|The Gentle Leader Headcollar and Training System for Dogs
It's the Double D Ring that makes the difference!
By Dr Peter Neville (TRAINING MATTERS: Tackling pulling on the lead)
Laws of physics show that pressure causes counter-pressure, and in the world of dogs, this means that if a dog walks on a tight lead he will pull against the pressure being applied to his neck. It's as simple as that, and while dogs may want to pull ahead of their owners when out for a walk for many different reasons - to get to the park, to meet the dog on the corner of the street or because he feels it's his job to lead the group wherever they are going -, huge numbers of owners have terrible trouble trying to stop themselves from being pulled along uncontrollably by their dog or even pulled over!
While there are many ways to train a dog not to pull on the lead, a highly innovative product designed especially for dogs has proved extraordinarily successful at doing just that, helping dogs and their owners to relax and enjoy their walks more and relieving many tired arms! All round the world overt the past decade, the Gentle Leader has given an invaluable starting point to owner's whose dogs have learned to pull against their ordinary collar or one of those horrible long outdated choke (check) chains and helped inspire a whole new era of kind effective training methods for dogs.
The Gentle Leader is much more than just a canine headcollar, it is actually scientifically designed to stop dogs from pulling by working on their natural reflex systems and to enable us to apply a form of control that mimics one of the important natural physical methods of social communication between friendly dogs in a pack.
The Gentle Leader was designed in the USA over ten years ago by one of the world's top human/companion animal relationship experts, Professor Bob Anderson and Ruth Foster, then President of the National Association of Obedience Instructors and has sold millions around the world. It has been available in the UK for over seven years and is now widely used by members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, animal welfare societies and veterinary surgeons.
It is available in three sizes and, unlike other headcollars, is fully adjustable to fit all sizes and breeds of dog to the contours of each individual's face (provided it has a nose - sorry, but Pekingese and very flat faced Boxers miss out on the benefits of the Gentle Leader!). Many other headcollars are not adjustable and brands rely on a range of sizes to cover the huge range of dog face shapes and sizes, with the result that so many don't fit snugly and ride up painfully into the dog's eyes or flap loosely and annoyingly across his lips.
Made of strong, soft, nylon webbing for maximum comfort, the Gentle Leader consists of a nose loop and neck strap which are joined together by a unique double 'd' ring. This ring is specially designed to transfer pressure from the nose loop to the neck strap, which fits high up on the dog's neck, just below the ears. Unlike a normal collar, the neck strap should be snugly fitted, so that it is barely possible to insert a finger between the strap and the dog's neck. When the dog reaches the end of the end of the lead while wearing his Gentle Leader, some of the tension is transferred via the Double D ring to the back of his neck.
Puppies instinctively relax and go quiet when their mother picks them up by the scruff of their neck to transport them. If they were to struggle or wine they may well be jeopardising their lives as she may be moving them away from danger and need to transport them as quickly and quietly as possible. And so, as this reflex is usually maintained to some degree into adulthood, we find that the pulling dog also often relaxes automatically because of the mode of action the Gentle Leader, thus releasing the pressure on the lead to leave him calm and relaxed and walking gently through choice by his owner's side instead of pulling on the lead.
The Double D Ring, which facilitates this marvellous reflex action is one of the main structural components that define the patent for the Gentle Leader, and the Gentle Leader is the only patented headcollar in the world because of it's unique effect. But more than stopping dogs from pulling on the lead, (which is, incidentally, one of the common difficulties that owners always cite in surveys of dog behaviour and training problems), we find that because the dog is relaxed and happy to be lead along on a Gentle Leader, he is also much more in contact with his owner and thus more capable of being trained in other areas of basic obedience.
But the Double D Ring and its reflex effects is not the whole story behind the success of this innovation. The nose loop is also important scientifically. It is evident when watching a group of dogs or wolves playing that a relaxing response occurs when one dog grasps the bridge of another dog's muzzle. When play gets out of hand and one wants to cool things down, or simply subdue the excitability of another lower ranking pack member, he will gently place his open mouth over the bridge of the other dog's nose and push down. The other dog usually responds by reducing the intensity of his part of the game, and in some cases ending the game completely.
The muzzle grasping action is gentle and reassuring, never aggressive or injurious. When a dog pulls on the lead while wearing his Gentle Leader, pressure is applied across the same socially sensitive area, the bridge of the muzzle, and the nose loop pulls the nose down gently towards the dog's chest and holds it in much the same way as his pack mate might do in wanting to slow the game. And so the dog calms down through choice, sometimes very noticeably and very quickly, much to the owner's delight.
With the Double D Ring simultaneously transfering end of lead pressure to the back of the dog's neck, both response points are being triggered with often what seems to be a miraculous effect on calming the previously excitable or frantically pulling dog. The dog's instinctive resistance to the redirected pressure causes him to stop pulling in order to relieve the pressure on his reflex points rather than pulling against the pressure.
The Gentle Leader also provides power steering for dogs. Obviously wherever a dog's head goes, the body has to follow and so being in control of the dog's head via the lead and Gentle Leader automatically gives an owner more control than with an ordinary collar. Virtually every other animal in the world is lead or managed by the head (imagine trying to control a horse or a camel with a neck collar!!) that one wonders why it became the norm to manage dogs by the neck!
Aside from making walking on the lead so much easier, better control is especially important with dogs who develop certain types of behaviour problem. If a dog lunges towards people or other dogs, for example, the owner can gently steer him away without yanking and inflicting pain, discomfort or injury on the dog's neck. This is vital in the case of canine aggression which is often an emotional response to fear or apprehension about the approach of another dog or person. The reactive dog instantly becomes aroused and ready to protect himself using one or more of four main coping strategies - fight, flight, freeze or appease.
While restrained on a lead the dog is really limited to a choice of fight or appease as he cannot run away and freezing is pointless as he is clearly visible to the threat. If the appease option fails to make the other dog ignore him or walk away and so give him relief from his feelings of apprehension, he may be forced to employ the fight option and growl, bark or threaten to attack the approaching dog or person, even if they haven't even looked at him yet!
On an ordinary collar or choke chain the owner may yank the dog back and tell him off if he lunges at the threat, but the pain he feels will usually only simply increase his feelings of apprehension and will make him more likely to lunge sooner next time he finds himself in a similar situation. By walking this type of problem dog on a Gentle Leader instead of a collar, trainers and behaviourists often find that if the dog lunges, the pressure that is automatically applied to the reflex and response points on his nose and neck helps to relax him and feel that his owner is managing the problem for him.
The calm, communicative dog can then be rewarded for adopting other ways of coping with the apprehension, such as finally perceiving that approaching dogs/people are not threats at all and so can be ignored, or that a simple appeasing gesture, such as dropping the tail or ears for a second, will be all that is needed to say an acknowledging 'hi' to the other dog and deflect any potential threat in a quiet and normal doggy way.
More than this, the dog no longer anticipates the formerly associated pain and discomfort that used to be inflicted involuntarily by his owner via his collar or chain at the mere sight of another dog/person. With practice and a steady supply of friendly dogs/people to encounter an aggressive dog wearing a Gentle Leader can often be rehabilitated very quickly indeed, but best of all, such problems are so easily prevented if a puppy or young dog is walked on a Gentle Leader from the day he first goes out on a lead.
Every Gentle Leader is supplied with full fitting instructions and a self-help training advice sheet. Correct snug fitting, like when we fit a shoe, is essential for the headcollar's unique dual action to have full effect. Too loose and it will rub and move around, too tight and it will cause discomfort. The tighter the neck strap, the looser the nose loop can be and it will sit further back from the corners of the dog's mouth, making it very comfortable to wear, and enabling the dog to drink, pant, bark, eat and play until any tension is applied via the lead. It is quite normal for a dog to resist the Gentle Leader at first as the sensation of the nose loop on the face and neck strap may feel strange initially.
The nose loop is also visible to them and they may try to paw it off, but most dogs soon settle down. It is often the case that the more a dog protests in the first few moments, the better he ultimately accepts it, a situation also found when fitting a headcollar to a young horse for the first time. After fitting the Gentle Leader the dog should be taken for a short, interesting walk in order to take his mind off the strange feeling of wearing a head collar.
He should be encouraged to walk and follow his owner on a loose lead and encouraged to walk along with treats or praise, never dragged or forced and most soon realise how much more comfortable a Gentle Leader is to wear than pulling along and being pulled on a normal collar. Once a dog is used to wearing his Gentle Leader, he can be walked and trained far more easily, and is also very helpful when extra calm restraint is needed, for example, for grooming, visiting the vets, administering eye or ear drops etc. All in all, the Gentle Leader really is a remarkable product.
it comes to canine behaviour and training problems, the most
common is pulling on the lead!
Despite all the aggression problems, separation-related disorders,
and phobias and nervousness difficulties that fill a behaviourist’s
day, it’s pulling and lead control that vexes most owners,
think that pulling would be simple enough
for owners to treat and that a behaviour referral wouldn’t
be necessary. That is until, as a dog owner, you actually
try to stop a dog from getting wherever he wants to go
at top speed. He’ll pull your arm out of its socket
and strangle himself until his eyes bulge!
Indeed, it used to be that not all behaviourists or trainers could
offer too much in the way of a solution to this stressful practical
problem, and, as a result, many dogs simply carried on strangling
themselves all the way to the park.
they got far fewer walks than they needed because it was just
too much of an ordeal for their owners to take them out. Other
dogs were cruelly treated using confrontation and abuse by some
so-called ‘trainers’. It is surely a testament to
the incompetence of man that so many barbaric implements have
been — and sadly still are — used to tackle this
common problem, from horrible choke chains and prong collars,
to electric shock collars and even beating the poor dog into
among the huge number of enlightened trainers nowadays, there are
still far too many people around who shame the name of their trade
by still insisting that owners choke, strangle and punish their pets
with chains and abuse in the interests of training them. I often
wonder what it is that makes trainers, who presumably get involved
with dogs because they love them, recommend such training methods.
Maybe they don’t love dogs or their owners after all. Maybe
they have some sinister reason for wanting to inflict pain and cruelty
on dogs. Whatever it is, they clearly don’t know that the days
of ‘being cruel to be kind’ are over. They are just being ‘cruel
to be cruel’ and more and more owners, even inexperienced ones,
are realising that this is no way to teach a child, school a horse,
or train a dog in the modern world. Today, more and more people are
looking for a trainer who is ‘kind, fair and effective’,
a phrase that John Fisher coined nearly 10 years ago.
is better than cure
Of course, as every good trainer and behaviourist can tell you, it is far
better to prevent a problem from developing in a young dog than having
to treat it later in an adult. So it’s great that there are now so
many puppy classes around that are placing a strong emphasis on teaching
puppies to walk in a relaxed manner on the lead using happy, positive reinforcement — initially
just for walking on a loose lead next to their owner. The puppy never expects
to walk in any other way, because it’s simply more fun to walk where
the rewards appear.
classes sensibly teach dogs, in the safety of a training room, to
learn to walk next to their owners without a lead attached at all,
so that putting a lead on makes no difference to where they walk
later. This can all be done with a little patience, a clicker, a
bag of treats, and a light, encouraging attitude, rather than with
the frightening, bullying approach of times past.
for owners of dogs who either missed out on going to puppy classes
or didn’t find themselves at a class using modern, effective
training approaches, the problem of a pulling dog often never gets
resolved. And as the dog gets bigger, so does the scale of the problem.
was how I found Zinger, a wonderfully and typically exuberant Springer.
Kim was on the end of the lead, struggling to hold on, at the clinic
of my associate, behaviourist Jo Scott, in Verwood, Dorset. Poor
Kim was wondering how it was that her fluffy, affectionate, happy
little puppy had become so strong so quickly and was now pulling
her along so badly. She was just as concerned that her normally attentive
dog seemed to ignore all her attempts to get his attention as soon
as the lead went on. Why did that wretched lead turn Zinger into
a pulling, panting, deaf tractor? Kim was hoping that Jo and I might
be able to help.
thing was for sure, ignoring Zinger would not be allowed. He pulled
towards me, and leapt madly all over me, bottom wagging in the sort
of friendly greeting that only a mad, high-energy; loveable Springer
can give you! We had to calm things down and analyse what had been
going on and what Kim had tried to do to teach Zinger how to restrain
himself. ‘Restrain and retrain’ is a good motto for this
one, I thought, as Zinger did his best to make sure that the attention
stayed on him during our chat.
As every training book will tell you, dogs pull on the lead for different
reasons: enthusiasm to get to the park, following a scent on the ground,
wanting to lead their owner into new places, insecurity and wanting to
get to known places of safety as fast as possible... Some pull simply because
they have something to pull against —pressure on the collar invites
counterpressure, and the whole thing descends into a battle of strength,
for no other reason than the dog is on a lead in the first place.
of these dogs walk calmly and happily by their owners’ side
if they are not on a lead, but there are some places where a lead
cannot be avoided (for legal or safety reasons), and this is when
the trouble starts!
dogs start to pull when they want to meet other dogs. If restrained,
they can become frustrated; if frustrated, they can start to get
angry, especially as they become more competitive when they start
to grow up. Then we can have an aggressive, excitable dog to treat,
simply because he was never socialised properly or taught to walk
calmly on a lead.
Zinger I felt that he just wanted to be somewhere else all the time
-because everywhere, everybody and every dog were just sooooooooooo
interesting and he wanted to get to know everything as fast as possible
about his surroundings. The pressure of the lead on his collar was
preventing him from going at his own pace, so he had clearly resolved
to battle against it until it snapped and he would then be free to
live life at a proper Springer pace!
he had no concept of how he might be extending his loving owner’s
arms, and he couldn’t even hear her requests and pleas to slow
down and calm down. He was too occupied trying to be someplace else!
Being a Springer, he was impervious to being shouted at and couldn’t
be lured with treats; he just wanted to be free to do what he wanted,
even though he didn’t know what it was exactly!
A good trainer keeps a pack of ideas, techniques and equipment for teaching
lead-training, from which the most appropriate method is selected. But
that’s only once the owner has gone to a good trainer for help! Many
owners never make it that far. Some simply endure the problem, hang on
for grim death, or just get rid of the dog, often only to repeat all of
the problems with their next pet, of course.
was of the ‘endure and hang on for grim death’ types
with Zinger, who, being one of those well-sprung but lightweight
models of Springer, could just about be hung on to, at least when
he was younger. But, by the time I met them, it was getting increasingly
uncomfortable for both of them.
worked shift patterns and didn’t have time to regularly attend
training classes with Zinger, and he was getting stronger, probably
as a result of all his pulling exercise. We guessed that he would
only get stronger and stronger and ever better at pulling!
and I decided that our first recommendation to Kim would be to fit
a Gentle Leader headcollar to Zinger without delay, simply to bring
him under more effective physical control and to make lead-walking
calmer and less of a chore. Fitted and introduced carefully, I had
every faith that the Gentle Leader would fulfil its function and
make life a lot easier. It would
hopefully also enable Kim to start to communicate much better with
her excitable dog. Then, she could retrain him to walk by her side,
as well as restrain him.
if by magic...
What we got when we fitted the Gentle Leader to Zinger was one of
those occasional instant total transformations that happens with
some dogs when they feel its effects. He simply stopped pulling on
the lead and calmed down! He sat or stood and remained attentive
to Kim and alert to all that was going on around him. He didn’t
try to get anywhere unless she led him, at which point he just trotted
along beside her as if he had never pulled in his life!
I would be the first to say that this was rather unusual, as
most dogs take a few minutes to get used to wearing the Gentle
Leader, and some try to paw it off their face for a while before
they settle down. In fact, I always make a point of advising
owners to expect some protest; it is often the case that the
more a dog struggles initially, the better he accepts it in
the end. But Zinger, bless him, seemed to treat wearing the
Gentle Leader as just another thing in life’s range of
experiences. Now, he was viewing life differently and with
Kim, rather than in spite of her.
to say, Kim was delighted that her dog was no longer panting
and struggling, and she stayed for the training class with
Jo and several other dogs, including a well-behaved Labrador
friend, who Zinger had often played with in very high spirits.
Now, the two of them happily lined up to do their sit-stays
and all the other stuff, with not a single thought of being
kept all that nicely for the off-lead and off-Gentle Leader run about
at the end of class!
does it work?
It had all seemed so easy almost embarrassingly so. Jo and I wondered,
as we often do, which madman it was that first expected dogs to be walked
and trained with a neckcollar, rather than with a headcollar when it works
so well with many other strong animals! Whoever it was sure made life difficult
ever since for just about every dog trainer and owner!
just how and why did the Gentle Leader work for Zinger? As ever,
it seemed to be down to its combination three-fold effect:
virtue of the nose-loop encircling his muzzle, the Gentle Leader
controlled and steered Zinger’s head in the same way as any
other headcollar does with horses, bulls, goats, camels etc. This
gives a far better degree of control, and requires virtually no force,
compared with attempting to lead, walk or train a dog via a leash
dogs, like Zinger just seem to sense that they are now being directed
and cannot pull when wearing a headcollar and so they immediately
stop trying. For others, there is simply no longer anything to pull
against, compared with struggling against a neckcollar or choke chain
and so the concept of pressure inviting counterpressure is negated.
be fair, most dogs take a little while to get used to the sensation
of wearing something on their face, and to relinquishing their ability
to pull along. But it is usually only a question of a few moments,
and the acceptance process can be speeded up with a positive rewarding
attitude and associating wearing the headcollar with the prospect
of getting treats.
pressure around the muzzle caused by the adjusted snug fit of the
nose-loop of the headcollar also probably had a natural canine psychological
effect on Zinger, as it does on most dogs who wear one. It causes
a typical relaxation response in the same way as when wolves and
dogs may gently grasp the muzzle of younger packmates, or when subordinates
present their muzzle to be held by an older or parent figure in the
pack. The nose-loop is also believed to impact on acupressure points
on a dog’s face, stimulating a natural relaxation response.
special double D-ring of the Gentle Leader, positioned carefully
above Zinger’s Adam’s apple, painlessly transferred some
of the tension to the back of his neck when he tried to pull on the
lead. This stimulated a second natural relaxation response, one that
begins in puppyhood — a puppy relaxes automatically if his
mother (or a person) picks him up by the scruff of the neck so that
he may be carried quickly and efficiently without any struggle, perhaps
away from danger. This innate response continues to some degree in
most adult dogs, as it did with Zinger, and further helped to calm
these natural effects often achievable simply by fitting the Gentle
Leader, it is no surprise that an unruly or pulling dog often self-corrects
on the lead, and becomes calm and easy to lead within minutes (or
in this case, seconds) of wearing it. The Gentle Leader is the only
headcollar for dogs to have been granted, and be protected by, a
patent in the USA, Europe and elsewhere; the terms of the patent
recognising these design and function attributes that are specific
to dog behaviour.
Zinger showed, training then becomes a far less daunting prospect
as the dog is calmer and the owner is better able to communicate
with, and motivate, their dog. The Gentle Leader is also very useful
in treating more specific behaviour problems, such as aggression
towards other dogs.
as a result of being included in the world’s
top 100 inventions selected by the prestigious
Smithsonian Institute in the USA, the Gentle
Leader was recently featured in the New York
Times, a publication not noted for frivolous
reporting. Direct sales by the manufacturers
in the month following exceeded 10,000 as a result
of this one article!
The Gentle Leader’s astonishing impact on dogs like Zinger
has caught the attention not only of the world’s top vets
and trainers, but also the scientific community! It has just been
included in the world’s top 100 inventions selected by the
prestigious Smithsonian Institute in the USA, and so it is now
independently seen as one of the most useful of consumer products
ever made! It is listed alongside the Hoover, Velcro and all those
other marvelous inventions that make modem life easier — not
bad for an item invented specifically for dogs and their owners.
as a result of this, the Gentle Leader was recently featured
in the New York Times, a publication certainly not noted for
frivolous reporting. Quite apart from the impact through trainers
and pet shops, direct sales by the manufacturers in the month
following exceeded 10,000 as a result of this one article!
in the USA alone have now gone well past a staggering one million,
with huge numbers also sold in the UK, the rest of Europe,
Australia and Japan. The inventors, Veterinary Professor Emeritus
Bob Anderson and Ruth Foster a former head of the National
Association of Obedience Instructors of the USA, were honoured
by a special presentation and reception to commemorate their
invention last autumn in the USA.
idea has resulted in an awful lot of contented dogs and delighted
owners around the world, and also an enormous number of satisfied
trainers, behaviourists and veterinarians, who now recommend
the Gentle Leader simply because it makes their jobs so much
easier in so many cases.