How to lead with a gentle leader
Is your dog a puller? Does he always have his nose to the ground? Does it take a while to get your puppy’s attention while on a walk? A gentle leader is a fantastic tool to help you gain control and limit distractions while on walks! Gentle leaders are especially helpful for keeping your dog’s eyes on you and keeping them more focused.
To get the greatest benefit out of it, a gentle leader must be sized properly for your dog so that your dog can’t easily slip out of it. A proper fit is the best way to keep them safe too. If you have a puppy, their gentle leader will have to be resized as they grow, just like their collar. More info on fitting can be found here.
WHAT’S THIS THING ON MY FACE?
Conditioning your dog to a gentle leader will take time, patience, and practice. Remember, when introducing something new to your dog, it’s easiest to do so in a quiet, calm environment.
First, hold the nose loop open with one hand while holding a treat in the other. Use the treat hand to guide your dog’s nose through the loop, but don’t move your loop hand. Once your dog has put their nose through the loop, mark the desired behaviour with a “Yes!” and reward with the treat. Take the loop off of their nose – make sure you take it off before they try to paw it off or remove it on their own. That is not a desired behaviour or a habit you want them to start!
Repeat this exercise a couple more times. On the fourth try, hold your hands in the same manner but don’t use a treat in your guiding hand. When your dog puts their nose through the loop, then get the reward out. Repeat this exercise one more time and end the session.
It’s best to repeat this exercise two or three times daily for a week. Reduce the number of times you hold the treat in your hand to lure their nose through the loop during every conditioning session. Your goal is to not have to use the lure at all by the end of the week but work at your own pace. All dogs learn at a different pace! And remember, if you have phased out of the food lure, do not reintroduce it in that training session or your dog may learn to hold out on compliance until you bring the lure back.
GENTLE LEADER = GOOD TIMES
Now that your dog is comfortable putting their nose through the loop, you want them to get used to wearing the gentle leader on their face during positive experiences. There are a lot of ways to do this!
If your dog is food motivated, try having your dog put their nose through the loop and click the neck part together then release them to eat their meal. In this scenario, the meal is their reward and a positive association with the gentle leader. You can also try giving them a frozen stuffed Kong. This option keeps them occupied for a while too!
If your dog is motivated by play or attention, try having them put their nose through the loop and then play with them!
In all of these scenarios, the dog is enjoying the things that are happening while wearing the gentle leader and will create that positive association that you’re wanting. Try doing these two or three times daily for a week.
NO MORE LURING
After you’ve phased out the treat, try phasing out the luring hand too, and just hold the nose loop out for your dog to access. Start by holding your luring hand further and further away from the nose loop, until it can ‘disappear’ completely. Remember to work at your dog’s pace – it’s important to maintain your dog’s success.
When your dog puts their nose through the loop and you can click the neck strap together, try attaching the leash to their collar and take them out for a five-minute walk. Quick washroom breaks are a great time to try this out! If you want to go for a longer walk, remove the gentle leader after the five minutes are up.
EVERY MOMENT COUNTS
If your dog is doing well with the last exercise, you can try going for short walks and build up the amount of time your dog has the gentle leader on. Start at 5 minutes, increase to 10 minutes, gradually increasing over time. You can also stop periodically throughout a long walk to alternate between having the leash attached to the gentle leader or their flat collar. This allows for acclimation to the gentle leader while not always having the possible nose pressure.
Don’t use the gentle leader as a replacement for training; it’s important that your dog behaves while using a gentle leader and a regular collar.
If your dog starts to fuss while wearing the gentle leader, at any step, go back to basics and work on positive conditioning. Work at your dog’s pace to have the most success!
If you want more information on dog tips and tricks, look at our other blog posts at http://www.nsd.on.ca/blog.