How to Train Your Dog to Use a Gentle Leader

Easy
1-5 Days
General

Introduction

Are you plagued by a pulling pooch?

Tugging on the lead and refusing to walk to heel are common problems that most pet parents are familiar with. The dog that lunges forward turns a pleasant stroll into a battle of wills and can ruin an otherwise relaxing walk. But worse than this, a strong dog can pull an owner over or become dangerously out of control.

What's to be done?

There is no shortage of training aids that are said to cure pulling. However, most of these rely on inflicting pain or discomfort on the dog, such as prong collars, choke chains, or electric collars. For those wanting a healthy, happy relationship with their pet pal then ruling through fear is not an acceptable option.

Defining Tasks

Enter Prof Robert Anderson and dog trainer Ruth Foster. They devised the Gentle Leader (™) as a humane way to guide and control strong dogs. It works in two ways: by utilizing pressure points on the neck and nose that have a calming effect, and by turning the dog's head up towards the owner.

The Gentle Leader is a headcollar that fit snugly around the neck and muzzle. It is equally suitable for pups and adults, although the dog does require to have a snout, so is not suitable for flat-faced breeds such as pugs.

Getting Started

When leash walking while wearing a Gentle Leader, the dog pulls and his head is turned up and backwards, discouraging him from surging further ahead. 

As with any new collar, some dogs may take a while to get used to wearing the leader. It's not usual to paw or rub at the halter in an attempt to remove it. Simply distract the dog, perhaps even walking briskly forward and encouraging the dog to follow, then give him treats for obeying.

Key to successful training with a Gentle Leader (™) is to use positive, reward-based training methods and only to use gentle pressure on the lead. Never tug, snatch, or pull hard on the lead as this will frighten and confuse the dog and possibly even injure him.

The Perfect Fit Method

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Perfect Fit method for Use a Gentle Leader
Step
1
Size correctly
The Gentle Leader comes in small, medium, and large sizes. Select the most appropriate option for your dog.
Step
2
Adjust the headcollar to your dog's size
- To do this, fit the neck strap and alter the size so that it is a snug but not too tight. Aim to fit one finger between the strap and the neck. - Remove the neck strap by opening the clip. - Now slide the nose loop over the dog's muzzle and clip the neck strap into place. - Adjust the sliding clamp up under the dog's chin. When correctly placed, the nose and neck strap should come together in a 'V' rather than an 'L'.
Step
3
Celebrate!
The dog is now wearing the Gentle Leader. Give him lots of praise.
Step
4
Start walking
Clip the leash onto the control ring and away you go!
Recommend training method?

The Stop Pulling Method

Effective
2 Votes
Stop Pulling method for Use a Gentle Leader
Step
1
Walk forward
Walk your dog on a leash with the slack taken up.
Step
2
Hold tension
When the dog pulls ahead, maintain tension on the lead. The dog's head now turns towards you, restricting the forward surge.
Step
3
Loosen tension
Once he slows his pace, slacken the tension on the lead. This helps him understand that the absence of pulling returns his head to a more natural position.
Step
4
Reward!
Once walking beside you, praise the dog and reward him.
Step
5
Be proactive
Learn to anticipate when the dog is about to surge ahead. For example, once his shoulder passes your leg, apply gentle tension on the leash to raise and turn his head.
Step
6
Reward!
As soon as he falls back into stride, release the tension and praise him.
Recommend training method?

The Walk-to-Heel Method

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2 Votes
Walk-to-Heel method for Use a Gentle Leader
Step
1
Choose a side
Decide which side you want the dog to walk to heel, and stick with this side.
Step
2
Walk forward
Hold the leash with a small amount of slack in it. Walk forward and encourage the dog to follow. If he hangs back, encourage him with a treat.
Step
3
Lure as needed
If he still doesn't move forward, apply gentle pressure to the leash while luring him with the treat. As he moves off, release the tension on the leash and praise him.
Step
4
Introduce command and praise
Once by your ankle, give your cue command, e.g. "Heel" and praise him as he walks. If he surges ahead, follow the method to stop pulling.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 09/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jack
lab
16 Months
2 found helpful
Question
2 found helpful
Jack
lab
16 Months

Jack is a very strong dog having a hard time walking and restraining him when he want to go after something how long would this take to train as i work out of town and only have one day off during the week

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Doug, Used correctly you should see a small amount of difference in the pulling during the first four walks. After the first four walks, the Gentle Leader should improve the pulling a little bit more every time that you use it as long as you are following a training method also, to teach him how to avoid the corrections and where to walk. Teaching Jack to pull without having to use the Gentle Leader will take much longer however. Typically that would take around four months to train, with walks happening at least three times per week. If you are only taking him once per week, then it might take as long as one year to not need the Gentle Leader anymore. To speed up the training you might want to look into hiring a trainer who will teach your pup to "Heel" while you are at work. Some trainers will do Day Training, where they will come to your home and train the dog while you are away. Hiring a trainer to come at least two times per week, in addition to your one session with your pup, would significantly speed up the training process. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Roxie
German Shepherd
11 Months
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Question
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Roxie
German Shepherd
11 Months

Roxie is very strong and several training methods have not been successful in stopping her from pulling on her leash. We recently hired a trainer who uses a gentle leader. We are trying to walk her twice a day but even with the leader it's a challenge. Pulling back does not turn her head and she continues to pull ahead. What are we doing wrong?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pamela, Without seeing how the Gentle Leader has been put on and how you are using it, I cannot answer your question accurately. I suggest looking up some how-to YouTube videos on how to fit and properly use a Gentle Leader. It sounds like the strap below the chin could be fitted wrong or the entire Halter put on backwards -- so that the chin strap is at the back of her head. Also, make sure that when you pull back on the gentle leader you are pulling the leash toward you, to the side, not straight back. When a rider steers a horse, she often will let go of one side of the reigns so that the reigns pull on just one side of the horse -- turning the head toward that side of the reigns. If the riding pulls both reigns straight back at the same time, the horse will stop. If the leader is put on correctly and you are using it as shown in how-to-videos, then the issue is probably training in combination with the gentle leader. A gentle leader is a tool. It is designed to level the playing field so that your dog CANNOT over-power you while walking him. It will not train her by itself. Ultimately, if you took the gentle leader off she would probably be down the street, not-looking back. Her focus would not be on you. Her brain needs to be engaged as well as her body. She needs to learn through practicing turns and changes of speed OFTEN how to cooperate with the gentle leader and pay attention to you. I am an advocate of using tools because sometimes they are needed, even for safety, but training that engages your dog's brain also needs to be practiced while your dog is using the device. Check out the article that I have linked below and follow the "Turns" method while she is wearing the gentle leader. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Emmitt
Shepherd
2 Years
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Question
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Emmitt
Shepherd
2 Years

He won't walk withe lead... he keeps pawing at it and trying to rub his nose into the ground to get it off... what do I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dede, first, watch some videos online to make sure it's fitted properly and not too tight. Some dogs are more sensitive to the gentle leader than others, especially very visual dogs. You can either choose another no-pull device - such as a front clip harness, or work to desensitize him to it. Check out the video on harness introduction linked below. Practice easing pup into putting his face into the gentle leader and praising and rewarding him for gradually leaving it on without bothering it, for longer and longer. Practice this inside before you start walks with it. The video below is a standard harness, not gentle leader, so details will look different, but you can see the process of gradually introducing, letting pup move into the harness on their own, and increasing how long it stays on for as they improve. The dog in the video was not nervous about that harness so it was done in one video for the sake of time. For your pup, this will probably be broken down into lots of little sessions over the course of a week. Harness introduction how to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title When pup is ready to wear the leader for walks, work on pup staying with you due to them being focused on you, so they feel the leader's correction less at first. When pup starts to bother the leader, tell pup "Let's Go!" excitedly and pick up your pace to get pup's attention back on you - even a brief jog. Check out the article linked below for ways to build pup's focus with heel during the walk. - Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rodger
Border collie mix
8 Months
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Question
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Rodger
Border collie mix
8 Months

He pulls on the lead when he gets excited. As well will this help if he sees another dog or person from barking at them?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Guadalupe, Different tools work best for different dogs, but the gentle leader typically will help with excited pulling. I suggest combining it with teaching him to Heel though for it to be most effective. Check out the "Turns" method from the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel It will not stop barking for all dogs. If he is more focused on you, looking to you for direction, and calmer due to learning how to heel and pay attention, then it can indirectly decreased barking simply by addressing his over-arousal during walks. It is not specifically designed to stop barking though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
King
Golden Retriever
7 Months
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Question
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King
Golden Retriever
7 Months

My dog always causes trouble around town by running away and barking at people. He also sits and wont move if I try to get him to walk with me. how should I fix this problem?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ming, Check out the Reel In method from the article linked below for teaching Come. Work on teaching off-leash commands before he is being given off leash freedom to ensure he will come back. You can also practice walking him on a long leash in a spacious area, such as a field, and giving him a treat whenever he chooses to come over to you without being told - so that he learns to want to be close to you when given the option of freedom. Only use a long leash for walks once he has learned not to pull you while walking on a six foot leash though - since he will be able to build up more momentum and pull harder while on a long leash. Reel In method for Come: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall For the stopping, first determine why he is stopping. Does he want to go in another direction? Is he bored? Or is he afraid of something in the area you are trying to lead him toward? If he is afraid, then spend time simply being in the area he is frightened of, at a comfortable distance, and rewarding him for his courage, calmness, and relaxed body language. Do fun things in that area, such as teach tricks, play short games, or hide large treats for him to find (make sure the area hasn't been treated with any pesticides). Work on helping him overcome any fears that are making him stop during a walk by desensitizing him to that fear and socializing him in a fun and relaxing way. If he is stopping because he is bored or just wants to go in another direction, then work on teaching a structured heel to earn his respect and trust better. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo A solid heel by itself may stop him from putting on the breaks, but if not, if he isn't afraid, give short leash tugs - tug and release, tug and release, tug and release, over and over again, with an attitude of calmness and confidence. The goal is to make stopping unpleasant for him until he starts moving again. Your body language and attitude should be confident but calm. Do not continuously pull him because dogs will naturally push back when pulled and resist even more. You want to give a quick tug, then give slack in the leash, and repeat those short tugs over and over to make his stopping uncomfortable. When he starts moving forward again, praise him. When he chooses to stay with you and continue walking by your side, then give a treat from your pocket to reward him for following. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Max
Goldendoodle
2 Years
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Question
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Max
Goldendoodle
2 Years

We just recently got Max and have been walking him 2 times a day. He is not a fan of the gentle lead. He does wonderful when it is on but it seems to irritate/tickle his nose. Is this common or do we need to adjust the fit? When I take it off of him after our walk he rubs his face in the grass.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kelli, That is very common for the first month of so of using it. Some dogs adjust right away, many take a bit to get used to it, like when a puppy is introduced to a leash for the first time. When you put it on him, use a lot of treats to help him look forward to wearing it. Check out the video linked below to see if you are fitting it correctly. https://youtu.be/UBofFGp-Wzc If he doesn't adjust to the sensation after a month and seems very bothered by it while walking - rubbering his face after is normal, then you way want to switch to a no-pull front-clip harness, but I wouldn't be too concerned this soon. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Coco
Jack Russell Pit
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Coco
Jack Russell Pit
2 Years

If I use the gentle lead, will coco result back to her ways after Its taken off or is it a permanent fix? Also how long should I use the gentle lead to get her to stop pulling after it’s taken off?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Khrystyna, Whether you need the gentle leader long term or not depends on what additional heel training you do. The gentle leader by itself without further training, will not teach pup to focus on you and stay beside you - which is ultimately what prevents pulling when no devices are used. It will deter pulling while it is worn and give you an opportunity to work with a strong dog, so that you can teach heel more easily - without being pulled down the sidewalk during training. I do suggest gentle leaders in many instances as management tools that can make other training easier, but it needs to be combined with heel training for you to be able to phase it out later. Check out the Turns method from the article linked below for a method on teaching heel. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel The goal is to get pup to the point where they are actually focused on you and staying in heel position and the leash is staying slack all the time - so that you aren't dependent on the gentle leader's corrections while walking anymore. When pup can keep the leash loose all the time and actually focus on you because of the heel training you have done, then you can phase the gentle leader out. How long you should use the gentle leader for depends completely on pup's skill level with heel and how long it takes them to get to the point where their leash stays slack and they are focused on you during the walk. How often you practice, your teaching skills, pup's personality, pup's drive, pup's motivation and focus on people, ect...all play into how long that will take. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Tanner
BC mix
3 Years
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Question
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Tanner
BC mix
3 Years

My Tanner is new to our home. Not sure of his age or exact breed. The issue I'm having is that he is like a hoover vacuum. He walks into a room and if he sees something on the floor he has it in his mouth before I know it. He also counter surfs. I try to use leave it but as soon as he sees something he wants he zones me out. Is this an issue I can use his gentle leader to train. If I have it on him in the house on a leash when he goes to get something I say leave it. Do a quick pull on the leash and when he looks at me and breaks the stare of what he wants I treat him. Is this a good method or is this going to jam me up later?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
823 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ronaele, You can use leash corrections as part of your training strategy - to help with listening to you and responding to your commands, but you will also need to work on him leaving food alone when you are not present as well. First, when you say Leave it, correct with the leash tug, then reward when he is focused on you. Make sure that you are only correcting if he doesn't obey leave it - don't do the leave it and leash pull at the same time - give him a chance to back off of the item and earn a treat, and correct if he makes the wrong choice and starts to go for the item. As he improves, practice the Leave It method with food items using the method linked below also. You want to get away from the leash once he has the concept and a bit more impulse control - so that he can respond off-leash too. The trick is to position yourself so that you can step on the food (you have set up ahead of time for practice) or block it with your body and prevent him from getting to it still if he ignores your command. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite As he improves, you want to make the leave it game harder and practice with you further away and with more tempting items to help him get good enough at it for real life. As far as when you are not there, I suggest crate training pup or confining him to a safe area in your home where he can't practice the unwanted behavior and get away with it when you aren't there to train. Also, set up some booby traps when you are there to enforce and pretend to leave. These can include things like noise makers, scat mats, and bitter spray. Food can be set on the counter and a string tied from the food to a series of metal pot lids and pans, that when the food is grabbed the metal items crash together, making a loud noise to startle pup when you are not seemingly present (be in the next room listening though and quickly go in to pick up the food so pup isn't rewarded). Make sure that you tie another string through the metal items to something secure nearby to prevent them from actually falling all the way off the counter onto pup. Bitter spray can be sprayed on some bland food items left on the floor strategically - such as a piece of bagel. Some dogs like bitter apple and bitter melon spray, so if that's the case, you can also soak the item in white vinegar so create a bad taste. You will need to booby trap lots of different types of food (only dog safe items though just in case they are swallowed), at various times for a month of so to fully convince pup to leave the food alone when you are not around. Also spy on pup from around a corner during this exercise too to make sure he isn't simply eating the food anyway and being rewarded thus. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Granite
Shepsky
9 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Granite
Shepsky
9 Months

I introduced her to her gentle leader two days ago and she just wore it around the house the first day and then took her on a walk yesterday. She frequently tried to shake it off but would walk for a little while too. Should we continue to let her get used to it on walks or let her wear it more around the house first? I want her to have a positive association with it for walks. Thanks!

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
221 Dog owners recommended

Hi! You had the right idea by letting her wear it around the house first. Continue to do that, but also start rewarding her for being calm while wearing it. You can utilize treats or what I call “life rewards” if you don’t want to utilize treats. When you go to put it on her, make it a direct positive by giving her a treat, or tossing her her favorite toy. And continue to reward her if she is calm. Do this for a few more days. This will show her that the halter comes with goodies! While walking, if she starts shaking it or pawing to get it off. Have her stop and sit. This will “reset” her and then you can continue walking. Carry treats on your walk, and be sure to reward her good walking. This process should only take about 3 weeks. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thanks for writing in!

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Question
Maya and Olivia
Mix, but look like Jack Russel
20 Months
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Question
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Maya and Olivia
Mix, but look like Jack Russel
20 Months

I've started using the Gentle Leader leash and followed all instructions to adjust them, but my dogs are still pulling and trying to lead the walk, even snuffing the floor. Would you help me understanding what I'm doing wrong?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
221 Dog owners recommended

Hello! I am assuming you have the one that goes around the head and snout. It may be tricky to answer this without follow up questions but I will do my best! You may want to carry some treats out with you the next time you go for a walk. Keep a treat in hand to lure them close to you as you're walking. Give them treats for good behavior. Right now, the good is just not pulling. Eventually you want their attention to be on you or just the walk itself. You can start rewarding them for looking at you or keeping their focus on the walk. Give it a few more weeks with the Gentle Leader. It takes a bit of time for dogs to learn not to fight the harness.

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Question
Izzy
Golden Retriever
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Izzy
Golden Retriever
6 Months

Hi, when I put the Grntle leader on him, he just lies down! It can take 30 minutes to just walk down my hall to the elevator!
Help!!

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
221 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Have you tried carrying some super tasty treats with you on your walks? You can use the treats to not only distract him, but lure him to walk next to you. Try keeping a few treats in your hand, in front of his nose while you're walking. Every minute or so, give him a treat. It can take dogs a few weeks to become accustomed to the Gentle Leader.

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Question
Shadow
Shiba Inu/American Eskimo
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Shadow
Shiba Inu/American Eskimo
2 Years

When first training with a gentle leader should there be a limit to how far they walk when getting them accustomed to it

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
221 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Usually about 20 minutes is enough. But if your dog is really refusing, you can keep it as short as 5 minutes. Always try to end the walk on a positive note while getting them used to it. So if you can only go 5 minutes for a few days, that is totally ok.

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