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Gentle Leaders May Not Be So Gentle – A Better Way to Stop the Pulling

Loose leash walking makes going for walks an enjoyable and bonding experience.

One of the first things pet parents do when they find their dog is taking them for a walk (or maybe a run is a more appropriate word as the pet parent is being pulled down the street) is to go to the store and buy head collars such as the Gentle Leader or Halti. A head collar fits over the dog’s muzzle, very much the same idea as a horse halter. The head collar is attached to a leash underneath the muzzle. As the dog moves forward, once he has reached the end of his leash, the pressure is applied and as a result the dog stops pulling.

Some people really like the head collar as an alternative to prong collars, Martingales or choke chains, but it is potentially very harmful to your dog. Worn as suggested, the collar fits pretty snug, holding the muzzle shut and there is a lot of pressure at the top of the muzzle just under the dog’s eyes.  A Halti works much the same way as the Gentle Leader but has an extra strap that is supposed to help keep the strap from pulling into the eyes.  With either product, when a dog is running forward and reaches the end of the leash, his head is snapped to the side which discourages the pulling. Between the pressure and snapping his head to the side, the pain gets the dog to stop the behavior, but in the meantime some serious neck injury could occur.

When you see the muzzle of a dog that has been wearing a head collar for years, you can often see where the bone has become concave from the wear of pressure applied. Also, it’s not uncommon to see dogs who wear a Gentle Leader or Halti with fur that is worn all the way off at the top of their muzzle at the pressure point. Can you tell we are not fans of the head collar?

So what is the best way to control pulling? Work with your dog and teach him to not pull.  With a little training your dog can learn loose leash walking and heeling. With both, your dog should stay next to you (or at least not too far ahead),  matching your direction and speed. These methods are the only reliable way of stopping a dog from pulling.  With positive reinforcement, patience, and regular practice, he will walk calmly beside you, not taking you for a walk, but walking together.

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