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
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
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)
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.
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?