Dogs don’t pull on lead to make life miserable for us. Dogs pull on lead because it works for them. The more opportunity they have to pull to get to where they want to go, and often faster than we would like, the more they are (self) rewarded by the pulling behavior. Practice makes perfect. Like barking and jumping, pulling on lead is a self-rewarding or self-reinforcing behavior and every time the dog is successful in pulling, the more the dog will pull. In simple language, pulling works and dogs do what work for them.

The Gentle Leader is a management tool, not a training aid. The Gentle Leader PREVENTS the dog from being successful with the pulling behavior. When properly fitted the dog simply cannot pull, therefore is not being (self) rewarded by the behavior. This enables the human to have control over the dog. Walking a dog on a Gentle Leader does not teach the dog how to walk nicely on a loose leash. Establishing reinforcement zones and lots and lots of practice, starting in low distraction environments and gradually working up to more distracting environments will teach the dog to walk nicely on lead.

The Gentle Leader is not physically uncomfortable to the dog. Most dogs have initial resistance to it just as young puppies balk the first time they have a collar put on them. Dogs do not have control over their heads when wearing the Gentle Leader and it takes a few wearings for the dog to become comfortable with not having control of their heads.

We want to make the transition process easy for our dogs so we desensitize them to the Gentle Leader. There are exercises we can do with our dogs with the Gentle Leader before we actually take the dog on a walk with it. Below, is my Shaggeypaws Gentle Leader Desensitization protocol.


The Gentle Leader is a wonderful piece of equipment to be utilized as a management tool. The dog is not allowed to practice pulling when on the Gentle Leader. Remember, rewarded behavior gets repeated, repeated behavior becomes habit, good as well as bad habits are hard to break. We do not want our dogs to have opportunities being successful with pulling on lead. The Gentle Leader is also very useful for dogs who are reactive to other dogs or to people. The dog is not allowed to lunge because the Gentle Leader controls the head which controls the dog. This is why it is often referred to as an attitude adjuster. I highly recommend dogs who are reactive wear the Gentle Leader when in public.

The Gentle Leader will not teach your dog to walk nicely on lead. It is not a teaching tool. It is a management tool. To teach your dog to walk in heel position or to walk politely on a loose leash, continue working on your Loose Leash Walking lessons.

Your dog is not going to like wearing the Gentle Leader. It does not cause pain to your dog when properly fitted. It does take control of the dog’s head away from him and he will not like that. The Gentle Leader may feel a bit awkward to your dog at first. If you ever wore braces on your teeth as a child you will remember how awkward that felt. Same thing when we first had to wear undergarments during adolescence. The restrictive garments didn’t hurt but we did have to get used to them. It is the same with the Gentle Leader.

Below is the bar opened, bar closed exercise. The Gentle Leader does not need to be fitted at this point and do not put it on the dog all of the way.

Just loosely place the muzzle loop on your dogs muzzle.

The Bar is Opened!!!!

Put the Gentle Leader’s muzzle loop loosely on your dog’s muzzle. Be very quiet and don’t talk to him. Continually feed him special treats while his Gentle Leader is on him. Keep the Gentle Leader on for about 10 to 15 seconds during the first few trials.

Take the Gentle Leader off of your dog’s muzzle.

The Bar is Closed (ah…shucks!!!!) No more treats.

Wait about 1 minute and repeat –

Gentle Leader on – The Bar is Opened

Gentle Leader off – the Bar is Closed

Do this exercise for 3 to 4 days, 3 to 4 times per day. We want the dog to get used to having the muzzle loop on him and to associate this with really delicious treats.

Make sure the Gentle Leader has been properly fitted by a trainer. The muzzle loop should be tight enough so the dog cannot paw it off but loose enough so the dog can eat and drink. The attachment piece should be fitted high on the head behind the ears and should be tight. If you can barely place a finger under the head strap, then it is fitted correctly. Once the fit is proper then proceed with the following:

Put the Gentle Leader on your dog. Open the bar.

THE BAR IS OPENED!!!!! Feed lots of delicious treats for 15 seconds.

After 15 seconds, take the Gentle Leader off and remove the treats.

THE BAR IS CLOSED (aw shucks!!!!)

Repeat this 3 to 4 times per day.

Gradually work up to 30 seconds, then 45 seconds and then one minute.

You can feed your dog his meals when using the Gentle Leader.

When you have your dog wearing his Gentle Leader for 1 minute without scratching or thrashing, then you are ready to proceed to hooking the Gentle Leader to your dog’s leash.

Have food treats in your hand. Work in a quiet area (indoors) with no to little distractions. Walk your dog 5 to 6 steps. Feed every 6 steps or so after each successful interval.

If your dog is thrashing or trying to paw the Gentle Leader off, try to redirect his attention using treats. DO NOT take the Gentle Leader off of your dog while he is protesting. Wait until the dog is calm (this can be as short of a period as 1 second of calm so your observational and timing skills are critical) and then take off the Gentle Leader.

Once you are successful inside, then attach the Gentle Leader to your dog’s leash outside in your back yard. Again, we want a low level of distraction. When your dog is successful walking around in the yard, you may start using the Gentle Leader on walks outside of your yard and house. Remember, you MUST NOT jerk or use corrections while your dog in on the Gentle Leader. The Gentle Leader will keep the dog from pulling, you do not need to jerk the leash. Keep treats on you as your dog may shut down or not want to walk or continue moving at first. You also will need to keep treats on you for redirecting your dog if he starts to paw or try to get his Gentle Leader off.

Start slowly and build slowly off of each successful level.


Katherine Smith

Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor