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Gentle Leader vs. Prong Collar

Gentle Leader vs. Prong Collar

Gentle Leader vs. prong or pinch collar

*Note: That Mutt is supportive of a variety of dog training methods. This is not about “one vs. the other” but instead focuses on some of the pros & cons of different types of collars.

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.

Every type of dog training collar has it’s place for the right dog in the right situation. This does not mean it’s right for YOUR dog or my dog.

Some of those tools include:

Most dogs are going to respond well to a strong, fun leader who uses positive reinforcement along with mild “corrections.”

Gentle Leader vs. prong collar, which is better?

The two collars I want to focus on for this post are the Gentle Leader and the pinch (prong) collar. They are very different tools but are some of the most common tools recommend for strong pullers.

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This post contains affiliate links. I may earn money from the companies mentioned in this post.

Gentle Leader vs. pinch collar

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 flat 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. Remy), I am once again using both tools – separately, of course. (2019 update: Ace has passed away.)

What I like about the Gentle Leader

Reason #1: The Gentle Leader helps a dog remain calm

I use a Gentle Leader 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.

The Gentle Leader allows me to relax and just enjoy spending time with my dog and a friend in busy situations.

Black lab mix wearing a Gentle Leader
Ace with the Gentle Leader

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 less excited state of mind.

As another example, my former foster dog was feeling stressed out at a 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.

Reason #2: 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.

Remy 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 Remy wears a Gentle Leader, it eliminates his panting and choking noises by about 90 percent. When he’s quiet, other dogs are less likely to react. Since Remy is still learning how to ignore other dogs during walks, anything that helps him give off a calmer energy is a good thing.

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

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What I don’t like about the Gentle Leader

Reason #1: 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 some 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.

Example with my foster dog wearing the Gentle Leader

For example, one time I took foster dog 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 when I’m walking certain dogs.

For shorter walks, a Gentle Leader might be fine. For longer walks, the pinch collar might be better.

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.

Reason #2: 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 generally go right back to pulling unless you’re working very hard to teach “heel” or loose-leash walking.

Cosmo was getting pretty good at heeling as long as he had the Gentle Leader on. Without it, he was 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.

Dog wearing a Gentle Leader on a walk

From there, my goal is to achieve reliable obedience with no leash. Still, no dog is going to be perfect in every situation.

See my post: How to stop my dog from pulling.

Reason #3: 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 shut down at the sight of his Gentle Leader. His tail went between his legs, and he looked away. Once he had the Gentle Leader on and we went for a walk, he was fine, but he still avoided me every time I got it out.

Now, if I had Ace’s pinch collar in my hand, he came 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. Continue on with the walk, but it’s not always easy to deal with a bucking, rearing, 80-pound dog.

Reason #4: 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 mild leash “correction” (tug on the lash) for training purposes. The Gentle Leader is not designed for corrections.

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

What I like about the pinch collar

Reason #1: The pinch collar allows you to give the dog a gentle correction

Pinch collar on Amazon

If my dog is focused on a smell or another dog during a walk, all he needs is gentle tug on the leash and prong collar to re-direct his attention. This is not meant to scare him or cause him pain. 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, “Ha, 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.

Reason #2: The prong 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.

My dog Ace

When I was teaching Ace to heel, I would have him wear his nylon collar and his prong 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

Reason #1: 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. “Well, aren’t you gonna pick that up?”

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

Reason #2: The pinch collar gets caught in long hair

Another reason I didn’t like the prong collar for my foster dog was because it didn’t seem to work with his thick fur. It works better on my dog Remy, who has very short fur. I’d like to hear some other opinions on this.

Reason #3: The pinch collar can hurt a dog if it is not used properly

I don’t use a pinch collar on a dog unless I am calm and collected. If I am frustrated with a dog, I might be too tempted to give the dog a harsher tug on the leash. This 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 just make the pulling more tolerable for the person.

Reason #4: 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. This is why some people say a prong collar can make a dog’s aggression worse. This is not the case with normal, stable dogs but can trigger a reaction from sensitive dogs like Cosmo. He would sometimes react on his regular nylon collar as well. I believe his “temper tantrums” were 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 started using the pinch collar again on longer walks. He did much better after he was used to it.

Do you see how it gets complicated finding the right collar?

Other training 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?

*If you would like to receive our FREE down-to-earth, weekly dog training tips, Click Here

Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.

TRAINING TOOLS MENTIONED IN THIS POST:

  1. Gentle Leader.
    A Gentle Leader fits around the dog’s muzzle for a gentle way to encourage the dog not to pull.
  2. Prong collar.
    Prong collars are helpful training tools for strong pullers that makes it easier to transition to a regular, flat collar.
  3. No-pull harness.
    An EasyWalk no-pull harness is helpful if you prefer a harness for training. The leash clips to the chest, encouraging the dog not to pull.

Related articles:

Get all of our training tips HERE

Gentle Leader vs. pinch collar
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Elizabeth

Saturday 23rd of January 2021

My dog does really well on the gentle leader, usually gets back on track with a quick tug and a redirect...but if a squirrel or rabbit darts out in front of us, he starts squirming and pulling! The only remedy I've found to reign him in is to wrap the leash around my hips for extra support, give a large yank to get him closer to me, and then grab him by the scruff and around the belly/chest... still trying to teach him how to stay calm in the presence of critters but in the meantime I'm doing everything I can to redirect without hurting him!

Kim Chappell

Sunday 29th of November 2020

Hello, I always recommend using a safety strap or carabiner connected from the “ dead” ring on a prong collar to another collar on the dog, because the links coming apart is common. I use a Dominant dog collar to attach the prong to, because they are fitted exactly to the dogs neck, and they cannot slip out of them when fitted correctly. It’s also important to buy a quality prong collar, as many now are made poorly with sharp saw cut prongs that can damage the dog easily. I prefer Herm Sprenger made in Germany prong collars, tho I’ve seen some China made HS imposters for sale. I always check all the points on the prong collars, if they not fully rounded I return the collar immediately.

As to head halters, the only one I use and recommend is the Transitional Leash, by K9Lifeline. The leash comes off the back of the dogs head,instead of under the jaw as most head halters do. The material and mechanical aspects of this training tool are usually much more easily accepted by dogs than the Halti or other head halters.

Susan Kanar

Friday 27th of November 2020

I really enjoyed your article, I have trained 2 Pulik - 2 Komondors - 1 Bergamasco, and because of size, my husband and I chose a Puli. I've only used a slip collar on all of them, but my new Puli is the devil . I found that a fur saver slip is best for long haired dogs. this little puli of mine seems to work better on the slip. I've tried the others and the slip seems to be the best for him, the prong did nothing.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 27th of November 2020

Thank you!

Cheryl

Sunday 15th of March 2020

I am one whom has always thought a prong was a bad tool. Admit I have scowled at those using them. Thank you for your detailed explanation with how they work, they made me rethink. My rescue was very easy to train, the only negative she came with was trying to run across a street to meet people she saw, scary in a busy area with 3 lain main streets but she learned fast. She still wants to meet everyone but no longer goes to run across streets.

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 15th of March 2020

Thanks, Cheryl

Eddie

Wednesday 11th of September 2019

I just want to share my experience and thank you for sharing your experience. Anyway I had dogs when I was really young, but I was not prepared when I rescued Bear, a very strong and strong-willed aggressive but sweet lab/springer mix, who was going to be put down because of several behavioral issues, and their previous adopter had actually ditched him out of frustration apparently. I agree with the experimentation and various method approach because like you mentioned in this post every dog is different. Especially a 1 1/2 year old rescue dog with behavioral issues will not be the same as training a dog from when they are a puppy, and other similar situations.

I did read through all the comments on everything and one should just ignore the comments of those that want to judge and say you are inhumane or a monster for using a prong or even an e-collar. It is better to just brush off those ignorant people than risking having a child or elderly person bitten/attacked, the dog running in the street and getting hit by car, or the dog viciously killing your beloved cat. All those things I went through the experience with my dog Bear because I was told that I should only use positive reinforcement and that I would be a hater of dogs or be a horrible person if I used any type of what is thought as negative reinforcement. What would have been truly inhumane for me would be if I continued to only use positive reinforcement and increase the chances of any those things spiraling out of control. Even if a person considers themselves a dog lover that emphatically believes in the use of only positive...if that was your child in danger of getting attacked by my dog...some of you if you are reasonable and not ignorant might reconsider your positive reinforcement only stance.

What ended up working was using and still using the prong collar for walks which he has come to love actually. He jumps and does a spin in the air when he see me grab his prong collar and leash. It stopped the aggressive barking, lunging, continuous pulling and calmed him and made him change almost overnight. After using the prong collar he has only pulled really hard once recently to the point of making himself yelp because he felt he needed to protect me from someone trying to mug me.

And for those that said "why don't you test it on yourself blah blah blah"...I actually tested the prong collar on myself and yeah it was a sharp pinch, but it actually didn't break the skin and I actually had my friend tug harder on it than I use on it if I have to correct Bear.

I used positive reinforcement for all his tricks, dinner time manners and teaching him how to wait instead of bolting out the door into the street in which a couple of times I had ended up spending an hour chasing him around the neighborhood and apologizing to people, etc. That was both very stressful and scary for me. And I continued to use positive reinforcement for that even though it took me months to mostly fix that behavior...and I say mostly because when he gets really happy and excited he still tries to do that sometimes. But the one time he got out after that he actually stayed close to home and only rampaged up and down the sidewalk a couple of times.

I ended up purchasing and using an e-collar on him because he tried to kill my older kitten one too many times and I had exhausted everything else. I only used the shock feature twice though and after that the beeps seemed to work. It was also the only thing that taught him some car manners, but once again only used the beeps for even that. And now my cat Sporx and him are best buds and play with each other actually.

Thank you again for a such wonderful article/post...I came here researching the gentle lead collar which he does not like at all either...as a side note.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 12th of September 2019

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on all these different tools, and I'm so glad you've found options that work well for your pup!