BY HEATHER DOWDY
So often when I am walking Briley, people assume that this strap over her nose is a muzzle, and I hate that it gives that perception -- especially since she is a lovable but often misunderstood pit bull! So, for those who may not know, I thought I'd make a post about what this wonderful tool actually is, and how you can use it to prevent leash pulling.
Although it might look similar, this little loop over Briley's nose is not a muzzle. It is a fabulous training tool called a Gentle Leader, a harness made by PetSafe to discourage leash pulling. It wraps around her nose and snaps closed behind her head, then it attaches to the lead under her chin. The idea is that, were she to pull, her head is gently lifted up and back--distracting her from her goal ahead and causing her to stop pulling.
Now, let me be clear: you can't just put this thing on and expect your dog to miraculously stop pulling. Like most good things, it requires a little work and patience to get it right, but it's so worth the effort! I have seen far too many dog parents walking dogs while wearing these, and yet the dogs are pulling with all their might, which may not be the best for you pup pal and might even cause harm. It's important to understand how to use this great tool correctly, so it will be safe and effective.
Tip #1: Help your Dog LOVE the Harness!
If you force your pet to wear a new harness--especially one across her face--you'll most likely cause your dog to have an aversion to the harness, and you're not going to see much success. It's important to gently introduce your pup to this new accessory and to make it FUN!
Start by placing the harness onto the ground, or held loosely in your hand. When your pup goes up to investigate it, happily say "YES!" and immediately offer a yummy training treat. (We love Primal Organic Nibs and Zukes Mini Treats, available along with other great brands at local pet stores like Happy Retales, Licker & Whine, Three Dog Bakery and Nashville Holistic Pet.) If she noses it, say "YES! Good girl!" and treat. You want her to be convinced that touching this harness makes treats rain from above! This harness is the best thing ever invented!
Practice just this step for a few days, several times a day. Make a game out of it. Toss the harness a few feet from you and let her figure out that you want her to go touch it. Be patient. When she finally does, yes-and-treat. Then let her figure out to go back and touch again. Most dogs catch onto the game fairly quickly and it becomes a fun and interactive brain game for them!
Once your pup is doing well with the game, lay the harness against her nose with a treat, and when it touches her, say "yes!" and treat. After practicing this a day or two, put the loop over her nose and treat... then fasten the harness and treats... and so on. Slowly build up to her actually wearing the harness, offering lots of praise and yummies along the way.
Before long, she'll be begging to wear it! BRING ON THE TREATS! Well done, dog parent. Proceed to tip #2.
Tip #2: Find the Proper Fit
Now that you've positively conditioned your dog to the harness, it's time to adjust for proper fit.
See the diagram below for how to properly fit the harness. You don't want it too loose or too tight; the correct fit is vital to success. If it's too loose, it won't work effectively and may even slip off your dog. If too tight, your pooch may be uncomfortable and paw it it, trying to get it off. The key is in finding the correct fit, and training your pet to the harness.
Your dog will able able to open her mouth, pant, eat and drink as usual.
Tip #3: When it's Time to Wear, Start Slow
Now that your pup is loving the harness and you have it properly fitted, it's time to let him warm up to wearing it around. Put it on and then feed him, letting him eat from his bowl while wearing it. Let him walk around the house and play with it on. This way, he gets used to the feel of wearing it without any pressure from a leash.
Then, try a short walk--perhaps just across your yard and back. Have your pup sit next to you, then praise and treat. From there, begin to walk, keeping your leash loose. If your dog begins to pull and the leash becomes tight, stop waking and very gently lift upward on the lead. Most dogs will instantly slow down and give the leash slack, and your job is to immediately say "Yes!" and treat as soon as that happens. Repeat the process as you continue to walk. As you repeat this, your pup will start to learn that pulling results in stopping and looking up rather than rushing forward; he will also start to understand that the moment he stops pulling and directs attention to you, you get all happy and treats appear. Another game! What fun!
As your pup gets better and better at the game, you can go farther distances.
Tip #4: Practice Patience... and Keep it Fun!
If your pup starts to get frustrated or at first doesn't understand, it's okay! Every dog is different and some will learn faster than others. If this is the case, keep training sessions brief and be sure to end on a good note, when he gives a correct response and gets treats.
Thanks to the guidance of our trainer, Charlotte Blake of Fresh Canine, we learned and practiced all of these steps for about ten to twelve days before Briley was ready for a regular-length walk. But her real first walk was simply amazing!
Before the Gentle Leader, her well-muscled forty-five pounds pulled me down the street, which made it especially hard for me to walk her, as my Rheumatoid Autoimmune Disease often leaves my hands and wrists painful and weak.
But with this harness on, she was walking like a total pro! No pulling, no yanking... just happily trotting at my side. And every so often, while she was walking loose-leashed at my side, I made sure to praise and reward her to emphasize her good behavior.
This harness and lead have truly changed our relationship with Briley. We can now enjoy hiking with her and long walks around the neighborhood; we can take her into crowded spaces without fear of her jumping up and yanking to greet others. It's meant that we can spend even more time together, and that we both truly enjoy that time, rather than it quickly becoming a frustrating experience.
In fact, check out our Instagram video of her walking on it here... it makes such a difference!
If you've never tried the Gentle Leader before, I suggest watching this introduction and training video. It's very helpful in getting you started. And if you're ready to try one, it's available at all sorts of area pet supply stores as well as online here.
Here's to happier walks!
We were not compensated or sponsored by Gentle Leader for this post... we just love it and wanted to share useful info! Hope you enjoyed it!