That's Not a Muzzle on My Dog! It's Called a "Gentle Leader"
Often when I’m out walking with my dog, people will warily approach us and ask if she’s safe to pet. My dog is an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie mix who is calm around other dogs and people, so I was puzzled as to why people would seem a little hesitant about approaching her.
Recently, a lightbulb went off over my head. It occurred to me that people must think the head halter leash she wears looks like a muzzle. I’ve asked several people who’ve approached her if they think she’s wearing a muzzle, and they’ve all said yes.
So I'm writing about the benefits of the head halter leash, also known by the brand names Halti and Gentle Leader. According to the ASPCA, head halters and no-pull harnesses are effective tools to stop your dog from pulling too much during walks. It’s helpful when a squirrel darts in front of us and I have to control her.
We originally bought a head halter leash for our dog Buster, an Australian Shepherd and Lab mix who was very leash reactive. A dog trainer recommended we get a Gentle Leader so that I could better control Buster when we walked. It was especially important at the time, because we lived in the mountains and would walk Buster on steep hills. I had to be able to feel that I could effectively control all 60 pounds of him if another dog approached us.
A head halter has a strap that goes around the dog’s snout and another strap that goes around the neck, behind the ears. Both straps are adjustable, and fitting the halter properly is key to its being effective. The neck strap should be tight enough so that you can fit one finger between your dog’s neck and the strap. The leash clips onto the halter.
Best of all, it’s humane and painless. Your dog will feel pressure at the back of his neck when he pulls, and this sensation calms him. The trainer told me this feeling is similar to when a mother dog picks up her pup by the scruff of the neck. The sensation of the strap on your dog’s snout signals to your dog that you are in charge, which, in turn, relaxes your dog.
At first it was challenging for me to learn how to properly put on the Gentle Leader, but there were detailed directions and even an instructional video, and eventually I got the hang of it. You should also know that I am not the best at following procedures, so you may not have this problem. Patience is key.
Once you’ve learned how to outfit your dog with the halter and it fits properly, your goal is to associate wearing this halter with good things. The ASPCA recommends that you proceed slowly. Start with placing the strap over your dog’s nose, followed by giving your dog a tasty treat. Next, attach the neck strap and give your dog another treat. Remove the halter and repeat several times until your dog is comfortable with this activity. The next phase is to leave the halter on your dog, but don’t attach the leash. Give treats to reinforce that the halter is a good thing.
When you and your dog are ready go for your first walk, make it a short walk, and bring plenty of treats with you. Your dog will soon learn that walking beside you is more comfortable than pulling ahead. Reinforce her good behavior with treats. Know that your dog may rear up, shake her head, or try to remove the halter with her paw at first, but this behavior usually doesn’t persist, and your dog will acclimate to wearing the head halter.
Have you ever used a head halter? Do you think there are misperceptions about them? Let us know in the comments!
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