I see dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs each week and every dog is generally wearing some combination of a collar, harness and/or leash. Unfortunately, most of the dogs I see do not understand the purpose of the leash or are being walked on an inappropriate leash. What’s the big deal? A leash is essentially some form of a tether between the dog and the owner, right? Actually, it is a big deal because leashes are important for a number of reasons and the type of leash does matter.
There is a huge variety of materials and weights for leashes on the market today. I, for one, prefer a lightweight nylon or leather leash that is thin, about ½ an inch wide, and fits easily in my hand. I also put two knots in most of my leashes about shoulder width apart so that I have easy hand holds and can prevent rope burn if I am working with an unruly walker. No matter what material you choose, make sure it feels comfortable for you. I worked with a wonderful family this week and their leash was nylon rope with a large padded handle and none of them looked comfortable holding onto it. A leash might look good on a rack, but if it doesn’t feel comfortable in your hand, move on.
In general, a standard six foot leash with one or two handles (the one closer to the dog) is often called a traffic handle. This type of leash is the best bet for most dogs. There are plenty of fun leashes that are adjustable, have bungee action, etc. out there but you really only need something you can comfortably hold that attaches to your dog’s collar or harness. If your dog pulls, the leash is not the part that needs to be fixed. The attachment part is also important. For example, if you have a 4 lb Chihuahua, you do not a heavy duty 12 ounce locking carbineer. Most leashes have a swivel bolt snap or lobster claw style clip, which is sufficient for the majority of dogs.
Now let’s get to the bigger issue: retractable leashes. Retractable leashes are never the best option. Here is where someone is going to bristle and bring up hiking or running around in a field together. I get it, but if you feel you have great control of your dog at 25 feet away, you probably don’t need a leash to begin with. A thin cord wound around a mechanism inside of a plastic shell is just waiting for mechanical failure when attached to any dog running at full speed. The benefits of a retractable leash all boil down to convenience for the owners. They teach the dog all the wrong things and send the wrong message to other dogs so why bother? So, what exactly do I mean by this?
In order to move forward on a retractable leash, the dog must put tension on the cord to pull it out of the mechanism. Essentially they have to pull and put pressure on their harness or leash. Congratulations! Your dog has learned that pulling is rewarding. In fact, it’s the only way forward. Now let’s look at this situation from the perspective of an oncoming dog. The dog on the retractable leash is putting pressure on their collar and leaning slightly forward, which moves their chest over their front toes. Compare that mental image to a dog on a standard leash about to lunge- looks the same to any dog moving towards you. The dog on the retractable leash will often be perceived as more on edge or less friendly and is more likely to be involved in a negative encounter than a dog on a loose leash.
Retractable leashes also allow for possible human injury. If you have ever tried to grab the cord to stop a dog from running forward, you know what I mean. It can literally cut you. If locked too long, the leash can also be a hazard to others if it gets tangled around them or their dog. Additionally, if you think dropping the leash is the solution, please take a moment and imagine the dog’s reaction to that, literally being chased by a plastic cartridge they cannot escape from. Should your dog ever get their leash tangled during a greeting or play session with another dog, you can generally let go for a moment, untangle, and continue on. Not so easy with a retractable. Also, keep in mind that if you are using a training harness or collar paired with a retractable leash, you are not getting the full benefit of your collar or harness. Yesterday I saw a dog in the park with a retractable clipped to a prong collar. What message does that send? Essentially the dog is being corrected every step they take because they have to tighten the correction collar in order to move forward on the retractable leash. So now either the dog has learned to ignore the correction or that leash walks and everything they encounter on the walk brings discomfort. Not a good plan.
Now some people will choose the retractable leash for various reasons and that’s okay, but you should be aware of the risks and complications. If you like to let your dog run out on a retractable to go the bathroom without having to step out in the rain or if you want your dog to play in the surf at the beach, that’s okay. But please be careful around other people and dogs and make sure your dog is leash trained no matter what sort of leash you use. You never want to have to rely on a tool that can be damaged or torn. It’s much better to rely on your relationship and history of practice with your pooch. No matter what leash you choose, always remember it is just a tool. You’re the one with the real power, so pick a leash that works best for you and your dog.
Head Trainer-Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator