There are many tools that can be used to aid in our training. Many people make the mistake of judging a book by its cover when it comes to tools vs understanding how they work and how to use them properly. We need to make sure to put our own biases aside and look at the dog in front of us. The dog ultimately is the one that dictates if a certain tool or methodology is aversive and to what extent. For example, many people think a Gentle Leader is "nicer" than a prong collar, even though most dogs find a Gentle Leader much more aversive than a prong collar. You would know this if you have seen 100 dogs reactions on a gentle leader for the first time vs a prong collar for the first time. You must keep an open mind when trying out different tools and use what works best for your dog. Many people worry about public perception, when your main concern should be thinking about how you and your dog can communicate most effectively and safely.
Even though Gentle Leaders can be aversive to a lot of dogs it can be a very useful tool to use if your dog takes to it well or is properly conditioned to one. When loose leash walking, it is important to have control of the dog's head. A Gentle Leader gives you the most control over the dog's head. There's a reason why large livestock are led around by a head-halter. If you are going to use a a Gentle Leader it must always be on a 4-foot or shorter leash. We don't want the dog to hit the end of the leash with a lot of momentum because that's how neck injuries can happen. The biggest downfall to a Gentle Leader is that dogs really tend to dislike them. With something like a prong collar, there is only pressure applied when the dog is pulling, but then the pressure releases when they are walking nicely. With a Gentle Leader, there is always something around their nose and many dogs are sensitive to pressure on their nose.
Generally, dogs find a prong collar much less aversive because you are able to apply and release pressure much better than a Gentle Leader. If a dog has a prong collar on and they are not pulling they do not feel any pressure. For the few dogs that are sensitive to the prong collar, you can reduce the amount of pressure by attaching the leash to both the O-rings until the dog becomes used to the prong collar. Reactivity (excessive lunging or barking at the sight of people and/or dogs) often comes from a place of over-arousal. Both a gentle leader and prong collars can be used for reducing reactivity. With a Gentle Leader you can control their head better, therefor using management to prevent them from fixating on triggers and blocking their eyesight from triggers if needed. Whereas a prong collar, can be helpful because the dog does not pull as much. This keeps their arousal level lower, which helps keep them under-threshold and have more success with reactivity. The prong collar also gives a perfectly timed correction if the dog decides to make a poor choice by lunging at their trigger.
Here is a video of some dogs and the way they act with a Gentle Leader or a prong collar on. Which tool do you think the dogs find more aversive?
Beyond a Gentle Leader vs Prong Collar, many people have a negative viewpoint of the idea of Electronic Collars without seeing how beneficial, and often less aversive they can be in comparison to other methods that the public thinks would be less aversive. We see people getting more frustrated with dogs and being firmer in their words, or with a leash, or other tools whereas the stimulation from an e-collar can be very low. Many people cannot even feel the stimulation level that many dogs work at when pairing the e-collar stimulation to skills the dog already understands.
The point of this post is to hopefully spread awareness and encourage people to have an open mind, learn more before making a snap judgement on tools that can be used with dogs. We are not saying Gentle Leaders are bad, they can be a great tool for some dogs. Every tool and method can have various benefits and possible cons. Regardless of tool or method choice it is important to understand how to condition your dog to them, use the tools safely, and fairly. We think it is important to adapt the training to each dog, but enjoy having a thorough understanding of all methods and tools so we can find what works best for each dog.