New Horizons Veterinary Behavior Solutions

300 Somonauk St.
Park Forest, IL 60466


The Gentle Leader Headcollar


When working with dogs who are exuberant pullers or highly aroused or reactive, head halters provide an effective and humane training tool.  Head Halters are a bit more complicated to properly fit, acclimate and use than
no-pull harnesses. They may not work for every dog.  We suggest you work with us or a reward based positive dog trainer to learn how to use this tool effectively.

The Gentle Leader is the most famous Head Harness and was invented by an icon in Veterinary Behavior Medicine, Dr. R.K. Anderson. 

Other examples of head halters include the Halti Head Collar and an Australian company called The Black Dog, makes two styles of head Halters, a Training Halter and the Infi-8 Halter.

  Training Halter (medium)      Infin8 Halter (size 3)
Black Dog Training Halter                        The Infi-8 Halter

Here is a video describing the differences in the two Black Dog head halters


Like Front Clip Body Harnesses, Head Harnesses avoid the "Opposition Reflex", the natural instinct for a dog to pull:

  • With regular collars, dogs move into the pressure instead of backing away from it. This is the opposition reflex and it is why sled dogs are so good at pulling.  A Collar or harness that attaches from the back causes pressure on the front of the neck promoting the dog to move into the pressure and pull forward.
  • The Gentle Leader head collar distributes the majority of the pressure to the back of the head...thus no instinct for the dog to pull forward.
  • Head Harnesses allow the handler to control the dog's head, just like a halter on a horse. Where the head goes the body follows. The head halter allows the handler to steer the dog.  A handler only has to compete with the strength of the neck and head not all the power packed in the dog's body, making this a great size, age and gender equalizer.
  • The neck strap puts pressure on the back of the neck and head and this often results in an observable calming effect.

The most important tip is to avoid quickly forcing a head halter on and  then immediately trying training, desensitizing, working, or any other things that are not always fun for a dog. This associates the head halter with either “not so much fun” or even a negative experience. Owners should take their time in introducing the head halter and make sure they do some fun staff with their dogs after putting it on (i.e. treats, walks, play time, and feeding). 

It is very important to take the time to learn how to use a Head Harness properly and to condition a positive emotional response to it.  

Dog with head halter

Below are links to videos and more information about fitting and using the Gentle Leader but the basic concepts apply to all head halters.

One Week Plan to Adapt Your Dog to a Head Halter

No matter what new technique or training tool you are introducing, conditioning a positive emotional response will teach your dog to love the new tool. This concept is the same thing that happens when we inadvertently condition our dogs to a leash or to our car keys.  When a dog sees his leash, he gets excited and happy, he associates the leash with a fun walk!  This is a positive response.  This is what we want to do when we introduce a head halter.  

A negative emotional response is what happens when car keys get picked up and a dog becomes anxious and nervous because he anticipates and associates the clinking of the keys with his human leaving.  This is the type of negative response we want to avoid when introducing and using a head collar.

Video:  Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. John Ciribassi, DACVB, demonstrates how to stop pulling with a Gentle Leader


Gentle Leader Instruction Brochure

 The fit-should fit above the larynx (Adam's apple), directly behind the ears, and touching the base of the skull. Only one finger should fit between back of neck and neck strap.

 Fitting process-Work from behind or the side of the dog. Do not approach the dog from directly in front. Start by getting an idea where to adjust the neck strap and make gross adjustments while headcollar is off the dog. Minor adjustments may be made while on or off the dog. Pull the excess skin (scruff) down and away from the headcollar. This will help keep the neck strap in place. Point out that the dog is not experiencing any distress.
 The fit-Fits just in front of the eyes and behind the commissures of the lips. There should be enough room to pull nose loop from in front of eyes to where the flesh and fur come together at the end of the nose, without pulling off the nose.
 The fitting process
With the dog at your side or between your legs (don't approach head on), hold the Nose Loop open, and reach under the dog's head to slip the Nose Loop over his nose to the base of the muzzle, close to his eyes and give a little treat.
Snap the Neck Strap high on the neck at its pre-fitted position.
Make the final adjustment to the Nose Loop.
It should be in front of the dog's eyes and behind the corners of his mouth. The Nose Loop must be loose enough to pull forward to the fleshy part of the nose, but not so loose that it can be pulled entirely off the muzzle. (If you can't pull it off, neither can the dog.)
Slide the clamp up to adjust the size of the Nose Loop.
With your thumb and index finger, pinch the nylon of the Nose Loop underneath the clamp, temporarily holding it from moving. Test the size of the Nose Loop by pulling it forward as far as it will go. When it touches the beginning of the fleshy part of the nose, but is not so loose that you can pull it off, then close the clamp by pressing down on the tab-you'll hear a snap as it locks.

Do not use Front Clip Harnesses or Head Halters with a retractable leash!  With a retractable leash, the dog is "rewarded" with additional leash when he pulls ahead!!  We want the dog to learn to NOT pull ahead.  In addition, a retractable leash will always apply a slight constant pressure, teaching your dog it is okay to continue pulling. Simply choose a 4-6 foot lightweight nylon or leather leash. A light weight leash and clasp are important to prevent a heavy weight causing pressure on the nose loop and discomfort.