April 2, 2014 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I have a few questions about getting a Gentle Leader for our dog. Looking for answers and firsthand experiences.

Apple, the half-pug half-beagle (i.e. hungry nose on legs) pulls during her walks. She's really, really food motivated so she'll beeline for food laying on the ground and being consistent about not letting her have it has done exactly jack shit. On the plus side, she's really good at picking out "food" front "not food." On the minus side, if she eats so much as a bread crust during the walk, she spends the rest of it with her nose glued to the ground and pulling.

Our vet, who is a really amazingly great vet, suggested a Gentle Leader. I have a few questions:

-Is the only one out there the brand-name Gentle Leader one? Or is there a generic name that I can't find? (If so, is there one better than the brand-name one?)

-Is there a way to make it look less like a muzzle? Do they make one that looks less like a muzzle? We live in a Hasidic neighborhood and basically Hasidic Jews' opinion of dogs ranges from "distaste" to "mortal terror" and many of the adults and kids don't know how to behave around a dog and freak out, which makes her curious and attentive (food? hugs?) which freaks them out more and etc. People are already backing themselves into fences and guarding their children/siblings now, so I can only imagine what'll happen if I'm leading around a dog with what looks like a muzzle. The whole point of the thing will be defeated if it freaks out the neighborhood.

-How can I tell if she's uncomfortable with it to the extent that she shouldn't have it on? She is an annoyingly delicate little flower and easily irritated (in the 'skin irritation' sense.) I know being led by the face won't be the most delightful thing for her, but I want to stop using it before she ends up with blisters or something.

Any other tips, hints, whatever welcome too.
posted by griphus to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Gentle Leader for my dog. I think there are other generic brands but I have the actual brand one.

My dog is dark-haired and we have the black one so it blends in. People are sometimes confused about it (and uninformed dog owners love to tell me that it's sitting too high on his neck), I agree. However since they can clearly move their mouths it becomes obvious that it's not a muzzle.

I really like the Gentle Leader. It's not a miracle product, and you have to be consistent. It works well for us in combination with obedience training (especially the word "walk" for loose-leash walking, and "leave it" to not grab stuff off the ground).

That blog link you provided is the first time I've heard anything negative about the GL. Seriously you'd have to have it on your dog a *lot* and the dog would have to be pulling a lot for it to cause that kind of irritation.
posted by radioamy at 4:20 PM on April 2, 2014

I have a Gentle Leader for my beagle. It has worked wonders for our walks - he is just as food motivated as your Apple so something to rein in the tugs has been wonderful.

I can speak about the "muzzle" appearance. Yep, it looks like a muzzle. I've gotten very quick at saying, "Oh, he's real friendly. It's not a muzzle - it's a leader. Like power steering for a dog!" This my not help if folks are climbing fences before you get a chance to speak.
posted by m@f at 4:23 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

We tried a Gentle Leader with our pooch and it wasn't a major success. Even sized correctly, he became obsessed with getting it off and it wasn't super-effective even when it stayed on. We did much better with a large harness leash that strapped across his chest and back and more walks and training to leave the leash slack. Whenever he pulled, we stopped until he slacked his leash. We also started him walking very close to us and as he learned to not pull, he was rewarded with more leash length. Eventually, he got it. It does make for a lengthy and slightly frustrating walk until the dog figures it out, though.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen a head collar that doesn't look a little bit muzzle-like from the perspective of an untrained eye.
posted by quince at 4:36 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might also check out the Easy Walker, and similar harnesses. We switched our dog over from a gentle leader and realized that the gentle leader had been stressing her out for the year or so we used it.

The key thing to understand about the Easy Walker is that while it may look like a normal harness, the key feature is that the leash attaches at the front, rather than over the shoulders. With a standard harness, the dog has even less reason to ease up than they do with a standard collar. With the Easy Walker, well, I'm not sure, I guess it pulls them off balance. Whatever it does, it seems to dissuade them from pulling without inflicting trauma.
posted by Good Brain at 4:41 PM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Gentle Leader makes another product called the Easy Walk that is a body harness rather than a head harness. I love the Easy Walk because when the dog pulls, s/he ends up facing back in the direction s/he was originally pulling (also, the bewildered look on the dog's face when this happens is utterly hilarious and will compel you to say, "How did I get here?!" in David Bryne's voice every time).

I tried a Gentle Leader and also a Halti head harness on our amazingly stubborn labrador. He ate through the mouth strap on one of them the first time out (I don't remember which one that was) and figured out a way to hunch his head into his shoulders and pull hard even with a head harness on. He hasn't been able to figure out how to circumvent the Easy Walk at all.
posted by jamaro at 4:43 PM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used a Gentle Leader with my chow mix with great success.

Yes, some people were freaked out. Too bad for them.

It did eventually leave a slight impression in the top of his snout. Not because it was tight, just from having the hairs pressed down in that one spot. It bothered no one but me.

It kind of sucked wanting to take cute spontaneous photos with Hannibal Lechdog, but I got over that.

Seven was usually a pretty good boy, but he was always better on walks with the Gentle Leader.

posted by Room 641-A at 4:51 PM on April 2, 2014

We have used a Halti with on our standard poodle with great success. I recommend that brand over others we tried--better quality and appears more comfortable to her.

Properly fitted, the Halti lets her open her mouth wide, easily take treats and that makes it clear to anyone paying attention that it's not a muzzle.
posted by donovan at 4:54 PM on April 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

In addition to the products you're considering I also suggest the Wonder Walker. It really gives you great leverage on your dog and has virtually solved the pulling problems we once had with our older girl.
posted by kindall at 4:59 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason you're not looking at an Easy-Walk as opposed to a Gentle Leader?

I have never really seen a Gentle Leader on a small "puggle" type of dog before.
posted by Sara C. at 5:02 PM on April 2, 2014

The generic term is "head collar" or "head halter". Halti is probably the other major brand of head collar, but there are others as well, such as the Snoot Loop, Holt, Sporn... they're all pretty similar and all could pretty much be mistaken for a muzzle. The Sporn may be the least muzzle-like, though, because it leashes up in the back like a standard neck collar.

I had the same issues as quince and jamaro with one of our dogs--if it was tight enough to not slip off it irritated the dog and she was constantly trying to pull it off, and she did sometimes pull it off and once bit through the nose strap in a matter of seconds.
posted by drlith at 5:04 PM on April 2, 2014

I had very good training results with the Sporn halter - our pit bull wore it for a week until her 'heel' was rock solid, and then I switched back to a regular collar. It works by tightening upwards and backwards under the armpits (legpits?) in direct proportion to how hard the dog pulls, which makes them immediately back off. Bonus: looks like a regular harness rather than a muzzle.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:39 PM on April 2, 2014

I'm a big fan of the Easy Walk harness (that's a self link with more details) for my terrier. Night and day.

Unfortunately, the people ("PetSafe") who make those nasty shock collar things (the preferred term is "electronic collar" or "static collar") bought the makers of the Gentle Leader and the Easy Walk, so now it's hard to recommend.
posted by notyou at 6:06 PM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

A pinch collar (not a choke chain, very different) worked well with our dog.
posted by tayknight at 6:08 PM on April 2, 2014

What has worked for Gentle Leader training for us:
When it's time to take our dog for a walk, we ALWAYS put on the Gentle Leader, even if it's a super short (<5 min) potty break. At first he would just "alligator roll" with it on and attempt to get it off, but after being SUPER CONSISTENT with ONLY taking him out for walks with the Gentle Leader on, he's made the connection that putting it on = GOING FOR A WALK GOING FOR A WALK OMG OMG OMG OMG LET'S GO I'M READY HURRY UUUUUUUPPPPP!!!!!
posted by gumtree at 6:23 PM on April 2, 2014

Just wanted to mention that I tried the Easy Walk harness for my dog (15 lb terrier mix), and it would be great for a few minutes and then all of a sudden he would be out of it. I see a lot of dogs with that type of harness so it must work for a lot of them, but for whatever reason it didn't fit my dog properly even with a lot of adjusting.

Actually looking at your dog again the one thing I'd be concerned about with your dog is that his snout is short-ish and the nose loop might come off with the GL.
posted by radioamy at 6:52 PM on April 2, 2014

I walk my sister's dog a lot and he is a puller. He is also really good at getting the Gentle Leader off in less than two seconds. The Easy Walk harness has worked much better with him; when he pulls, it just turns him back towards me. It's really gotten him over the pulling.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:55 PM on April 2, 2014

Also bear in mind it's possible to train your dog to walk nicely beside you and leave tasty morsels alone, without using such equipment. It sounds as if the problem isn't that she's pulling per se, it's that she's constantly on the look out for food and not paying attention to you. A harness or head collar isn't going to improve that.

As she's super food motivated that should make training go well! Good luck!

Try these videos:
Loose-lead walking
Default Leave it
Leave it (1) (2) (3)
posted by mymbleth at 1:59 AM on April 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I use a pinch collar with prongs on the inside of the collar.

It looks horrifying, and my first response when seeing one was, "I'm not putting that on my sweet little puppy!" But the points are dull, and while pulling on it hurts, it doesn't hurt *that* much (try it on your arm to see). And my dog loves it, she goes nuts if I so much as touch it (because it's walk time!), and absolutely doesn't act afraid of it in any way. And because it does hurt to pull, she doesn't pull nearly as hard - she would literally choke herself on the old choke collar that I used to use.
posted by Hatashran at 6:09 AM on April 3, 2014

I highly recommend the gentle leader, as it's worked wonders with a pull-happy lab, but I'd warn you to be prepared for your (adorable) dog to be able to slip out of it. I would definitely 'practice' at home to figure out if she's an escape artist before hitting the streets. Of the 3 household dogs I live with, one wears a gentle leader, one wears a pinch-prong collar, and the other wears a full took a lot of experimenting with each type of restraint on each dog to figure out what works best for them (silly snowflake puppies). Working on the command of "Leave it" or something similar would probably benefit you both. Good luck!
posted by csox at 7:28 AM on April 3, 2014

A gentle leader (I found the halti didn't fit as nicely as the gentle leader) worked really well for our lab mix, who was dopey and quite enthusiastic. It didn't teach her life habits, but it allowed me to walk her without killing my back.

Our beagle was another matter. Beagles seem to have a state, where they completely forget everything they know, feels no pain, forgets they have a body and can only fixate on one thing. When our beagle gets that way (sniffing another dog does this more likely to her than food), she's an insane deranged squeaking yelping beast. No memory of being a dog at that moment. I worried that she'd break her neck with the gentle leader. That combined with the fact that she has pretty good leash manners when she's not insane led me not use the gentle leader with her.

I never tried a front clip harness, that seems interesting.
posted by nobeagle at 7:50 AM on April 3, 2014

I don't use it with my dog, but I don't find anything "nasty" about electronic collars when used appropriately. They allow your dog a much larger range while giving you control over it. Especially effective for dogs who who hunt or enjoy time off-leash. A friend of mine has used one with his dog for over two years and has probably had to nick the dog (using the electric setting) two or three times over that period, usually the beep or vibration function is sufficient to control the dog.
posted by OuttaHere at 8:03 AM on April 3, 2014

If you do go for a head halter or a front or side fastening harness for you dog, go to the product website and watch the how-to videos carefully.

There is perception that these are "gentle" devices. There is actually quite a bit of risk if used or fitted improperly.

If you plan to use a halter type collar, you might want to talk to customer service about using their product on a flat faced dog.

You will only get so far with tools. Training is what you need so mymbleth has the best advice.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2014

Oh, yes, trying to walk a food-driven hound. The gentle leader was the only thing that controlled my half-hound. He got a callus on his nose, but no blisters. It was great, but he still pulled. And some people still never believed me that it wasn't a muzzle. It helped TONS, but by itself a head halter wasn't enough. We needed training + halter to curb that amazing hound nose power. Good luck!
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:10 PM on April 3, 2014

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