So Many Different Leash Options: When and Where to Use Them

When you first get a dog all the gear you have to buy can be a bit overwhelming.  You will get lots of different advice and be exposed to so many different brands and choices.  What to go for?

Choosing a leash is no exception.  There are all different sizes, patterns and styles.  It can be mind-boggling. It is such a crucial piece of kit, used on a daily basis for safety, control, managing social interactions, training and in some scenarios it is a legal requirement.

It is used every day for doggy walks, so choosing the right leash is really important 

It is also really important to make sure your dog has a positive association with the leash from the very beginning.  If they seem nervous or unsure, work on getting them used to it using positive training methods, a clicker can be a great tool.  You should be able to tell what their reaction is to the leash from looking at your dog’s body language.

We have outlined most of the different types below with some details on the pros and cons to help you to make a more informed choice.

Standard flat leash

This should be in every dog owners walking kit.  These leashes are normally anywhere between 3 and 8 foot in length.  They are most commonly made from nylon or leather but they are also available in other materials like rope or environmentally friendly hemp.  They usually have a trigger hook clip on the end to connect to your dog’s collar or harness and a loop to grip at the other end, this can sometimes be padded for extra comfort.  

The length you go for will depend on personal preference.  For smaller dogs, people often opt for slightly longer in comparison to the length required for a large dog breed.  A slightly longer option gives your dog slightly more room to allow them to enjoy a sniff and a bit more freedom. It is also easier to work with when working on loose leash walking training.

There are usually three widths of standard leashes which also have heavier trigger hooks the thicker the leash is.  It is important to make sure that you pick the right size for your dog. If you pick the thinnest style for a large breed, there is a risk that the leash will not withstand their strength.  If they are very strong the thinner leash can also dig into your hand more. If you go for the thick style for a small breed you may find that the hook is just too cumbersome and heavy beside your dog’s neck.

I use the red dingo leash and collar for my dog, Annie.  I like this brand. Their patterns are stylish and the quality of the products are very good.  The leashes have a strong trigger hook and the handle is slightly padded for comfort. The 4ft length works well for the Spaniels that I have had too.

This dog is enjoying a stroll along the beach in a standard flat leash 

Adjustable length training leash – a versatile leash and my recommendation

This is my favourite type of leash due to its flexibility and versatility.  This is what I tend to use most of the time when I am on my travels with Annie.  

This is a leash that can usually be adjusted from around 3ft to 8 ft in length.  It allows you to shorten it for closer control when in busy environments or around traffic and then it can be extended to give your dog more freedom to explore and to allow them to make more of their own choices.

It is really handy for working on loose leash walking training and it can also be used with a front attaching harness.  One end of the leash is clipped onto the D-ring at the front of the harness and the other onto the one on the back, between the shoulders.  This allows you to balance your dogs walking and can help with reducing their desire to pull.

If you use a harness but your dog can sometimes manage to wriggle out of it then the  double ended leash can be useful as you can clip the other end onto their collar too as an extra back up.

I also like that it is easy to clip it around something if you need to tether your dog.  Whilst I would never recommend leaving your dog unsupervised outside, if you are having a picnic or stopping at a cafe it can be really handy.

We use the Halti Training Leash and although I could go for the small size given Annie’s weight, I choose the thicker version as I find it comfier to handle and it does not weigh her down too much.  The large size would not be suitable for a very small breed though.

There are lots of brands out there though and they are also available in leather varieties, although these do tend to be more expensive.

This dog is being walked using an adjustable length training leash.  These are a very versatile option and great for practicing heelwork

Long Lines – Ideal for working on recall training

Long lines are really only suited to being used as a training tool and not for use on a normal dog walk.

If you are working on recall and want to build up your distance work without having to let your dog run free then this is a great option.  

When you are just starting out with recall training, even if you are working in an enclosed area we would still recommend using a long line as it allows you to guide your dog back to you when needed and it helps build your confidence and set the dog up for success.

It is really important that when you are using a long line that you make sure your dog is attached to a harness rather than just a collar.  They can accelerate quickly to the end of the line and, if they are on a collar, this could put a lot of pressure on their neck and could cause a tracheal injury or a choking incident.  The harness helps to make sure any pressure is spread across a wider, less delicate part of the body.

When you are working with your dog on a long line make sure that you choose a nice open space.  You don’t want there to be lots of obstacles that the line could get wrapped around. Watch out for the leash unravelling in your hands quickly too as you can get a nasty burn if it runs through too quickly.

We wouldn’t recommend working with your dog on a long line in an area busy with other people or dogs either, it can be too easy for the line to get tangled around people’s legs or other dog’s bodies.

I use the Company of Animals Long Line.  It is available in a 5 and 10 m length.  They are lightweight, soft and don’t have a handle loop, making them safer for trailing on the ground.

Flexi/Retractable Leash

There is a lot of controversy around the use of retractable leashes and there are a lot of trainers that are very anti-flexi and would not advocate using them in any circumstance.

There is no denying the statistics, the number of injuries and accidents that are reported as a result of using these types of leashes is much higher than with any other type.

I must confess that there are situations when I do still use one but I do this with caution and I am aware of the risks that are associated with them.

My dog Annie has a high prey drive and there are some areas that are just too stimulating for her, it is maybe an area where there are lots of squirrels or other wild animals.  There are also areas that are still nice open spaces but dogs are required to stay on a leash. To allow her to burn off some of her energy and get a bit more freedom I do like to use this leash in these circumstances.

The factors that I also take into consideration though are as follows:

  • They are useless for teaching loose leash walking!  It is basically confusing for your dog; sometimes they have to stay close to you and sometimes they can have the freedom to roam much further.  This means that often your dog may pull more as they are testing the distance they are allowed to go to. In their mind, they are being taught that if they pull this often results in them getting more freedom.  If you do want to try to master heelwork with a flexi you really have to have very clear commands in place for when they have to be at heel and when they can have “free time”. When I unlock the leash to allow Annie to have some freedom, I use a “free” command and then Annie knows the leash will unlock and she can explore further.  When I say “stay close” she knows the leash will be locked and the time for pulling stops.
  • If you need to reel the leash in quickly, if you are not careful about how you handle the leash it can give you a very nasty friction burn or it can cut into your hand.   I have even read reports of finger amputations in extreme cases! I always recommend using the tape version rather than the cord option. The tape-style is a thicker leash whereas the cord is a very thin piece of rope which can cause nastier injuries.
  • It is much easier to get this leash tangled around things, whether that be your own legs, your dog, another member of the public, another dog or a cyclist.  You really do have to be very careful about where and how you are using it. Keep it locked when you meet a new dog or person. Make sure it is ALWAYS reeled in when there are cyclists about.  Again, using the tape version helps here too as it is thicker and more visible. The cord one can be so thin that, when it is extended, some people may not see it and can get tangled in it inadvertently.  I have heard of cyclists not seeing a cord leash and cycling into it, injuring themselves, the dog and the owner.
  • They are not recommended for use in busy areas of traffic.  If you accidentally unlock the leash or it malfunctions in these areas the chance of your dog being run over or causing a crash are greater.  I always swap back to my standard training leash when in busy pedestrian areas or when near a road.
  • You need to be very careful not to drop the leash.  With the weight of it, it can be more awkward and easier to mishandle in comparison to a normal leash.  If you do drop it, it is very noisy and will likely give your dog a fright. If they then take flight the leash will continue to bounce around and this can scare your dog more and make them continue to run.  It can also hit them and cause an injury.
  • The thin cord or tape of a flexi leash is more fragile than the material of a standard leash.  It is much easier for this to catch on something and break and it is easier for your dog to chew through.  You need to be very vigilant.

The thin, cord style flexi leads, like the one pictured above, are less visible, cause injury more easily and are less sturdy than the tape versions

  • Always make sure if you are using a retractable leash that you select one appropriate to the dog’s weight.  There is a much higher chance of them breaking if you pick one too small for a strong, large dog.

Make sure that you choose the right size of flexi leash for the size of your dog (photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/dog-puppy-eyes-chihuahua-adorable-728961/)

Bungee Leash

These types of leash usually have some sort of stretchy cord inside them.  There are often manufacturer claims that this will help discourage your dog from pulling.  Em, no! We would not recommend buying this with an expectation that this will miraculously cure your dog of their pulling problems.

They may take the harshness out of the jerky you get if your dog lunges forward suddenly and it could also take a bit of pressure off your dog’s neck too.

They are sometimes used for people when they run with their dog to help absorb any sudden jerks whilst moving at a pace.

I do use the Ruffwear Roamer leash when I run with Annie.  It has a bungee cord and also it can be used hands-free for running.

Some bungee leashes have more stretch than others.  If you are choosing to use one we would recommend making sure you pick one that doesn’t have too much stretch as this can mean you have less control over your dog.  Also be aware that cheap bungee leashes often lose their spring very quickly.

This Dogue De Bordeaux is wearing a classic bungee leash 

Chain Leash

Chain leashes are not generally such a popular option.  They don’t come in pretty patterns, they can be very heavy and they can hurt if they whack off your leg or into the body of your dog.  If you have a dog who is a serial leash chewer though they can be a lifesaver. Whilst we would always recommend working on teaching your dog not to do this, if you become distracted or whilst you are working on the training, these can be a useful tool.

It is important to make sure that you pick a size that is appropriate to your dog’s weight.  They can be heavy. The noise of the chain can make some dogs nervous too so care needs to be taken when introducing them.

Chain leads can be useful if you have a dog that chews their lead but they can be heavy 

High Visibility Leash

These leashes usually have reflective material on them or they may be a light up version with LED lights incorporated into the design.  They can be particularly useful if you have to walk your dog at dusk or when it is dark. This is especially important if you walk on cycle paths or in areas where there is traffic.  The reflective variety will only be useful when lights shine on them whereas the light up variety can be seen regardless.

Slip Leash

Once one of the most popular styles of leashes around these have become less common recently.  This is a good thing in my opinion. Just like with choke chain collars, they are not a something that I would advocate using.

If your dog pulls or lunges, when they do this the leash will tighten around their neck, this can often result in them almost strangling themselves when they pull against it.  It can cause tracheal injuries and breathing difficulties. It is a problem for any breed but is even more of a problem for brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs like Pugs or French Bulldogs) that may already have breathing issues and long, delicate necked dogs like sighthounds.

They are popular with the gundog fraternity as they can be easily slipped on and off without having to fiddle with a clip and a collar. If using them for this sort of activity we would always recommend that you ensure that the leash has a stopper that can be adjusted to ensure that the leash will stop tightening before it starts to choke the dog.  

They can also be useful for catching up a stray dog or as a temporary measure for a dog that is fearful.  If the dog is nervous of being touched, the leash can be made into a large loop for putting over the dog’s head to save you having to touch the already anxious dog and fumble around with a collar.

We would never recommend using this leash as a corrective tool for heel work. It has traditionally been popular for this.  When the dog pulls, they receive a “correction” through the jerking and tightening of the leash. Not only can this cause injuries but there are much gentler more effective training techniques that can be applied.  Check out our article on loose leash walking tips.

Gundogs like Labradors often use slip leads but they do need to be used with extreme care 

Coupling leash

These types of leashes are sometimes used to walk two dogs on the one leash.  It has one leash handle that then splits at the bottom into two sections with two trigger hooks.  Whilst these can be a useful tool if you know that both your dogs get on really well and walk very well and calmly together they can often create more trouble than they are worth.

For starters, if there is some sort of emergency it can often be easier to have the two dogs on separate leashes to have easier control over them both.

If they don’t get on so well it is not ideal as if they start to get frustrated with each other they are being forced into close contact and if a fight breaks out it is much more difficult to separate them.  It is also not really fair forcing them together if they would rather have their own space. One is forced to follow where the other goes and if one reacts to something in their environment it is more likely to set the other off given their close confines.

It is also much easier to get the two dogs tangled up with one another if they start to get excited.

If you are using a coupling lead you need to be sure that your dogs get on really well and are very calm whilst walking to avoid any scuffles or tangles 

Leashes with messages on them

For dogs that may have particular disabilities or special requirements, there are a host of leashes that can be used to make those around your dog aware of this and hopefully it may ensure they act accordingly.  There are leashes that let people know if your dog is blind, deaf, nervous of people or other dogs.  They are clear, not too expensive and colour coded.

What to do if you have a leash chewer

This can particularly be a problem with puppies when they first start to go out for walks, especially when they are in their teething and mouthing phase.  They can see the leash as a tug/chew toy and when you pull back on it and try to pull it away they just see this as part of the game and they want to do it even more.  It can also be an issue with adult dogs. If you have just got a new rescue dog and they are feeling super excited or slightly nervous about going out for a walk, in their heightened state of arousal or stress they can turn to chew the leash to release their frustrations.

Sometimes it can be a way of gaining attention.  If they realise that every time they chew the leash you interact with them, even though you may be frustrated it still means you are still paying them attention.

The first thing to do is to teach your dog not to be too excited or nervous when they see the leash.  You want them to have a calm reaction to it rather than an excited or anxious response. The easiest way to do this is to bring the leash out and show it to your dog and when they have a calm response then reward them with a yummy treat.  Work on bringing it closer to them and continue rewarding a calm reaction. Then work on putting the leash on and taking it off and rewarding a calm reaction again.

Once you actually move onto walking on the leash, as soon as your dog starts to go for the leash stop immediately and wait for calm behaviour.  Once they stop paying attention to the leash they should get a treat and the walking begins again.

These steps should be built up gradually over time so your dog will soon learn that the walk stops and they don’t get any yummy treats if they keep chewing at the leash.

We never recommend leaving your dog tied up unsupervised.  You are putting them at risk of being stolen, they are not protecting from unexpected things like an approaching aggressive dog or  teasing children and also they can easily chew through their leash and escape 

Make sure you always dry the leash out properly

This may sound like an odd one to mention but if you want to avoid having a smelly, potentially mouldy leash then always remember to dry it out after a wet walk.  If it is left in a cupboard or bag rolled up and damp it will get very smelly. This is especially true for flexi leashes. If they are wet and then they are retracted back up into their handle it can get very smelly.  I have also been guilty of forgetting about my long line and leaving it in a bag for a few days (luckily I was able to put it in the washing machine).

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