During yesterdays rant about “humane” training tools, I touched briefly on Gentle Leaders (for more info, see the earlier post, “Positive Bias?”).
One thing that has always bothered me is that 99% of the head halters I see are not sized correctly.
According to Gentle Leader’s directions, direct from their website (which I recommend everyone take a look at, particularly the illustrations):
The Neck Strap MUST:
- Be positioned as high on the neck as possible, directly behind ears and touching based of skull in back, and above Adam’s apple in front.
- Not be able to rotate around neck
- Fit very snuggly (sic) at top of neck so that you can barely squeeze only one finger underneath, like a belt, watch band or shoe. This is the MOST important part of the entire fitting process! Please resist the temptation to make the Neck Strap loose – if you loosen it, either your dog will be able to paw the Nose Loop off, or you will wind up making the Nose Loop too tight, or the Nose Loop will rotate causing discomfort.
The Nose Loop Should:
- Be loose and comfortable so that your dog can freely open his mouth.
- Be able to move freely from just in front of the eyes to beginning of the wet part of the nose.
- Rest behind the corners of the mouth
- Not be so loose that it can be pulled off over the nose (after snap clamp is adjusted).
Premier (the new owners of Gentle Leader) claim that the halter “painlessly and effectively removes the dog’s natural tendency to pull by placing gentle pressure on calming points and eliminating uncomfortable pressure on the throat.”
Painless? Effective? Gentle pressure? Calming points? I could outline my doubts about each claim individually, and I may do so in the future, but this is the line that ALWAYS frustrates me:
“Not a muzzle…when fitted properly a dog can open its mouth to eat, drink, pant, fetch, and bark.”
This is simply untrue. When the neck and nose loops are PROPERLY fitted, the dog can not open its mouth fully. Despite all the talk to the contrary, the reality is that these tools impede a dog’s capability to yawn, hold objects in their mouth bigger than a stick, eat, drink and pant. They still seem to be able to bark just fine, although the sound is certainly altered by the dog’s inability to open its mouth comfortably.
To illustrate this, Viatecio has graciously allowed me to post the following video. This was filmed at her school with one of the canine “students.” This dog has been wearing this tool for FIVE YEARS, and you can clearly see that she considers the tool an aversive. Most importantly, watch as Viatecio clearly illustrates the PROPER way to fit a Gentle Leader, and the fit that results.
Once again, let me stress that there are situations in which a Gentle Leader is the most appropriate tool. There are dogs who can use one with a poor fit and not spend every waking minute trying to shed themselves of the device. There are even dogs who seem to calm down when the Leader is put on, and of course dogs who do “just fine” on the halter and whose owners have just always used one.
That’s great! Seriously, it is. Where I get a little negative is when “positive” trainers claim that these halters are somehow more humane than a check chain or a prong collar or ANY other training tool.
A little tidbit to send you all home with – according to the official instructions and Premier’s website, the halter:
- Can be used with dogs eight (8) weeks of age or older.
- Can be worn up to 18 hours/day.
First of all, if you want to talk about cruelty, let’s talk about putting an eight week old puppy in a collar that puts all of the pressure directly into his muzzle and spine. Surely that’s safe for growing bones, right? Then let’s talk about asking any dog of any age to wear one of these contraptions for 18 hours. That wouldn’t possibly lead to pent up frustration, right?
When you add up all of these things, the facial injuries, the soft tissue/spinal injuries, the neck injuries, the discomfort of the tool itself, the inescapable aversive the tool provides, and of course the fact that this is not a training tool but a management tool, suddenly the Gentle Leader seems not-quite-so-gentle. Or at least, not as “gentle” as the people who sell and push these things like they’re the answer to global warming would like you to think. The reality? ANY tool has the potential to be abused, and NO tool is inherently “humane” or “inhumane.” Find a trainer with a FULL toolbox.