In Praise of the Gentle Leader

The Gentle Leader is a special collar that fits on a dog’s head, much like a halter on a horse. It’s one of my favorite training tools, and also one of the most misunderstood among both the general public and professional trainers.

I use the Gentle Leader for every foster dog who comes through my doors, and it’s rare for a dog not to be as comfortable wearing it as a regular flat collar within 2 days. The secret? I put the Gentle Leader on before pleasant things (mealtime, walks, playtime, Kong time, etc), and take it off when the pleasant activity is finished. I also ignore any pawing. I find that many owners unintentionally reward this pawing because they pay attention to it. My dogs are trained to stick their noses through the nose loop of the Gentle Leader as soon as I hold it out, and they do this happily because they know it means Good Things Are Going to Happen.

So, why do I like the Gentle Leader? For me, this management tool makes the training process quicker and more effective. If I can control my dog’s head, I can control my dog’s focus. I’m able to redirect him if he becomes focused on a squirrel, another dog, or a biker outside. I’m able to teach him right from the start to walk on a loose leash, not to bark, and to sit politely for greetings. There’s a reason veterinary behaviorists and well-known professional trainers use Gentle Leaders with their own and clients’ dogs. They work. They’re humane. They’re effective. They save owners time and prevent dogs from engaging in bad behavior until the dog is trained.

The Gentle Leader is a must-have for working with aggressive or reactive dogs, but I also use it in basic training with all puppies and adolescents, or with untrained or strong adults. There are so many uses! A Gentle Leader and drag-line in my house allows me to teach house manners quickly and easily.

My goal is always to train every dog to a point where he doesn’t need any equipment (including a collar or leash). I find that the Gentle Leader is a great place to start the training process, but I don’t stop there. I work with the dog and teach him to walk nicely on leash, ignore distractions, and greet people politely. Once he knows these skills, we fade the Gentle Leader and the dog instead wears a flat buckle collar on his neck. I could certainly teach these skills on that flat collar to start with, but I find that dogs just learn faster with the Gentle Leader, and it’s easy enough to fade.

In the future, we’ll discuss some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding the Gentle Leader, other training tools I use, and some of the training games I play using the Gentle Leader. In the meantime, please comment below with your thoughts. Have you ever used a Gentle Leader (or any other brand of head collar), and what did you think? Did your dog adjust easily to it? What other training tools have you found to be helpful?

9 responses to “In Praise of the Gentle Leader

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  4. Bonjour, je suis française mais je lis régulièrement vos articles :) J’ais essayée de faire porter un licol à ma chienne qui est réactive, mais j’ais échouée. Elle essai de l’enlever systématiquement… :/

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  6. I use the Gentle Leader for my Black and Tan Coonhound puppy. After a bit of time, she now waits patiently for me to put it on her. It’s the best purchase I EVER made! No pulling, complete control. And if any one else tries to take her out without it, she pulls them like crazy! It’s a must have.

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  8. My service dog was trained with a gentle leader and it sounds like she liked it originally. But in a home she was placed in right before mine, she was apparently not treated well by one of the humans. She was only in that home for a month but got a huge fear of her halti and would shut down once it would go on her. Then I in my ignorance made it tighter to make sure she could feel it when the attached leash was slightly tugged. I feel horrible about that now because it fed her fear of it which I didn’t know she had. I want to wean her off it since it feels like her experience with it has been ruined, but it is also the signal to her that she is working when we go out, and if she doesn’t wear it she feels as free to be a goof ball as she is just walking around our neighborhood. I’ve worked hard with her to make the halti a happier time like it use to be for her, and she is so much better about not shutting down, but is still massively unhappy with it. I’m hoping to replace the work signal with something else, especially a word, so the halti can just not be used any more, but hesitate when she is still so unhappy, since I don’t want to make that new word signal associated with being unhappy.

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