My Review of the Gentle Lead Head Harness: 1 GIANT and Terrible Elephant In The Room

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9 mins read

Pet parents, of course, LOVE the word ‘gentle’. I mean- who wouldn’t?

Everyday walks are supposed to be fun and humane! Dog owners are supposed to be kind, ethical and patient. Every training tool is supposed to be safe, effective and gentle. So, it’s no wonder the ‘Gentle’ Lead Head Harness is so popular!

Gentle Lead

But there’s one giant elephant in the room that no one likes to talk about…

I decided to purchase a Gentle Leader Headcollar, use it on a nice, easy walk around the neighborhood with my dog, and see what all the hype was about.

That’s when I found the mess that Gentle Leader is hiding behind their ‘gentle’ marketing scheme.

Follow along as I prepare my 3-year-old Great Dane, Banks, for her walk with the Gentle Leader Head Collar. I’ll explain EVERYTHING…

WHICH GENTLE LEAD DID I PURCHASE?

I chose to purchase the Petsafe brand Gentle Leader Head Collar because it is extremely popular with over 50,000 reviews on Amazon and almost a complete 5 star rating. It stated that it came with a training dvd, but mine did not. My order only had the Petsafe Gentle Leader easy walk harness- no training DVD

🙁 womp womp.

BELIEF: THE GENTLE LEADER HEAD COLLAR WILL SOLVE ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS

Red flag.

You will not and should not be given any promises of a ‘new dog’ after using ANY tool.

The Petsafe brand itself states that you will be able to fix poor leash manners and discourage excessive jumping or lunging:

Gentle Lead

Petsafe brand also states that there is “NO MORE COUGHING AND CHOKING: A padded neoprene nose loop puts pressure on the back of the neck instead of your dog’s throat, which prevents choking and gagging”.

The directions say to, “use the adjustable nose loop and quick-snap neck strap to properly fit the head collar on your furry friend in minutes.”

Gentle Lead

Well, let’s get started.

I’ve never been one to believe in training dogs in ‘minutes’, but miracles are miracles, right? And who isn’t down for an easy leashed walk with their canine companion.

FOLLOWING THE GENTLE LEADER HEAD COLLAR DIRECTIONS

I ain’t no scientist, but I nearly needed to be one in order to follow the directions that Gentle Leader provided. Nonetheless, I was VERY determined to follow them step by step in order to make sure I really used this head halter correctly.

Let’s dive in.

STEP ONE: POSITION THE PETSAFE GENTLE LEADER HEADCOLLAR AROUND NECK

My very well mannered, 3 year old Great Dane stared at me as I read through the first steps:

Gentle Lead

Position the neck strap as high up on the dog’s neck as possible. Neck strap must be so snug only one finger can fit under it, and it cannot rotate around the neck. (Per Petsafe brand directions found above).

We were able to successfully accomplish steps 2 and 3 on my pup’s neck.

Gentle Lead

I tried placing gentle pressure underneath the collar to make sure one finger could fit through. We were good, besides the fact that I couldn’t believe it was correct that the collar sits high on her trachea like this.

Oh well, I’m no vet.

Gentle Lead

STEP 2: FITTING THE NOSE LOOP

Next, Petsafe brand recommends that you remove what you’ve just done so that you can condition your dog to the nose loop. Keep the nose loop open while luring your dog through it by ‘offering a treat’. You will want to ‘be ready with tasty treats’ for this part.

USE TREATS TO LURE YOUR DOG

Why might you need treats for this step? Well, I can answer this question. Because your dog will hate it. Most dogs probably don’t want something putting pressure and removing full range of their mouth, nose, breathing and face- that’s just my thoughts anyways.

Gentle Lead

Nonetheless, we survived stages 4 and 5 of the Petsafe brand directions. We survived the nose loop fitting and we managed to get it around my dog’s neck and dog’s nose. (Not, I will say, without concern for the amount of intense pressure on my dog’s nose).

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STEP 3: ADJUSTING THE STRAP TO FIT PROPERLY ON MY DOG’S HEAD

Steps 3 and 4 of the Petsafe brand directions directed me to make sure that the strap was high and tight on my dog’s head, and tight enough that it does not fall off of the dog’s head, but not too tight that it can’t be pulled slightly down the nose of my dog. (Call Customer Care Center for our short nosed dogs or furry friends).

Gentle Lead

As shown, I gave it a good gentle tug against my dog’s desire and we were still up to par with the fitting

instructions.

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So far so good. 5 stars on the thorough instructions thus far- apart from the fact that my dog was coughing and could barely open her mouth.

STEP 4: CHECK THAT THE PETSAFE GENTLE LEADER MAKES A ‘V’

Next, you want to make sure your tool is actually on correct, since you may have missed a step somewhere along the way.

When properly fitted, Gentle Leaders should resemble a ‘V’ from the side, and the center bar will rest ‘just above’ the tracheal area. (Brand’s words not mine).

image 20

Taking a look at my dog- I think we have the V mastered.

I can ALREADY tell we’re going to have greater control now that I can slash her delicate throat with this durable nylon whenever I want!

Gentle Lead

We were ready to embark on our first walk. I was really impressed with my dog’s focus.

Or maybe it was just that she couldn’t breathe. Either way, she was being super quiet, and that’s all that mattered.

BREATHING DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE ACHIEVING STRESS FREE WALKS

Before we left, I made sure to read the big, bold ‘CAUTION’ at the bottom of the Petsafe Gentle Leader Head Collar Directions.

Incase you can’t read it, here’s what it says: “Follow instructions carefully when fitting and using on bulldogs and other breeds with genetically limited airways or flat noses. It is typical for these dogs to frequently experience breathing difficulties when exercising or under stress because of their physically limited airways. If their breathing difficulties increase when wearing the headcollar, immediately discontinue use and consult your veterinarian.”

Gentle Lead

Phew, good thing my dog is a Great Dane. I feel bad for other dogs that have to worry about not breathing in this great training tool! Off we go!

VIDEO OF FITTING THE GENTLE LEADER

Incase you’re like me, and have an attention span of 0, here’s a video from start to finish of me fitting the Gentle Leader onto my girl.

STEP 5: ATTACH A LEASH TO THE GENTLE LEADER

The Gentle leader is not like traditional collars. Unlike traditional collars that you typically find the leash attached behind your dog’s head, the Gentle Leader requires you to attach the collar underneath the dog’s neck.

Gentle Lead

Intrigued about the placement of the leash and the fact that the collar sits high against her neck (and tight), I did a few google searches of the anatomy of a dog’s face.

Of course, I wasn’t at all worried about making sure the Gentle Leader didn’t paralyze my dog… I just, you know, have always been interested in the nerves my dog carries in her head… Regular, everyday research here people.

DOG FACE ANATOMY

This image shows where the dog’s nerves are located, including (orange) the Trigeminal Nerve and (yellow) the Facial Nerve. The “trigeminal nerve is the part of the nervous system responsible for sending pain, touch and temperature sensations from your face to your brain”.

Gentle Lead

Hmm… It seems like, it feels like, no… it couldn’t be that the Gentle Leader Head Collars is smashing directly over the two main nerves in my dog’s face… No way- the company itself says they are GENTLE!!!!

KEEP IGNORING THE RISK AND KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

Eyes on the prize, people. Remember the goal. Basic obedience is WAY more important than your dog having function of its face.

Do not fret- putting pressure of this astronomical weight MIGHT damage their Trigeminal Nerve, BUT, it really will make SUCH A DIFFERENCE when your dog pulls.

STEP 6: TAKE YOUR DOG FOR A WALK

Next, you guessed it, begin to take your dog for an easy walk. Using the front clip harness and Petsafe GENTLE Leader, venture out to see your new dog in action.

Off we went!

Gentle Lead

MY DOG BANKS

A little bit of background- since you probably don’t care.

My dog is just a really good girl, always carries a loose leash and makes for an easy walk.

She never demonstrates ‘unwanted behaviors’… probably because I developed a relationship with her using ethical tools, I mean probably because I use the Gentle Leader.

Anyhow- I knew she was properly fitted in her Easy Walk Harness and we were ready to go.

STEP 7: WALK YOUR DOG LIKE NORMAL

Next, just walk your dog like normal while they wear the gentle leader headcollar.

I encourage you to take a video while your dog walks, turns, and moves in the easy walk harness.

Taking a video will help you notice what happens when the nose loop ‘redirects’ your dog as they turn or move or when they see a rabbit and take off or when you drop your phone and yank that leash on accident.

Here’s an example of how we are POSITIVE that the easy walk harness WILL NOT let your dog pull hard on that leash:

Because THEY CAN’T. Because they are trapped. As the quick snap buckles choke your dog, the Gentle leader ‘gently’ moves to trap their face, making it physically impossible for them to NOT behave.

Your dog deserves better than the Gentle Leader.

TAKE NOTICE OF WHEN YOUR DOG MOVES / PULLS OR TURNS

If they pull forward, the nose loop ‘redirects’ them.

Every single ‘redirect’, is attached to your dog’s head, which is attached to your dog’s neck, which not only is attached to your dog’s face but rather plastered onto their facial nervous system.

Out for a nice walk?

You see a friend and pull your arm upward to wave hello- nerve pain.

Your dog stops to smell the roses- neck crank.

You forgot your phone and turn suddenly to go inside unbeknown to your dog- neck / spinal issues.

Your dog sees other dogs up ahead and gets excited and begins to pull on leash- major no no buddy- you know better than that- here’s some chronic face pain due to damage on your Facial Nerve.

ANSWER THIS QUESTION

Do you want your dog to listen to you because you want a dog who has a great life, is happy and healthy and a functioning citizen of society?

Or, do you want your dog to listen to you simply so that you can prove that your daily walks are easy, manageable, and you’re the boss?

THE GENTLE LEADER HEADCOLLAR IS A CONTROL STATEMENT

The Gentle Leader Headcollar is not gentle.

Actually, in my opinion, it’s one of the most dangerous tools on the market for dogs.

It is not gentle on your dog’s neck, their spine, their trachea, their throat, or their face.

The Gentle Leader Headcollar is a control statement.

A way to show the world that you are in charge and your dog will do as you say- no matter what.

VIDEO OF MY DOG ON A WALK WITH THE GENTLE LEADER

THE GENTLE LEADER HEADCOLLAR IS DANGEROUS

The Gentle Leader is a marketing scam.

How foolish of pet parents to think that they can correct excessive barking safely by sewing their dog’s mouths shut.

How dangerous of pet parents to think their is an easy fix to leash pulling- all at their dog’s muscular skeletal and nervous system’s disadvantage.

THE GENTLE LEADER HEADCOLLAR IS LAZY

Not only is the Gentle Leader absolutely dangerous and dog’s hate it- but it’s SO LAZY.

You are telling your dog- do as I say or else.

You are not teaching your dog anything about how to behave on a leash, you are not creating a relationship with mutual respect, and you are not showing your dog that walks can be fun.

ACTIVE DOGS DESERVE DAILY WALKS WITH ENGAGING FUN

Your dog should be allowed to stop and smell the roses.

Your dog should stop and sniff the neighbor dog’s pee from earlier.

Dog’s live their entire lives enclosed in the house. They don’t go to work and they don’t have social lives the same way that humans do.

Allowing dogs the freedom to safely explore on their leashed walks is a gift for both parents and dog.

Restricting their every single movement down to the flinch by garnishing their face is a strip of their complete freedom- one that I will not ever stand for with my own dogs.

THE GENTLE LEADER IS ONE OF THE MOST NON-GENTLE TOOLS I’VE EVER SEEN

Overall, it was fascinating for me, as an avid e collar user, to test out a tool that I consistently see positive trainers rave about.

The Gentle Leader is spoken so highly about in the world of positive training.

But, would you rather have a tool that communicates with your dog (whether aversive or not!) WITH or WITHOUT potentially PERMANENTLY damaging their entire structure, muscles, nerves, or worse.

THE GENTLE LEADER IS A SCARY TOOL TO BE IN THE HANDS OF DOG OWNERS

The Gentle Leader scared me for many reasons:

  1. It is SO easy to put on incorrectly
  2. It can be permanently damaging if your dog pulls or turns wrong
  3. It is SO tight that it DEFINITELY restricts air flow- my dog was coughing the second she got it removed
  4. It is a ‘control’ tool- pet parents can yank when their dog is not listening and ‘snap’ them into better behavior
  5. It is being advertised to prevent other unwanted behaviors such as barking- which implies it DOES NOT allow dog’s to open their mouths to achieve a full pant/bark
  6. The immense pressure on the face can irreversible damage
  7. Dog’s hate them!

There are better options out there that don’t damage your dog’s face, neck, or spine.

I would not recommend the Gentle Leader to anyone. The only thing gentle about this tool, is the name: Gentle Leader.

Opt for an E collar.

Hello Danes

Dane lover and believer in ethical breeding, training and rescue practices. Positive + Balanced trainer, owner of rescue dogs and dogs from breeders. Love the dog in front of you.

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