathing. The only qualification would be a potentially difficult introduction period of the lead.

For this reason, and as with any training tool, the Gentle Leader Training should be introduced gradually and with positive association and reinforcement. If they come to suspect or even fear the lead, you will have a challenge on your hands.

So lead gently. They will follow.

About The Authors

Daniel Stevens is the renowned dog trainer and author of Secrets to Dog Training: STOP Dog Behavior Problems!, one of the leading dog training guides on the market today selling over 25,743 copies (and counting). He currently heads the Kingdom of Pets dog training team.

Martin Olliver has over 12 years experience in dog training and is a proud member of the Kingdom of Pets team. He is the author of the newly released Ultimate Guide to House Training.

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