Note: I personally love the Gentle Leader, but it’s not perfect. Thank you to Ty Brown of CommuniCanine for sharing these tips on why he does not recommend a Gentle Leader or a Halti.
I get a lot of flak for this in the dog training community, but I am not a fan of the Halti, Gentle Leader and No-Pull Harnesses. I am currently raging a war of one against these training tools and am losing ground quickly. No worries, though. Like the captain that goes down with the ship, I’ll continue my fight until the bitter end.
In my battle on these training tools I come fully armed with ammunition.
My war on the Halti/Gentle Leader
1. I see these tools as a gimmick.
They rarely teach the concept of proper leash walking. Rather, they tend to teach the dog not to pull while the gimmick is on. There is very little technique used with these tools. For that reason I think of them as a band-aid. They cover up the problem but do very little to fix it.
When I am helping a client teach his or her dog to walk on a loose leash, I use training tools such as a pinch collar, flat collar or slip collar.
With those collars, though, I teach my clients a great deal of technique. Technique is what teaches the concept of how to walk properly on a leash and what allows that owner to eventually wean the dog off the training collar. When someone depends on a harness or head collar to walk properly, then the owner is forever tied to that implement and the dog has essentially never learned to walk on a loose leash.
I’m sure there are those who have weaned their dogs off the head halter but they certainly did so using a great deal of technique. Most people will find themselves forever attached to a tool.
2. Haltis and Gentle Leaders are often very uncomfortable and distract the dog from the task at hand: walking!
If I had a nickel for every time a client complained that her dog wouldn’t stop itching at his face and head, scraping his face against the ground or going into a death roll to try to get the material off his head I’d have enough for a meal at McDonald’s – supersized!
A training tool should be like an accessory. It should be a normal thing to which the dog doesn’t pay attention. Many dogs find it hard to ignore a mesh of nylon all over their faces.
3. Head harnesses can worsen aggression issues.
Dogs create associations with the actions they are currently involved in and what they are currently focused on. Dogs that have aggression issues are prone to lunge at the objects of their aggression. In the act of lunging it can be very difficult to control a dog if they are on a head or body harness.
Not only that, but picture what the dog is experiencing. All of his focus is placed on the target of his aggression when suddenly his neck gets twisted from the lunge. Many dogs are prone to associate that pain in their neck with the object of their aggression and therefore the aggression becomes worse.
Many dogs will feel that the object of the aggression caused their pain and therefore they end up having worse feelings for the other dog, person, etc.
I have given several reasons why I am battling these harness style collars. I’m sure there are those who are able to avoid these pitfalls with their training techniques. My experience shows, however, there is a much better way.
Whichever training tools you use with your dog, make sure that you are using them in a humane fashion and ensure they are used as teaching tools rather than punishment tools.