Gentle Leader & Other Dog Training Devices

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

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“My dog, Sedona was acting like a crazy dog today. She was pulling, lunging, jumping, barking, and growling at every dog she saw during her first walk. She’s been really good lately at paying attention to me and my husband when we ask her to, but today she was in one of her moods and was acting a darn fool. We couldn’t even get her to look at us. My husband, who was pretty mad at her, decided enough was enough and he was getting a Gentle Leader Halti. He’s wanted to try a citronella collar and a shock collar and I put my foot down on those, but I agreed to the Gentle Leader. Should I use a GLH with a reactive dog like Sedona? I just took her on a walk and was easily able to get her to pay attention to me when she saw some dogs that she always barks at. I guess I want some reassurance that this contraption isn’t going to make her worse. I don’t really see how it would, but it’s like it’s a “too good to be true” kinda thing. Is it supposed to be that easy to get her to look at me? I still feel like something is not right here.”

- Sedona's Mom

Dear Sedona’s Mom,

Sorry to hear about your problem. You are not alone in this event. There are many dog owners out there who have this common problem with the same attempts and nothing transpires.

Tips for managing aggression and frustration in dogs

The aggression and frustration your dog is exhibiting comes from the dog not being able to rely on its owner in a psychological sense. When I read this e-mail, I read frustration, leading to anger, and then finally resentment. If these feelings come out (which are normal feelings) based on the dog’s behavior, then what we need to do is break the chain. For starters, lets look at ourselves and the dog.

Dogs are like children - they are highly influenced by what we (parents) do. If we act in the same manner as our dog then our dog will act just like us, and the circle keeps going. Lets break it and change the pattern.

In my travels I find many people who come across the exact same thing; we want our dog to pay attention to us when we ask it to. Why? I teach my students that the dog must pay attention to us all the time. In order to be the center of attention to your dog, we need to be more important than anything your dog encounters.

Training Exercise 1

Try this; go in the backyard, hold a hand full of food and say nothing. Show it to Sedona and stand still, then move about 8 feet and see if she follows, again say nothing when you move. Once the dog is attentive and looks at you (not your fist of food) then pat her and hand her some food. Repeat the process, only say something if she looks at you and reward her for doing so.

Your dog will look at you when you are worth looking at.

Taking it one step further; when you are done and she is in the house with you, say nothing unless she looks at you. When we ask dogs to look at us and they don't, then I have a saying, "Your dog will look at you when you are worth looking at." These exercises will make you worth looking at. 

Training Exercise 2

I have another exercise called “breathing.” This is where you stand staunch and straight, stay calm. Hold the lead at 12 inches keeping her on your left side. Let her do the work, after all dogs are programmed to do this. Let her lunge, bark, frustrate etc., and stay calm, don’t feed this. Let her argue with herself; this could take a few minutes. She will calm and tire, and when this happens take a step back, call her to you and reward her. As Monty Roberts says, “if you go about something as if you have 15 minutes, it will take you all day. But if you go about it as if you have all day, many times it will take you 15 minutes.”  

Tips for dealing with a dog that pulls

As for pulling, run the dog in the back yard first to get the energy out (by playing fetch, frisbee, etc.) and then go for a walk. What people don’t understand is your dog is pumped, it has been in the house all day. The worst thing we do as dog trainers is try to control a hyper dog! This only increases the dog’s anxiety leading to its frustration, you follow with the same reaction and bingo, the end result is exhausting for both of you.

The worst thing we do as dog trainers is try to control a hyper dog! This only increases the dog’s anxiety and leads to frustration.

When we get angry at something, we give it superiority as it successfully has changed our mood. A dog uses this and takes advantage of it, and in most cases the dog wins.

Training Tools

As for the the tools that your husband is trying to add to your arsenal of weapons, I will list and describe each one (in my opinion and experience) as I go along. (I may get some angry letters, but this needs to be said.) Normally in relationships, if we look to immediate control  to solve our relationship woes, we are selfish and possibly abusive.


The “Gentle Leader” (an oxymoron) is gentle? For whom? I have a word for this gadget; I call it the "Subtle Demeanor" since it’s not truly helping the bad behavior, it’s bottling it up for a later time. Everyone says “well, it works because it is the same simulation as a bridle or halter on a horse,” hence the word “halti." Let’s break it down. 

Horse Halter - No restriction of the jawDog Halti - Restrictive and Frustrating

As you can see from these photos, a horse halter design is not like that of a dog’s halti. The horse’s halter does not clamp over the mouth. The halter’s crownpiece sits just behind the ears, the lower noseband sits above the nostril and wraps under the lower jaw, with cheekpieces attaching the two sections. The horse can freely breath without restriction. A dog wearing their version of this gadget, while it can breathe, it can’t breathe freely when it is pulled tight and clamps down on its mouth. Next time you see a dog in public wearing a Gentle Leader, watch it closely. I usually see them pawing at the device over their nose, rolling on the ground rubbing their face on the floor/grass, they are shoving his/her face between the legs of their owners (and total strangers) trying to get the thing off their head, etc. Look a little closer, is the dog’s hair standing up when it encounters another dog? (This device makes a dog feel vulnerable.) How is the dog breathing? Ask yourself, does this dog look truly happy? 

Now let’s look at species. A horse is a herbivore; it is prey to a predator. Prey accommodates and goes with the flow, follows a herd and is pretty easy-going about it. A predator is an outspoken creature who in constantly looking to rise in the ranks. It does not accommodate, unless it has a reason (i.e. caring for their young.) It is to follow a leader who must earn his or her right to lead according to that predator’s view point. Our dogs are predators! Moreover, if you open your dog’s mouth you will see that its row of teeth - their sharpness coupled with the power behind the jaws - are designed for that type of species.


A citronella collar has a device on the front of the neck that sprays the dog in the face when it reacts. Here is what I want you to think about; what if every time you reacted to something, someone sprayed you in the face. You would be quiet for a second, but with repeated issues how long before you lashed out at the insulting party? Or would you walk away whenever you could and not want to deal with that party anymore? I always say to people when this is used to try it on yourselves. When your spouse responds in a negative manner that doesn’t please you, give them a squirt from a squirt bottle but make sure you hit them in the face. What reaction will you get?

Further, this collar also simulates urination. A dog who urinates to mark his spot is expressing dominance and an insult at the same time. Another dog will do the same if the dogs are both strong of character, then it usually leads into a fight. However, you will find that a submissive dog will stay away. Now, re-read the sentence in the above letter  concerning the use of a citronella collar. What reaction and/or damage may be received by Sedona based on her character?

Shock Collar

I just love this gadget (being completely facetious here.)  When we look at the progression of this tool, it is looked at as wonderful. If I behaved badly and someone shocked me then I guess I would comply. Now, as time goes on and with repeated blows, I would just build in adrenaline to get prepared for the next blow, building my resilience. With my adrenaline increase I get more stubborn, then the shock is increased, and with that more adrenaline. How long before I become exhaustingly volatile? 

final word on Training collars

As for your question if these tools are too good to be true, it is not too good to be true. Do an experiment for me; ask your friend to take two fingers and as you are trying to talk, have them squeeze both sides of your checks firmly like the Subtle Demeanor (Gentler Leader.) For one second you might laugh at the awkwardness, but then after a bit you will not say anything. Then ask that person to turn your head, again you will comply. Do this repeatedly and tell me if your friend is your friend anymore or do you want to leave?

I have seen many dogs who are deprived of a life of freedom based on our need for convenient cures. Whether we use tools, punish, force a dog to submit, or just simply misunderstand, in the end this destroys your relationship with your dog and causes further alienation. If we just put ourselves into our dog's shoes and forget how we feel then your dog and yourself can lead a life of strong independent freedom and enjoy each other's company all the time.

I wish you luck on this issue. I know you will do the right thing.

- Sam

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