Busting Myths About the Gentle Leader

Earlier we talked about why I use and recommend the Gentle Leader head collar. There are quite a few myths out there about it, so let’s explore those now. Some people say that it’s inhumane. They say that dogs hate it. I frequently hear that it’s dangerous, since a dog could injure his neck while wearing it. All of these statements are untrue.

Let’s start with the accusation that the Gentle Leader is inhumane. In order to be inhumane, a device must cause pain or injury or it must be frightening to the subject. The Gentle Leader does not cause pain in dogs any more than a regular horse halter hurts horses. There are no sharp prongs that dig into the dog, nor are there electric shock currents to zap him. It doe not frighten the dog with sudden jerks, jabs, sprays, or noises. It works on simple leverage, much like any of the front-attach harnesses. When a dog pulls on the Gentle Leader, he finds his head guided around in a circle so that he ends up looking back at his handler.

Next, the risk of injury. This accusation always strikes me as funny, since when my dog injured her neck and upper back, the veterinary chiropractor specifically recommended that I use a Gentle Leader on her to minimize the chance of re-injury. Layla was actually paralyzed for a short while due to 2 herniated discs, and the risk of re-injury (including becoming paralyzed again) was unknown. My vet was concerned that a standard collar or harness would put pressure on her injured discs, especially if she lunged or jerked on the leash suddenly, and didn’t want her to wear either one.

People who claim that the Gentle Leader can injure a dog usually express concern about a whiplash-type injury to the neck if the dog hits the end of the leash quickly or with great force. They say that the Gentle Leader will snap the dog’s neck. This ignores simple physics. If a dog hits the end of the leash while wearing the Gentle Leader, it will start to turn him towards you. If he has a lot of force behind his lunge, that force will flow through all of his body, turning him further towards you. This means that a dog walking to the end of the leash may just be turned slightly towards you, with his body still facing the direction he was going, while a dog lunging to the end of the leash will end up with his entire body facing you. I believe the risk of injury to actually be less with a Gentle Leader, since in a standard collar the dog would receive a harsh jerk to his sensitive throat at the end of a lunge.

Here’s the truth: the Premier company and the co-inventor of the Gentle Leader, Dr. R.K. Anderson, have investigated numerous claims of neck/whiplash injury caused by the Gentle Leader since it was first put on the market, and have never been able to confirm a single case. If the Gentle Leader was hurting dogs, we would know by now. It’s just not happening.

Lastly, we come to the claim that dogs hate the Gentle Leader. This is most often due to incorrect fit. If the back neck strap is not adjusted snugly enough, it will slide around and annoy the dog. This may also cause the nose band to be adjusted too tightly, which is restrictive and will also annoy the dog. If your dog doesn’t like his Gentle Leader, check the fit! You should only be able to fit one finger under the neck strap, and the nose band should be as loose as it can go without coming off.

I can tell you that in 8 years of professional training with thousands of dogs, I have only found 2 dogs who I felt were too upset by the Gentle Leader to use it. Both dogs were Pit Bull types, and one ended up having an infected tooth. The other one had some scars on his face and was generally wary about having his face touched, so likely had some past history of pain there.

It’s true that dogs often need to adjust to the Gentle Leader. However, in my experience, dogs don’t paw at a Gentle Leader any longer or more violently than puppies paw at their very first collar or harness. I find that this adjustment process goes incredibly quickly and is just not a problem. Simply associating the Gentle Leader with pleasant things for 1-2 days will usually do the trick.

I hope this helps to clear up all of the common misconceptions about this great training tool! Like any tool, the goal should be to only use the Gentle Leader while training, then transition away from it. Have you heard any of these myths before? What training tools have you found to be the most successful when working with your dog? I look forward to hearing from you!

27 responses to “Busting Myths About the Gentle Leader

  1. What is your take on the GL supressing behaviors? At work a lot of the dogs wear them and on many it has a slight calming effect. But on a few dogs it seems to actually hinder performance and they seem really shut down when wearing one, even if they are past the point of pawing at it. Do you think that has more to do with never being appropriately conditioned to enjoying wearing one?

  2. I have personally used a GL on two dogs. Neither adjusted, despite it always being associated with pleasant things. I tried it with Lok to stop his pulling on the leash. Not only did it not stop the pulling (he just pulled nearly as hard with his neck sideways, that can’t be good for him) but he completely shut down, shut me out, stopped responding to his name, and walks became even more miserable. After a couple weeks of this, I stopped using it.

    For Jun, it worked beautifully for her pulling and she was very pleasant on leash, but in two years of wearing the GL, she never stopped hating it and pawing at it. She got to the point where she would refuse to come out of her crate when she knew I was going to put it on. She would go up to strangers and rub her face on their legs to try to get it off. She came across as sweet and friendly, but as it turns out she is really not comfortable with strangers. I believe that the hatred of the GL suppressed her expression of fear which made me more likely to allow contact with people she really did not want to have contact with. I didn’t protect her, which I believe was at least part of the cause of the problems we’re dealing with now. When we started b-mod, I quit using the GL and she was instantly more relaxed on leash, though more likely to express fear by barking and lunging (I never saw this behavior on leash with the GL, even though the fear must have been there). Maybe I am totally off base, but the first veterinary behaviorist we consulted with said she saw the same things in her dog.

    I don’t dispute that what you say is true for most dogs, and I bet had I known how at the time, I could have conditioned my dogs to wear it (Jun now wears a muzzle with no discomfort or pawing and wags her tail when she sees it). But given what I’ve seen with mine (and granted, they are “special cases”) it would not be my first choice to use. If I did use it, I would make sure to properly condition a positive CER to it before just slapping it on a dog’s head–but if I were going to take the time to do that, I don’t know why I wouldn’t just train my dog to walk on leash and collar in the first place!

  3. I used the GL for two days on my giant schnauzer. It worked great, until I noticed it had rubbed the flesh of of her nose. I made sure it was adjusted appropriately, So dissappoited.

    • Lisa,
      I would definitely have to say that the GL was not properly fitted on your dog. Loose leash walking???? No pulling! How in the world could a GL rub the skin off? As a professional trainer and someone who has used the GL since its conception in the 80’s. I have only seen this happen with any headcollar when the nose loop is tightly fastened and the neck strap is drooping and slack. Add to that the dog is still pulling. This is a complication with anything continually rubbing a dogs skin. You can’t blame a product for operator error.

  4. My 6 month old dog Tucker has some serious issues walking. We have a gentle leader and we have checked the fit and he hates it and paws at it and sometimes “throws a tantrum” and will lay on the ground and not walk. The more I take him out with it the easier it gets but he still hates it and pulls the whole time. I have another dog that has none of these issues. Another issue I’m having with Tucker, at the same time, is his fear of cars. He has an intense fear of cars when they drive by, no matter what direction or how fast or slow we walk. I try to stop when a car is coming and he still FREAKS out. What can I do…??

  5. I use GL with our 7month old GSP as she pulls terribly with normal collar and leash. She’s much more manageable with GL, however still pulls quite a bit and the nose strap rides up to squish the skin near her eye and has rubbed skin on her nose. The nose strap is fitted as loose as it can without coming off. We used to have treats for her paying us attention and walking nicely, yet her gun dog nose has taken over and she has no interest in treats whilst walking. Any other suggestions to assist in her heeling better?

  6. I recently started using gl for my pitbull/shar-pei mix. He was never a big puller, but I hurt my back and couldn’t even manage with slight pulling. I worked with him so that he could get used to him and he still does paw at it occasionally when it’s on but he’ll get used to it. Pulling is down to 0%. This is a great product. Almost everyone at the vet clinic I go to uses it and I’ve seen it turn the craziest dalmation who would drag his owner down the street into a calm dog who stays by his owner’s side. Highly recommend it!

  7. I have a really sweet, mellow but very strong 3 year old black lab that I adopted a few months ago. I got a GL and she despises it. I got it because she gets really excited when she sees people especially kids around us because she LOVES children but the really big issue is when she sees any other dog she completely loses it. She is a really friendly dog and just wants to go meet anyone new but she will drag me around even into the road trying to get to them. I have an old shoulder injury that can’t handle the constant hard pulling. She wears the GL fine when the leash is loose but when she gets excited and pulls at all she then throws a tantrum at the GL she will buck like a horse, paw at it, and rub her face against the ground trying to get it off and she will start whining when she can’t get where she wants to go but she’s always done that although it has intensified with the GL. My shoulder is very grateful for the break but I don’t know how to tell what is normal adjustment and when it’s actually an issue. I’ve watched the video and used the internet and it seems to fit exactly the way it’s supposed to but she just seems to hate it so much. She normally is a really well behaved dog and is actually pretty mellow so it seems really out of character for her, she never even made a fuss when I tried the GL on repeatedly to make sure the fitting was correct. I do praise and treat her when she is walking well and I’m working on being able to break her focus on others walking by and getting her attention back to me. I’ve used the GL before with great results but her reaction seems so intense and unlike her I’m not sure how to proceed. Any advice?

  8. You haven’t spoken about the problem of excessive tightening on the dogs nose when being pulled for correction. I suspect my Standard Poodle was injured by a trainer who jerked it tight and now the dog is under the care of a vet and has yellow mucus and blood coming out of his nose. He is back into a regular harness for now and maybe forever. Goodbye trainer!

  9. Annie
    I love much of your work you put out! But I don’t agree with you here. A standard horse halter is like a lead to a dog! A rope halter is like the equivalent to a gentle leader it applies pressure to the poll and other areas an adversive and can be abused in in the wrong hands. Have good timing great! abuse it ouch big time. I have 2 horses I only work in rope halters currently half a ton of unruly horse can be dangerous but I am mindful of fallout and the effect on my horse my aim is to retrain back to normal halters if possible.I read the gentle halti blurb and cringed “natural leadership” ? Natural response to mother biting on neck bet the mares never did this to my foals! They respond to pressure much like dogs why not focus on reinforcement zone for dog. Yes being beside me is wonderful so much easier to teach a dog but it takes patience and time. Personally I used a front pull harness on my panicked dog and pre taught leash pressure (horse thing) which calms her as Murphy law is always in play.Actually being beside me is now the bestest spot my dog can imagine and she feels safe here

  10. I have a 2 year old ACD and the GL has an amazing calming affect on her she becomes the most laid back dog you could ever hope for.

  11. Thanks for the review myself I have a 1/1/2 year old Akita pit mix and too me the gentle leader is a great training tool I have used the prong collar and he was still pulling on the leash after time went bye so far so good with the gentle leader I seen a big difference right at the beginning again thanks for the review Kevin

  12. I’ve used many training tools including the gentle leader and front clip harness and the one my dogs do best is the prong collar. The prong collar turned out to be the most humane yet effective tool I’ve found. And my dogs prefer the prong and actually hated the gentle leader. I believe the gentle leader is another great toll, just didn’t work for my dogs.

  13. I used it for my first Westie and honestly, she really never did like it, however, she did learn very quickly to walk correctly on lead while wearing it, and it only took a little while before she could walk on lead beautifully with a regular collar. We have a new westie puppy and I bought one for him today. He will also learn to walk on lead using it, because I’ve seen how dogs pull and get bossy if allowed to continue the pulling behavior. And he has already started this behavior. The gentle leader just turns the dog’s head gently so that he/she stops trying to pull. As soon as they get it that pulling doesn’t work when wearing the GL, they stop the behavior. And I think the strong pull against a regular collar is probably damaging to their necks and vocal chords. So it is really for their own good. Gentle it is and I highly recommend it.

  14. Dogs can feel uncomfort too, just like you.

  15. Dogs are just like you, if you wouldn’t want it done to you, why would you do it to your furry friend?

  16. Are gentle leaders safe for brachycephalic dogs since their noses are so short and they have breathing problems. I don’t want my dog to die using one of these gentle leaders and I can’t find any information that will answer this question. Thank you

  17. The “myths” are ABSOLUTELY true. Those ridiculous head halters are the most aversive things out there. Dogs hate them for good reason. you’re putting pressure on the most sensitive part of the dog and calling it “humane.” It’s unbelievable how ensconsed into their own narrative “positive” trainers are.

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  19. Referencing ways dogs communicate to one another…..You did not address the unnatural position the Leader keeps the dog’s head in thereby prohibiting it from being able to communicate with other dogs. Dogs often send many shut off signals when they feel they are necessary and threatened. This is the dog’s interpretation NOT the human’s. They can be overt or subtle. Since you are an experienced Trainer, I’m sure you know and understand their absolute importance in dog to dog communication. Hopefully, you teach those signals long before the use of any tool. If your students don’t understand and watch for them, then the use of the Leader (and other control methods) could be dangerous on the physical and more so, on the psyche levels. I’ve seen many dogs shut down completely and this Is rarely addressed. Also, since you mention horses, learning sensitive leash handling skills before even attaching a leash is as important in dog training as good rein handling skills in horse training.

  20. My dog is scarred on his nose because of the not so gentle leader. Don’t use it. It’s terrible.

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  22. You don’t want to mention nerve damages that sits across nassal and wraps around to under jaw and up to TMJ?
    I am a physical therapist with honours in equine and canine.
    Halters and bridles for a horse is cruel, again for the same reason of nerve damage.
    Nerve damage can create face paralysis, head shakers, head wobblers, list can go on.

  23. just started using the gentle lead on my service dog in training and I got kicked out of their group because apparently somebody said I was being rude to the admin an advertising wand unsafe tools that the gl is unsafeand to use were saying things like the gl can cause damage the dog snout and neck I prefer the gentle lead over a prong collar or whatever but yeah I will be using the gentle lead now on because my service dog in training listens better with it but yeah I just wanted to put that out there I used it on two of my dogs before and it was fine once they got used to it had no problems

  24. My male Lab is 2 years old and weighs in excess of 100 pounds. I would not attempt to walk him without a gentle leader. He is very hyper with a mind of his own!! As soon as I get the GL out of the closet he calms right down, I put it on him and away we go!! Best behaved ( hahaha) dog on the block!! Would not walk him without it!! Thank you so much for this wonderful device!!

  25. Over the course of 25 years of having dogs, I have the most pulling dog I’ve ever had. I have tried numerous leads, including the freedom harness and just switched the GL. She still tries to sprint ahead of me and pull, in spite of when she does this I immediately go the other way to get her used to following me, constantly give snacks when she does end up at my left heel as I am trying to lead her to do. It is adjusted correctly. Big problem when we pass by other dogs (with whom she wants to play, communicate). I don’t know what to do… a 3-year old playful energetic dog deserves more walking, but I find myself dreading the walks and ending them too soon. Hoping for ideas.

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