What is a Gentle Leader?

If you’re a pet parent, odds are you’ve probably heard of a gentle leader before. But what exactly is this training tool?

How does a gentle leader differ from other dog leashes or harnesses? As it turns out, each leash, harness, or head strap is designed for a similar but different training technique when it comes to walking your dog. Gentle leaders, for example, are designed to help teach your dog to stop pulling on walks by specifically targeting their head. Let us explain!

Simply put, a gentle leader is an inexpensive but effective head harness for your dog that is designed to strap over their nose and attach to the leash from there. It’s purpose is to be used as a training tool to stop your dog from pulling and help keep their attention on you. It’s important to note here that a gentle leader is not a muzzle. While it looks similar in that it is designed to go over the nose and face, it does not restrain your dog from opening or using their mouth as they regularly would. It’s simply meant as an easy and (as the name implies) gentle training tool for your pup!

When thinking of the gentle leader, it might help to envision a head harness for a horse. To help us guide our horse to go in the direction we want, we pull on the reigns to either the right or the left. The gentle pressure put on the horse’s head will naturally make them turn their head that way, and their body will follow. This is very similar to the gentle leader. When our pups begin to pull, gentle tension is applied to their nose and face that redirects them back to look at you. In that second, you can give them a cue or just allow them to begin walking again. Every time your pup feels the tension and stops, the tension will release. This will happen over and over until your dog begins to associate pulling on the leash with the redirection of their head. Once your pup learns that barreling full steam ahead on a walk actually gives them the opposite of what they desire by stopping and redirecting, they will begin to slow down so as to avoid the tension and keep the walk going.

Of course, the biggest thing to remember about a gentle leader is that the training doesn’t happen over night. While the harness might be easy, inexpensive, and seem simple, all training takes time and every dog learns at different levels. Before you even begin walking with your dog using a gentle leader, it’s a good idea to get them used to the feeling of having something on their face. The first time you put on their new head collar, try pairing it with lots of cookies, praise, or toys. You can even attach it during meal times and allow your dog to eat while wearing it. This will get them used to the feeling while also associating it with something positive. Don’t be alarmed if for the first couple of days your dog actively tries to paw, dig, or rub the harness off their face. This is quite normal! Eventually, your dog will realize it’s no big deal and even begin associating it with going outside. It can be a learning process, but it sure pays off!

Finally, when outside and using the gentle leader for the first time, it’s a good idea to attach the leash to their regular collar and allow your dog the freedom to walk and get used to having it on their face in a different environment. It’s important to let your dog know that they’re not being restrained or muzzled while wearing a gentle leader and that they can still open their mouth, sniff the ground, or even bark if they want to. Once your pup gets used to wearing their gentle leader outside, now is the time to attach their leash directly to the head harness and let the training begin!

If you’d like to learn more about gentle leaders, you can always ask your local, certified dog trainer for tips, or even enroll your pup in a leash walking class. Keep an eye out for our next Leash Walking Skills class right here at AWS!