The Not-So-‘Gentle’ Leader – Part 2

By Lynn –

But there’s no Part 1, you say? I didn’t write it, and I’m not going to pretend I did!

Thanks to Roger Hild, we have a good analysis for why ‘Gentle Leaders’ might not be so ‘gentle’ after all.

(And pretty much anytime I refer to them in the future, there WILL be quotes around that whole ‘Gentle’ part. It’s about as ‘gentle’ as an angry hornet is to someone invading the nest.)

Between the headcollar propaganda handed out to us at the beginning of the quarter and the time from then until now that I have worked with dogs of varying personalities on the ‘Gentle’ Leader, I’ve decided that it’s really official now: I don’t like them at all. I’d venture to even use the word “hate,” which is something I really prefer to not do…maybe “abhor” is better.

I abhor headcollars. Especially the ‘Gentle’ Leader. To get an idea of what points on which I’ll be elaborating, please take a look at Roger’s article first. I will reference it from time to time and hit on some points from the pamphlet that comes with the product that I think need nitpicking. We weren’t given the full 64-page packet, so I’ll just work with what I have and try to keep his format going for clarity.

– On the first page, there is a stop sign telling the owner to please read the literature, because the ‘Gentle’ Leader “fits and works differently than any other collar or halter you may have used before.” (This writer notes: The only thing special about this design is that is meant to be fitted tightly…SO tightly, in fact, that if you can fit a finger through it, it is too loose. Adding to this pressure by pulling on the leash attached at the bottom of the jaw to, for example, make an unruly dog sit [as we are instructed to do quite firmly when needed] creates an enormous pull on a sensitive area. And since we know that pressure is the measure of force over area [Chad explains it nicely in regards to corrections on a buckle collar], we are not just setting up the dog for some type of cervical vertebral injury…we all but guaranteeing it. Add to this the extremely narrow [padding be damned] noseband that is tight even when fitted properly, and the only difference between how this collar works versus other collars/headcollars is that the dog might be in more physical discomfort.)

– Page One, under the “Why/How the ‘Gentle’ Leader Works” states: “‘Gentle’ Leader’s patented design places 80% of the pressure at the back of the neck, taking advantage of the opposition reflex. Your dog will instinctively lean back against the pressure, putting an end to leash pulling forever.” (This writer notes: If indeed this were true, then dogs would not be able to be walked at all with this headcollar. Were the dog to lean back against the leash, the pressure from the handler pulling forward on the leash translates to even more pressure at the back of the neck…and were the opposition reflex working at the time, the only thing driving the dog forward would be immeasurable discomfort. By looking at the design of the headcollar, it’s also obvious that when the dog actively pulls forward [or the handler back], all of the pressure is directed through the nose loop and onto the muzzle, with no engagement whatsoever from the neck strap. Again, this translates to anything from mere annoyance to outright discomfort for the dog…and that’s if it even acknowledges that it’s wearing the headcollar.)

– Again, on Page One: “Never jerk or yank the leash…A smooth, gentle pull is all you’ll need.” (This writer notes: Somebody misunderstood something here; the reason dogs pull on the leash is because the owner is pulling back. With a dog who is intent on pulling, there is no such things as a “gentle pull” back toward the handler, and we’ve already discussed how the combination of neck strap fit and leash handling is setting up the dog for injury. A pull can be countered by another pull. A pull countered by a quick jerk-and-release can only be countered by not pulling…and thus eliminating the problem. Most of the dogs I have walked on this headcollar, no matter how much ‘gentle pulling’ I do, will still pull. They just get annoyed that I’m interrupting their outdoor time with something so trivial as making them come back to me.)

– Page Two goes over the fit, writing that “The neck strap MUST be…positioned above the Adam’s apple in front…and fit very snugly so that you can barely only squeeze one finger underneath.” (This writer notes: They go on in the video to outline how this is natural and all fine, since, if you place the edge of your hand right underneath your jaw above your Adam’s apple, you can still breathe just fine. Of course you can! You’re not being strangled by a strap that you can barely fit a finger through! There’s a reason that dogs on a properly-fitted ‘Gentle’ Leader all sound like those who pull like a train on a choker: they can’t breathe properly.)

– Roger goes over the part where you should begin using the headcollar at 8-10 weeks of age if possible. I’d like to add the question as to Why? Why are we using maximum force and compulsion on a puppy, who is supposed to be learning positive things about her environment and some basic foundation obedience? Why do we want to begin using the mythical “opposition reflex” on a puppy who doesn’t even know what a collar is, much less how to walk on a leash?

– Page Three adds a warning about using the “Gentle” Leader on brachycephalic dogs, noting that “It is typical for these dogs to frequently experience breathing difficulties when under stress because of their physically limited airways. If their usual breathing difficulties increase when wearing the headcollar, immediately discontinue and consult your veterinarian.” (This writer notes: So we are already admitting that brachycephalic breeds have trouble breathing to begin with. Why are we following such ‘professional’ advice to restrict their airway even more? And how, in regards to the likes of English Bulldogs, are we even supposed to fit the nose loop over that huge rope between their nose and eyes? Not only are we making breathing even more difficult for them, but we are now also introducing the possibility that they might actively resist and fight the headcollar, adding even more stress to the situation and creating even more of a breathing problem since they are in fight-or-flight mode and have a need for even more oxygen?)

– Page Four begins with some excuses about how “It may take your dog several minutes to adjust to the new sensation of the ‘Gentle’ Leader.” (This writer notes: Try several months, even years. The dog which has given up pawing at his nose resorts to rubbing it on the grass whenever possible, or acting catlike and rubbing his face against any human who might offer some sympathy. Resistance need not always overt: however, because many people refuse to look at alternatives to these headcollars, it is almost always futile for the dog.)

– Page Four goes on to justify how, the more the dog fights the headcollar, the worse off he would be without it: “…the dogs that resist the most are those who want to remain ‘top dog’–so you might say they’re the ones who need it the most!” (This writer notes: Bullocks. Cowpie. Horse manure. Yeah, right. However you choose to say it along lines similar to those, you will most likely not be wrong. Please refer to the Part II of the Stop Making Excuses miniseries as to why dogs fight the nose loop. It is as confrontational, if not moreso, than performing an Alpha roll on a dog. Most trainers today agree that the Alpha roll is antiquated in that it forces dogs to submit and gives them no choice in the matter, along with placing the owner/handler in danger of a bite…thus, why it is not really recommended on a widespread basis. Forcing a dog to submit through the use of a ‘Gentle’ Leader headcollar, as described exactly in their packet, is the same concept: no choice, no release, and as confrontational as it gets. Certainly not something a “pure-positive” trainer would ever want to recommend, right? Then why do they insist on doing so?)

I’m going to stop there. Stay tuned, and I will make every effort to provide some interesting eye candy dedicated to showing just how ‘gentle’ these headcollars can be to a dog. Hint: anytime I see raw skin and/or blood, ‘gentle’ is not exactly the first word that comes to mind!

In the meantime, I will leave you with an interesting 2AM lecture from Mike. He’s a little strange, and uses some weird ways of getting his point across, but it’s worth the watch. It’s important, too, to watch the whole thing, to determine exactly WHY he’s dressed the way he is: in fact, I have taken it to heart within reason. If I wouldn’t use it on my dog, or any dog I train, then it’s not going on the dog. After reading through the ‘Gentle’ Leader packet (even without having read Roger’s article!) and analyzing what it said, no way would I use it on me! Take a look at Hunkie as well: he looks almost exactly like Zeke, but with a chunkier Lab-type body. (Thanks to him, my dog no longer wears a “pinch collar”…she now wears a Gentle Necklace!)