Sometimes Labrador Retrievers and other large-breed dogs can be difficult to walk or manage on a leash. This can be especially true for dogs who are new to training or have been rescued from environments with no leash-walking experience.
Excitable dogs such as playful and friendly Labs can be hard to walk without proper training, and even with training can become overly excited on a leash when seeing other dogs, wildlife, and food trucks!
If your Labrador is pulling heavily on a leash while you’re walking him or her, it can make outside time very difficult and walks a nightmare!
There are many strategies that Lab parents can utilize to help stop their dog from pulling on the leash while walking, including products you can purchase such as special harnesses and collars that intend to prevent pulling behavior.
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One of those collars is sold by a brand named Pet Safe called the “Gentle Leader Head Collar.”
It’s designed for any breed of dog, not just Labradors, who may have trouble resolving issues with pulling on a leash.
We purchased this product with our vet’s approval and are going to give you a summary of how it works, what happened when we tried it on our Labs, and how to decide if it makes sense for your Labrador Retriever.
What is the Gentle Leader Collar for Dogs?
The Gentle Leader is a head collar that your dog wears which is designed to try to stop them from pulling.
It has an adjustable strap that goes over their nose and mouth, and another strap that clips around the back of their head (behind their ears).
It then has another strap hanging down underneath the dog’s head with a loop where you clip your leash.
Here’s what the Gentle Leader actually looks like on a super-cute chocolate Labrador:
It’s designed to stop pulling on a leash and is not a muzzle!!!
It does not stop dogs from biting and will not affect your dog’s ability to drink water, bite, or eat a treat when used according to the instructions.
(If you have an aggressive Labrador, please seek assistance from your vet and a trainer rather than utilizing a head collar that is not intended to prevent aggression or biting behavior.)
How Does the Gentle Leader Work?
If your dog begins to pull on the leash while walking, the Gentle Leader will slightly pull your dog’s nose down or back to the side, which your Lab will not enjoy.
It takes all the fun out of pulling, so very quickly your dog will learn that pulling behavior does not move them forward and they won’t have an incentive to pull on the leash.
With a normal leash or back-clip harness, when your dog pulls it moves them forward in the direction they want while pulling you along with them. Not good!
With a head collar, the pulling motion of the dog does not move the dog very far forward, and only results in the dog’s nose being turned sideways.
(Read more on the Pros & Cons of a Harness vs. Collar for Dogs)
Very quickly your dog will figure out that they don’t benefit anymore from pulling, so they typically will stop doing it… though your actual success will vary depending on how spirited your Lab’s personality is!
According to Pet Safe, they state that the Gentle Leader does not choke and that “pressure is applied to the back of the neck (rather than the front) reducing your dog’s drive to pull forward.”
We’ve seen it sold in pet stores for more than 15 years, so it’s an established pet product. Still, we always suggest you ask your vet what they think before trying any new methods.
Inside the Package
The Gentle Leader sells online and at pet stores for about $20-$25, depending on the size of your dog.
The sizes are:
- Petite: Under 5 lbs
- Small: Under 25 lbs
- Medium: 25-60 lbs
- Large: 60-130 lbs
- XL: Over 130 lbs
Most Labrador Retrievers will fall into the category of the Large size Gentle Leader.
It’s available in several colors including black, pink, gray, green, and blue.
(Sadly, no chocolate brown color is available for chocolate Labs at this time!)
Inside the box, you get the Gentle Leader, an instructional guide, and a DVD that walks you through more details if you need it.
If you choose to use it, make sure you read about how to get a proper fit so it’s not too tight on your dog’s head, and doesn’t cause discomfort or prevent your dog from being able to pant or move their mouth.
Does the Gentle Leader Really Work for Labs?
Unpacking the Gentle Leader out of the box, it sets up very quickly. You determine the right size of your Labrador’s head and adjust the strap to fit somewhat loosely over it.
I made sure that it wasn’t tight on the muzzle or mouth of my Lab because I don’t want my babies to be uncomfortable, but you want to make sure it fits without falling off.
It is adjustable, so you can take it on and off to fit multiple dogs or change the size if you feel like it isn’t correct at any time.
Putting it on is quick, and you snap the clip over your dog’s head behind the ears. Then you can clip the leash to the strap underneath and start walking!
How your Lab reacts is another story! There were many moments of canine theatrics and drama upon first trying the Gentle Leader with the Labs of Labrador Wise, and they were not fond of it from the start.
Our Labs tried to paw their face at first to pull the collar off, and tried to rub their heads on the grass or floor to get it off.
Once we began walking, they shook their heads the first few steps and tried to make sure we understood they didn’t think it was cool.
However, for our Labradors, it did seem to curb their desire to pull, especially when faced with an exciting or unusual object that set off their hunt drive.
Within about 3-4 minutes of starting the first walk with it, they stopped trying to paw the Gentle Leader off their faces and were walking calmly by our side.
While our Labs have had extensive training on loose-leash walking, sometimes that amazing Labrador hunt drive can make minding their manners a bit difficult, especially if they cross paths with a squirrel, duck, or neighborhood cat.
You know your dog best, and will know what types of things will trigger your dog’s impulsive behavior or hyperactive Lab moments. If your Lab doesn’t demonstrate any moments of Dog Zoomies or crazy behavior, count yourself lucky to have a Unicorn Labrador.
It’s always important to train your Lab for loose-leash walking, but in our experience it did work for stopping any desire to pull on the leash very quickly.
Should You Buy a Gentle Leader Collar for Your Labrador?
While the product manufacturer states that the Gentle Leader is recommended by vets and trainers, we’ve found that you need to ask your specific veterinarian what they suggest for your dog.
We’ve had vets recommend the Gentle Leader directly to us for certain Labs in the past, but we’ve also come across trainers that seem to despise the idea of head collars in general because they believe it doesn’t actually teach the dog to stop pulling.
It really depends on your dog, and you know your dog best.
Will it dramatically change their behavior? Probably not.
Should you have them wear it all the time on every walk? Maybe not.
It might be a useful tool when used at the appropriate time and circumstance.
For young Labrador puppies, you may want to focus your training on loose-leash walking and controlling impulsive behavior, rather than putting the Gentle Leader on.
When your Lab is smaller in size (and lighter in weight) you can work on training for the behavior you want and preventing pulling on the leash in the first place before it even starts!
We’ve worked with Lab rescues that had fully-grown (and enormous) Labradors who were still learning basic manners, had no recall, and had no leash training prior. In those cases, the Gentle Leader might make more sense for them while undergoing training.
When we adopted a very large rescue Labrador Retriever, the rescue’s veterinarian recommended we try the Gentle Leader while we were still training our boy what a leash even was!
If you have an intelligent Labrador Retriever (or another smart dog breed) you might notice they change their behavior when wearing the Gentle Leader but go back to their old pulling behaviors if it’s not on.
So it may be effective, but you’ll still need to encourage good training when it’s not being used.
You also shouldn’t leave it on your dog unsupervised, or let them wear it for long periods of time. It’s only intended for supervised walks with you.
In our experience, the Gentle Leader is effective at reducing pulling on the leash, but shouldn’t be a substitute for training your dog for loose-leash walking and good manners.
What it can do is help you in certain instances where you need your dog to be under control in a highly-excitable environment.
For our Labs, arriving at the dog park or going on walks in snowy or icy conditions are times where we might find ourselves using the Gentle Leader to prevent any pulling that might arise even in a well-trained dog. You should discuss with your vet whether it makes sense for your individual dog.
For more helpful tips on training your Labrador, check out the rest of our Tips & Training section!