Gentle Leader vs. pinch collar



Gentle Leader vs. pinch collar

There is no dog training collar that is right for every dog.

I have recommend every type of dog training collar to someone at some point. Every dog is different, and every owner is different. What works for my dog is not necessarily going to work for your dog. I don’t admire dog trainers who try to push a single tool on everyone.

All dogs are going to respond well to a strong, fun leader who uses positive reinforcement along with corrections. A responsible mother rewards her kids, but she’s not afraid to tell them no.

Shock collars, choke collars, pinch collars, buckle collars, Gentle Leaders, Haltis, anti-pull harnesses and martingale collars all work well for certain dogs.

The two collars I want to focus on for this post are the Gentle Leader and the pinch (prong) collar, mostly because they are on the opposite ends of the “spectrum.”

The Gentle Leader is marketed as a gentle option to be worn over a dog’s muzzle, similar to a horse halter. The Gentle Leader is designed to prevent pulling because if the dog handler controls the dog’s head, he controls the dog. Most dogs are also quite a bit calmer while wearing a Gentle Leader.

A pinch (prong) collar is usually made out of metal and has prongs distributed evenly around the collar. It should be worn high on the dog’s neck, right under his chin and behind his ears. When the dog pulls, the owner gives a slight “correction” by pulling up or to the side. This correction is not designed to cause pain. It is intended to re-direct a dog’s attention.

Let me explain what I like and don’t like about each of these collars. I hope to disprove some of the assumptions about each. I’ve also included some Amazon affiliate links to the products.

Gentle Leader for dog training

Gentle Leader on Amazon

 

When I was teaching my mutt Ace to walk nicely on a leash, I used the Gentle Leader in some situations and a pinch collar in others. Now that I have another maniac on a leash (A.K.A. Cosmo), I am once again using both tools – separately, of course.

What I like about the Gentle Leader

Black lab mix wearing a Gentle LeaderThe Gentle Leader helps a dog remain calm

I use a Gentle Leader (Ace is modeling it on the right) when I want to help the dog calm down. It’s a good tool to use when I want to bring my dog along but might be preoccupied.

For example, if I’m walking my dog downtown while talking with a friend and holding a coffee in one hand, the Gentle Leader comes in handy. It allows me to “check out” a bit from dog training.

And don’t try to tell me I should never check out from training. We can’t always give all our attention to our dogs! The Gentle Leader allows me to relax and just enjoy spending time with my dog and a friend in busy situations.

Ace experiences some anxiety in the car, and the Gentle Leader has always worked to help him chill out a bit. The fabric around his muzzle calms him and puts him in a more submissive state of mind.

As another example, Cosmo was feeling stressed out at a recent dog show event we attended. He was barking at me and having difficulty settling down. When I put his Gentle Leader on him, he was able to lie down next to me and relax.

The Gentle Leader stops a dog from making those “choking” sounds

The Gentle Leader is also a good tool to keep my dog from pulling and making those “choking” noises.

Cosmo is a good example of a dog who practically strangles himself on a regular, nylon collar. He gets so excited, panting, pulling and “choking” that he causes other dogs to get very agitated as well.

When Cosmo wears a Gentle Leader, it eliminates his panting and choking noises by about 90 percent. He still breathes heavily, but it’s not nearly as audible. When he’s quiet, other dogs are less likely to react. Since Cosmo is still learning how to ignore other dogs during walks, anything that helps him give off a calmer energy is a good thing.

If Cosmo is calm and quiet on walks, then walks are much, much more enjoyable! That means he gets to go along on more walks!

What I don’t like about the Gentle Leader

The Gentle Leader puts too much pressure on a dog’s nose and eyes

Any collar can be dangerous if the dog pulls for an extended period of time.

The Gentle Leader is not a safe tool for extreme pullers.

Although the Gentle Leader is marketed as a humane option, it’s not always humane. When a dog pulls very hard for an extended period of time, the thin piece of nylon over his nose begins to put way too much pressure on him. When a dog pulls very hard, the Gentle Leader will slip to the side and put pressure on the dog’s face and under his eyes.

Dogs that are so focused on moving forward do not have enough sense to stop pulling, even if they are in pain. The pain might even cause them to pull harder, as they are trying to escape the pain. Excited dogs do not always know how to calm down and rationalize what is happening.

A few weeks ago, I took Cosmo for a longer walk than usual. He wore his Gentle Leader. When we came back, he was squinting his eyes for the rest of the night because of the pressure the Gentle Leader had caused. I was really worried I had permanently damaged his eyes. I was mad at myself for not stopping during the walk and switching to his regular collar.

Thankfully, bug-eyed Cosmo was just fine the next morning. Still, the incident was enough for me to re-think the Gentle Leader. Now I rotate which collar I use with Cosmo. For shorter walks, he usually wears the Gentle Leader. For longer walks, he usually wears the pinch collar.

And just for the record, the Halti is a similar tool to the Gentle Leader, but it’s designed better and typically doesn’t put too much pressure on a dog’s nose or eyes. It also has a safety strap that connects to the dog’s normal collar just in case he slips out of the Halti. For more info, check out my post comparing the Halti vs. Gentle Leader.

The Gentle Leader does not teach a dog to stop pulling

My other issue with the Gentle Leader is that it’s a Band Aid. It really is. Dogs learn not to pull as long as they are wearing the tool. But as soon as you remove the Gentle Leader, they go right back to pulling.

Cosmo is getting pretty good at heeling as long as he has the Gentle Leader on. Without it, he is a maniac. This defeats the purpose of a dog training tool. I know some dog owners are successful weaning their dogs off the Gentle Leader, but most people don’t bother to try. This is OK for a lot of people, but I expect more from my dogs.

This is why I use the Gentle Leader in some situations and the pinch collar in other situations. My goal is always to get to the point where no training collar is needed at all. From there, my goal is to achieve reliable obedience with no leash. Still, no dog is going to be perfect in every situation.

Some dogs hate wearing a Gentle Leader

Most dogs do not have any issues with a pinch collar, but a lot of dogs do not like having something over their nose. My mutt Ace pretty much shuts down at the sight of his Gentle Leader. His tail goes between his legs, he looks away, he lies down, and he cowers. Once he has the Gentle Leader on and we go for a walk, he is fine, but he still avoids me every time I get it out.

Now, if I have Ace’s pinch collar in my hand, he comes running! I’ve noticed this with other dogs as well. And some dogs really put up a protest, pawing at their nose and rubbing their face on the ground in an attempt to get the Gentle Leader off. The best thing to do is just ignore this behavior and continue on with the walk, but it’s not always easy to deal with a bucking, rearing, 80-pound dog.

You can’t give a dog a leash correction while she’s wearing a Gentle Leader

There are situations where I prefer to give a dog a leash correction for training purposes. The Gentle Leader is not designed for corrections. A good example of this is when I take Ace biking. Ace usually wears his pinch collar when I take him biking so I can correct him if he thinks about greeting another dog. The pinch collar is a good choice in this situation for the safety of myself, my dog and others.

Pinch collar for dog training (also called a prong collar)

Pinch collar on Amazon

I’m really sick of this “positive reinforcement only” approach to dog training. The world is not all positive. Dogs growl and bite and pin one another all the time.

Parents are not always positive when teaching their kids something new.

Here’s an example:

My parents taught me to ride my bike by using training wheels and holding onto my bike while I pedaled. Eventually, they took the training wheels off. My parents knew I was going to fall and scrape my knees at least once. But eventually I learned how to ride my bike without falling. As a result, I got to experience more fun and freedom in my life. It also felt good to know my parents trusted me to ride my bike around the neighborhood by myself. But in order to get to that point, I had to fall a few times first.

Black lab wearing a pinch collar, also called a prong collar

It’s not always possible to go through life preventing those we love from experiencing a small amount of discomfort.

What I like about the pinch collar

The pinch collar allows you to give the dog a correction

If my dog is focused on a smell or another dog during a walk, all he needs is a quick tug on the leash to re-direct his attention. This is not meant to scare him or cause him pain. It’s not meant to make him feel inferior to me. It’s just a reminder to get him to focus on the task at hand – walking.

Usually Ace’s response to one of these tugs looks something like, “Oh, sorry. I got distracted.” I tug on his leash so gently that I believe it is actually the slight sound of the chain moving that gets his attention, not the sensation of the prongs on his neck.

The pinch collar will help teach a dog not to pull

The pinch collar fits around a dog’s neck like a normal, nylon collar. This makes it easy to eventually transition the dog from the pinch collar to a nylon collar.

When I was teaching Ace to heel, I would have him wear his nylon collar and his pinch collar at the same time. That way I could switch his leash to one collar or the other as appropriate. For example, if Ace was walking nicely, I’d clip his leash to his nylon collar. If we saw another dog approaching, I would clip his leash to the pinch collar.

What I don’t like about the pinch collar

Sometimes the links on the pinch collar break apart

I’ve seen a few pinch collars come apart because one of the prongs was bent. This has happened to me and my dog. Luckily, Ace has no interest in running away. When his pinch collar fell off, he just stood there looking at me, like, “Well, aren’t you gonna pick that up?”

I am a bit nervous using the pinch collar with my foster dog Cosmo because he does not always come when I call him.

The pinch collar gets caught in long hair

Another reason I don’t like to use the pinch collar with Cosmo is because it doesn’t seem to work as well over his thick fur. It works better on Ace, who has very short fur. I’d like to hear some other opinions on this.

The pinch collar can hurt a dog if it is not used properly

It’s too easy to give aggressive corrections with the pinch collar. I cannot use a pinch collar on a dog unless I am calm and collected. If I am frustrated with a dog, I will be too tempted to give the dog harsh corrections. Causing fear or pain is not what the pinch collar is for.

I also see too many dog owners who do not use the pinch collar as a training tool. They just place it around the lower part of a dog’s neck and hope for the best. But the pinch collar is designed to be worn high on the dog’s neck, right behind her ears and under her chin. If the pinch collar is worn on the thickest part of the dog’s neck, it will be too easy for her to pull.

The pinch collar should be used as a tool to prevent pulling, not to make the pulling more tolerable for the human on the other end of the leash.

Sensitive dogs might overreact to a pinch collar

Cosmo yelped the first couple of times I corrected him with the pinch collar even though I was careful not to be too harsh. He was so sensitive that any correction at all scared him. He also reacted aggressively a few times by biting the leash. He will sometimes do this on his regular nylon collar as well. I believe his “temper tantrums” are partly due to a low-frustration tolerance.

Anyway, this is why I started using the Gentle Leader with Cosmo. But after the incident with his swollen eyes caused by the Gentle Leader, I have started using the pinch collar again on longer walks. He is doing much better now that he’s used to it. He trusts me more than he did a few months ago, and his confidence is growing. He no longer has any issues with the pinch collar, and he doesn’t pull while wearing it.

Cosmo is pulling less with the Gentle Leader on as well, so I guess we are making some progress!

Other collars for dog training

Obviously there are dozens of different dog training collars. I only focused on two in this post. I’d love to hear your opinion on the option that works better for your dog – the Gentle Leader or the pinch collar. I’d also love to hear about any other collar or harness you use for your dog.

Which dog training collar is best for your dog?

Dog wearing a Gentle Leader on a walk

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  1. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 1, 2013

    I’m hoping these posts will help. The first is some basic info on teaching a dog to heel. The second is about dealing with a dog’s reactivity on the leash:

    http://www.thatmutt.com/2008/11/12/13-tips-for-teaching-your-dog-to-heel/

    http://www.thatmutt.com/2012/10/24/how-to-stop-a-dogs-aggression/

  2. Aisling on April 10, 2013

    Hi Lindsay, thanks for the article it was great. Just a question, I have a Jack Russel/Border Terrier cross. She pulls like mad when we are out. I bought a Mikki harness and its works wonders. The way it is made means it tightens around the top of her legs/chest when she pulls which in effect, pulls her back a bit and stops her. So it saves my arms when walking but once I put her on her normal collar , she is back to pulling again. Do you reckon a pinch collar would be ok for a dog as small as mine? Or should I look to more head collars? I used the Halti before but she has such a small nose that it just kept falling off!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 10, 2013

      You could try a pinch collar with her (in her size, of course). Some people will freak out, but it’s no different than putting a pinch collar on a large dog. You just use the correct size. I would’ve suggested a Halti, too, but it’s tough for those shorter-faced dogs! The pinch collar might help you transition to a regular collar with time. It helped for my dog, anyway.

  3. Pete McPete on April 25, 2013

    Great article, and I really agree with you that reinforcement should not always be positive but instead it should be adapted as needed.

    I used a choker when training my dog and I found that quite effective, he learned fairly quickly and when he sometimes got frustrated and rebelled I would give him a few beatings with my belt which would calm him down again.

    I like the idea of the prong collar, he doesn’t need it now as he walks to heel all the time and does not get distracted, but I will try a prong collar anyway just to remind him who is boss. A few hard snaps of that in a row and he will remember why he’s obedient now!

    Thanks.

    • Aisling on April 25, 2013

      I dont think that’s what Lindsey was getting at when she said its not all postive enforcement. If you genuinely do beat your dog, I cant wait for the day that he/she turns on you and bites back!!!!

  4. Pete McPete on April 25, 2013

    I’m fairly sure Lindsey is with me on this, a beating every now and then should be a part of all dog training tool kits. I don’t mean that you should just beat your dog randomly or for fun, and you shouldn’t cripple or maim your dog, but for me all I have to do now is run my fingers over my belt and he is by my side and on his back in a second. That is mutual respect between man and dog.

  5. Aisling on April 25, 2013

    Well personally, I would never hit my dog….I just dont think there is any need for it! There is other ways of punishing dogs without physically causing them pain. When I was growing up, my dad used to hit my dog with the newspaper when she was bold. All we had to do after that was lift the paper and she knew she was in trouble! But a paper is a lot softer than a belt!!! Seriously, I am wincing in pain for your poor dog just by reading your comment. If I saw a person on the street hitting their dog with their belt, I would be onto the DSPCA immediately! To punish my dog, I lock her outside or send her to her bed. That in itself is enough for her to know she has done wrong. Lindsey, I would be very interested to hear your opinion in this matter.

    • Aisling on April 25, 2013

      PS. I am from Ireland so maybe American’s treat their dogs differently to the way that we do over here. But hitting a dog is not something you would see everyday or anyday in Ireland!

      • JGreg on May 22, 2014

        Things are the same over here, Aisling. No one would agree with what Pete McPete is saying. He is just being a jerk. He’s trying to make the point that what Lindsay suggests is cruel and wrong by exaggerating her point, suggesting something much worse, and pretending to agree with it.

    • Pete McPete on April 25, 2013

      Personally I think locking your poor dog out in the freezing cold with rain pouring down is pretty cruel, it saddens me to imagine your dog out there on the hard tarmac shivering and freezing, begging to be allowed back in to escape the icy wind only to be rejected by the owner she loves so much.

      Leaving her outside all night long in the pitch black, terrified and alone, is just excessive. I can’t imagine how bad she would have to be to deserve such treatment.

      • Aisling on April 26, 2013

        Oh I would never lock her outside for the night! And I wouldnt put her outside if its raining….that’s when she gets sent to her bed! Plus when I do put her outside, its for 20 mins or so. My dog is very well behaved, so its not often she gets punished anyway. You said that your dog walks on the heel and yet you want to get a prong collar and give it a few “hard snaps” just to prove your dominance. If you are the alpha in your family, you shouldnt have to prove yourself to your dog by beating it and being cruel to it!

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 26, 2013

    I typically just use a firm “No” with my dog if I want him to stop something such as barking or whining. Or sometimes I just ignore him or I get up and leave the room so he doesn’t get attention from me. I have given him a firm but soft tap on the nose to get him to stop barking at the door. I can’t speak for my dog, but I can guarantee it was soft enough not to hurt him. He is very sensitive.

    My “corrections” with him on a walk are gentle tugs. He typically wears a buckle collar now, but when he was younger he wore a prong or a choke collar. I still use these tools when we go to more exciting areas like state parks.

    Every dog is different. Some are very sensitive. Some do not seem to even notice a sharp tug from a prong collar. We all have to make the best decisions for our dogs. I believe it’s important to be a strong, consistent leader to my dog, and I believe it’s important that he’s able to look to me for safety, love and security as well. I would never want to scare him or hurt him.

  7. Anne on May 14, 2013

    Hi Lindsay, I just found your website and I’m so relieved! I have a 5 month old Border Collie/Terrier cross and my whole family came to the point of not wanting to walk her anymore because she pulls so hard. I finally hired a trainer and within 15 minutes and a thin choke chain she was walking at his side. I thought the chains were cruel until I saw it in use. I was able to take her for a walk today and the leash was *loose* until she saw a cat and that all went out the window, lol.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog and for not making me feel like a monster.

    Cheers

  8. Norma Cooney aka Loopy on June 12, 2013

    I have a 5 yr old jackapoo and he is an awesome little dog…except that he hates other dogs. He doesn’t care how big or how small he just attacks. I just got him this spring from some other people who also rescued him. He loves people but not dogs. The other day he pulled the leash right out of my hand, ran up a hill and attacked a Golden. I was so upset. The owner was ok about it but I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been thinking about a prong collar but they look hurtful and I don’t want to hurt him. I use a leash and a harness but I don’t think he’s ever been taught anything and he pulls all the time. I have a trainer coming on Monday evening to see what he thinks so I’m hoping he can be of some help. It would be nice just to go for a walk without all the pulling and wanting to have every dog he meets for dinner. Not sure what to do about the prong. I’ve read both good and bad on the internet about them so I’m split down the middle. Thanks for any insight.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 12, 2013

      Prong collars are a life saver for me as a dog walker. They don’t hurt the dogs. I recommend you find one in his size and give it a shot. The only thing I worry about sometimes is that the links can pop apart (very rarely, but it can happen). So you could maybe hook him up to both his harness and a prong collar for safety.

    • carsen on August 6, 2013

      If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs, pairing a painful stimulus to meeting new dogs is going to be counterproductive. All you’ll be doing is teaching your dog that meeting new dogs is a terribly unpleasant experience (which can lead to more fear and aggression).

      It’s normal for a dog who has never “been taught anything” to pull on walks. Dogs walk faster than us naturally and there’s all kinds of exciting smells, sounds and sights for them to want to explore on a walk. If you don’t give them instruction on what you want from them on a walk, they will decide what to do on their own. I recommend taking a high value currency (maybe a favorite toy or a special food treat) and doing a short walk with lots of rapid direction changes (in the beginning change directions every few steps), rewarding the dog each time he looks up at you to see where you’re going. What you want to teach your dog is that he should be looking to you for direction on a walk.

      After you get the walk down, you can begin adding distractions, working your way up to another dog, working only as fast as your dog will remain looking to you for how to behave in the situation. This way you will not only end up teaching your dog that walking and even meeting new dogs is a fun and pleasant experience, but you’ll be doing it in a way that strengthens your bond with your dog and improves your communication.

      It’s great that you are hiring a trainer as it’s really helpful to have someone to demonstrate for you when you’re learning to communicate with your dog. Check out some of the guidelines from the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists on selecting a good trainer. http://www.dacvb.org/resources/for-the-public/

  9. carsen on August 6, 2013

    You may be “sick” of positive reinforcement training, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the direction the science of animal behavior has been pointing in for the last 30 years or so. Positive reinforcement training has been shown to provide longer lasting results than “dominance theory training” (a theory now rebutted and rejected by the very researcher who developed it). When PRT has been used in conjunction with DTT, there has been shown to be no benefit over the exclusive use of PRT. DTT has also shown evidence of being DANGEROUS to the psychological health of the dog, in addition to often producing aggression.

    Your bike riding analogy is bogus unless you’re suggesting your parents shoved you over while you were on your bike.

  10. sue on August 14, 2013

    I think they are a waste of money. Flat collars have always been what I use. If I had to buy a metal collar I would not own a dog.

  11. Ashley on August 25, 2013

    I agree with you here Lindsay. That some times u do have to tell your dog no. I also agree about the prong collar. I have an australian cattle dog border collie mix and we used every tool. The one I liked was the easy walk harness but after 6 months of doing turn arounds and treats and watch me commands. Her pulling just kept getting worse. One day she was perfectly heeling and over the next 6 months it got worse no matter how many turn arounds I did. My dog doesn’t care for treats outside much, but when we use the prong collar, she is ten times better. She has become more patient believe it or not. She was super depressed for a long time and still is a little but I think that’s because she is actually getting the exercise she needs instead of stopping every step turning around and doing it all over again. The only tools I am against is the choke chain because it is too hard for owners to use it properly. I believe that if the prong is introduced properly, and it is made a positive thing then it’s not really an issue because its gentle pressure same as an easy walk harness would on there chest. My dog loves wearing a prong collar it gives her the exercise she needs and helps me stay calm on walks and actually enjoy them with her. Also about your question of long haired dogs. I usually only use 2 size of prong collars, if asked about them I usually don’t suggest them unless I feel it is necessary for saftey of owner and dog. I use the 2.0 or 2.25 for dogs under 50 pounds and 3.0 mm for dogs over. I feel the others are too big. And 1.75 for dogs under 20 pounds. But for long haired dogs the 2.25 seems to work well even if u have to buy other links

  12. Doug H. on January 23, 2014

    You show a picture of a prong collar incorrectly fitted on a dog. By doing so, you undercut any credibility you might have with a person who has seen or already knows hw to fit one. They are to be just under the jaw and close behind the ears and just snug enough not to slip; the slack in the leash should be mostly taken up by the left hand when walking a dog on the left. Geet a good picture of a properly fitted prong collar if you are going to discuss it.
    And if you cannot use a prong collar unless you are ‘calm’ then the dog has two problems. Fix yourself with the help of a trainer and follow what you know to be correct already: correct a dog… don’t jerk the collar/leash in anger. The prong collar and leash are to HELP a dog, not to give the person a weapon against the dog.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on January 23, 2014

      Sounds like we agree. You’re right, that’s not the best picture of a prong collar on my dog. The leash isn’t even attached to him there. It was taken after a walk. Agreed – prongs should be worn high on the neck, just under the jaw and behind the ears.

  13. Mary on June 12, 2014

    My favorite training collar is the custom cloth choke collar. I measure the dog around the neck just behind the ears and under the chin. These collars stay high on the dogs neck so that gentle corrections are very effective. Much more effective the the chains that slip down the neck of the dog constantly. If I am going to use a chain I get the ones that clip on, not the over the head style.

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