Dog Leash Comparisons: A Guide for Selecting an Essential Training Tool

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Dog leashes are essential not just because of their use in controlling your dog but also because they are a vital training tool.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and Cynologist

When you own a dog, you are going to own a leash. Chances are you own more than one leash. Dog leashes are essential not just because of their use in controlling your 4-footed best friend but also because they are a vital training tool. Because leashes vary in materials, lengths, durability, and cost, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide comparing the pros and cons of each leash type. Before you splurge on that next accessory for your dog, read on…

Length of the Leash

Your leash needs to reflect the distance from your dog that you can remain in control.  No matter what type of material the leash is made of, it is important that the training leash is about six feet in length (except occasionally when I have a shorter person and a taller dog, where a 4′ or 5′ leash works better) and of the proper width and clip size for the dog.  Be sure to check the leash periodically to make sure the clip is in proper working order—if it doesn’t close properly or is sloppy, it’s time to get a new one.

Width of the Leash

When selecting a leash, the width should be dependent on the size of the dog.  Use a 3/8 inch wide for toy breeds, a 1/2 inch wide for dogs or puppies weighing 15 to 30 pounds, a 5/8 inch wide for dogs that weigh 30 to 60 pounds, and a 1 inch wide with dogs weighing more than 60 pounds.

Cotton Leashes

PROS: Standard green, heavy cotton training leashes have been used for years. Cotton is flexible, easy on the hands, and the dog is not dependent on the heavy drag some leads have. The price is reasonable, but the quality of the bolt snaps varies widely. Good-quality snaps are essential. You can use cotton as long lines and tracking lines.

CONS: Some have found that cotton leashes experience dry rot. If wet, they take a while to dry.

Leather Leashes

PROS: Purchasing a high-quality leather leash will ensure an incredibly long life, especially those braided back at handle and clip, with no stitching. Leather leashes are more durable as well as thicker to give a better correction.  They don’t dig into your hands, and they also help with a strong puller so the leash will not slip through your hands and give you a burn…you can hold on to them better.

CONS: Leather leashes are great, but their cost is a factor. The only downfall to a leather leash is if someone does not take proper care of them…they can crack if they aren’t conditioned every so often.  Also, if they aren’t waterproof, they can leave brown stuff on your hands (just like leather shoes do when you sweat) and, if colored, they tend to stain people’s hands.

Nylon Leashes

PROS: Nylon leashes are easier to keep clean and dry faster than cotton leashes. Nylon “tabs” are lighter weight than leather and good to use when beginning off-leash work. Nylon is okay for small, gentle dogs and trained dogs. Great for leash-mouthing puppies while they are learning not to mouth. Nylon is a great material for strength and durability (it is the standard material used for all fabric climbing/caving/mountain rescue equipment). You can use a nylon leash in the house while the dog is being supervised. You can cut the nylon leash and make it into a tab to avoid the dog knocking things over. Nylon can be used as long lines and tracking lines. Nylon is more durable and doesn’t get as wet or filthy. Parachute cord is lightweight and practically unnoticeable by dogs for use as long lines for off-leash work.

CONS: Nylon is hard on hands. Fraying can also be an issue. Many times nylon leashes are too thin and flimsy to give a good correction. Also, the clips on them are usually too heavy and cumbersome. Some hold moisture and tend to rot over time. The double-layer, 1″-wide nylon leashes with huge bull snaps on end are 100 times stronger than you are, but it still rips out of your raw, red hands when the dog lunges.

Chain Leashes

PROS: A lightweight chain leash can be used as a drag through the house as the dog cannot chew it. A short length of coated steel cable can also be used as a dragline.

CONS: Chain leashes make it difficult to give a good correction. Most do not have the links welded, which makes one wonder about the quality and durability. The chain is NOISY and more likely to catch on stuff. And the dog is more aware of it, which you don’t want when training. The chain leash can cause rub burn on hands. Although chain leashes appear durable, they can snap in a heartbeat with a large dog. They can also rust and weaken even further.

Retractable Leashes

PROS: Retractable leashes, or Flexi-leashes, can be used for teaching recalls (only for some people; others do better with a long line) and potty breaks at a rest stop where nobody else is around. You may use it at the start of e-collar training. They are also useful for the person who wants to give his/her dog some room to roam in an area not frequented by other dogs but who doesn’t have any fenced-in yard and who doesn’t have 100% off-leash control over the dog but only the on-leash commands.

CONS: It gives the handler zero ability to control or correct the dog beyond locking the length of the lead. Retractable leashes can also cause whiplash or collapse of the dog’s trachea if the dog gets to the end of the lead and gets stopped and does a little flip in the air. Too many moving parts that are bound to fail eventually. The retractable leash encourages the dog to pull against the tension of the retraction. The “strings” are small, and the handle can pop right out of your hand if the dog bolts.

My thanks to the International Association of Canine Professionals and National K9 Graduate Association members for their assistance with creating this guide

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