Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Getting Acquainted with Slip Leads for Dogs
Slip leads for dogs, also known as slip leashes, as the name implies, are simply leashes that are meant to be quickly slipped on dogs. More specifically, they are composed by a loop handle and another loop at the other end meant to go around the dog's neck.
The loop meant for the dog's neck can be opened wide before slipping it around the neck. Once slipped over, pulling the leash will tighten the loop so that it fits well without sliding off.
Having a slip lead with a stopper is very important to prevent the loop from opening too wide and risking it slipping off the dog's head. Therefore, once the loop is placed over the dog's head, sliding the stopper helps prevent the loop from widening or your dog backing out from the leash. Ideally, you should be able to slide 2-3 fingers between the loop and your dog's neck.
Slip leads can come in a variety of materials. The most common type is made of nylon. Some can be made of leather. British-style slip leads are usually made in thick rope with a leather tab used as a stopper.
Some models crafted for animal control officers are made of plastic-coated cable and are also known as "ACO's Friend's Lead." These are "bite-proof" and used as a last resort only by experienced handlers due to the some risks (risks for trachea damage or asphyxiation).
So there you have it: an in-depth description of slip leads for dogs. To be more specific, it can be said that a slip lead is more of a lead-and-collar combination rather than a lead itself.
Indeed, one main differentiating factor that allows you to distinguish a slip lead from a regular lead quickly is that a slip lead doesn't attach to a collar through a snap hook, since there is no collar!
Pros of Slip Leads
There are several pros of slip leads for dogs, which makes them convenient for certain uses. We will therefore be looking at some common uses of slip leads for dogs.
Easy to Use
Shelters and rescues often use slip leads for one particular reason: they are very easy to slip on. Shelters and rescues often must deal with dogs with unknown histories, dogs who may fearful or reactive and may dislike having people too close to their face.
With such dogs, you do not want to take many risks bending down near their dog's face, fumbling with fitting a collar and loudly snapping a leash, and therefore this is where a slip lead comes handy.
A trick of the trade is to simply offer a long-handled wooden spoon with some peanut butter on it to distract the dog while a slip lead is slipped over the head so the dog is under control.
Another way a slip lead comes handy is when getting a dog out of a run. With one hand keeping the door slightly open, the handler can body block escape, while with the other hand a slip lead is slipped on the dog's head eager to get out. Once slipped on, the door can be widened to allow exit.
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For difficult to control dogs, two slip leads may be placed on the dog, with a handler at each side.
Great to Move Dogs Quickly
A slip lead offers a fast and safer way to have a dog under control quickly so to get him in and out of vehicles and kennels without getting into his personal space.
This is the main reason why shelters, rescues and vets' offices keep slip leads handy. When I worked for the vet's office we had many of these leads hanging ready to use, and I often carried one over my shoulders to be used at a moment's notice.
Many folks who take their dogs to agility competitions find slip leads helpful for the same fact: the slip lead can be quickly slipped on and replaced. It's therefore also commonly used in owners of dogs used for fieldwork or dogs enrolled in competitions.
Often Used in Dogs Shows
Slip leads are often used in dogs shows, but these are dogs who have been habituated to being around strong distractions from a young age and have a high level of training.
The use of slip leads in dog shows adds a stylish touch and allow the handlers to show their dogs with little interference. Usually a more discrete and less obvious slip lead is used for dogs in the show ring.
Helpful for Training
Finally, a slip lead can be used in training dogs to walk nicely on leash. The main mechanism is this: every time your dog pulls, the loop tightens around the dog's neck producing an unpleasant sensation.
The concept is similar to using a choke chain, only that choke chain is made of chain, whereas, a slip lead is usually made of nylon or rope.
With time, the dog should learn that pulling leads to an unpleasant sensation and therefore the pulling should reduce over time.
As much as this sounds like a good thing, it's however important reading more on how these leads negatively impact dogs which is explained in the cons section below.
Cons of Slip Leads
There are several cons to consider when it comes to evaluating slip leads for dogs. Some of these cons makes one question whether this type of equipment is worthy of using, considering that there are many less-aversive solutions.
An Aversion-Based Tool
Slips leads like choke collars, prong collars and shock collars work by creating unpleasant sensations in the dog.
It's therefore an aversion-based tool that works through positive punishment and negative reinforcement. Discover more about these here: the four quadrants of dog training.
Such types of tools can therefore lead to several problems.
A slip lead works through positive punishment when the owner deliberately delivers a correction by jerking the leash when the dog performs an undesirable behavior on walks.
When the correction is added (positive) the dog feels an unpleasant sensation of the loop tightening around the neck, which over time, should reduce the undesirable behavior (punishment) assuming that the owner's timing is right and the dog isn't over threshold.
A slip lead works through negative reinforcement when the dog starts pulling ahead and the loop tightens around the neck causing an unpleasant sensation, and the dog over time learns that when walking next to the owner, the loop no longer tightens and the unpleasant sensation is removed (negative.)
Over time, the behavior of walking nearby the owner without pulling should increase (reinforcement) assuming that the dog isn't over threshold and that approaching other things on walks doesn't override the unpleasant sensation.
Risks for Negative Associations
When a slip lead is used for training a dog to walk on leash, a puppy or dog basically learns to associate doing something totally natural such as sniffing, trying to greet a person or dog with an uncomfortable neck-tightening sensation.
However, not always things are cut and dry. There are also risks that the dog may associate just about anything he sees, hears or feels at the moment with the unpleasant sensation. This means that your dog may even associate this unpleasant sensation with you.
This was proven through research. A study on shock collars found that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and dogs have shown the capability of associating the presence of their owners (or his commands) with the reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context.
Risks for Choking, Gagging
Many dogs are very excited about going on walks. Their excitement to pull to sniff or just simply get closer to people or other exciting stimuli on walks, can override the unpleasant strangulation-type sensation of the loop.
Same goes with dogs who are fearful and reactive. These dogs' fight or flight responses kick in causing these dogs to be too over threshold to be able to cognitively function and learn polite leash walking.
On top of this, the unpleasant sensation may cause them to become more anxious or reactive.
This leads to dogs who keep pulling despite the tightening effect which causes them to gag, cough and make choking sounds on walks.
Risks of Damage to Delicate Structures
A lead tightening around a dog's neck may not seem like a big deal, after all, there's lots of fur, but this is only apparent.
After all, a dog's epidermis is 3-5 cells thick, while in humans it is at least 10-15 cells thick.
We must also remember that under the neck area hide several delicate structures such as the larynx, thyroid gland, arteries and several nerves. Excessive pressure can cause damage to the dog's eyes, larynx and thyroid gland.
This can be particularly risky for puppies under 6 months, a time during which the cartilage of the trachea is still so delicate and a slip lead may cause more damage.
Slip leads can come handy when needing to move dogs quickly such as in and out of cars, play areas, kennels, and other areas or in need of an emergency (like getting a hold of a dog who has escaped or a stray dog).
Slip leads may also turn to be convenient when handling dogs who may fearful or reactive towards us looming over them to snap on a leash to their collars.
While effective for these circumstances, the several negative implications discussed above make this tool questionable for its use for routine walking and for delivering corrections.
If you have a dog who tends to pull a lot, a preferable alternative tool would be a front-attachment harness. Here are the best front-attachment harnesses for dogs for 2021.
If you have a dog who will walk calmly by your side then I would see no real problem in using a slip lead, however in a dog which pulls on the lead or is still being trained to lead walk properly then a slip lead would not be advisable as it will tighten around their neck uncomfortably when they pull.
— Dr. Chris, veterinarian for Just Answer
- Field Manual for Small Animal Medicine. (2018). Germany: Wiley.
- Briggs, S., Robin K., B. (2007). Off Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun. United Kingdom: Dogwise Publishing.
- Chastain, C. B. (2022). Concise Textbook of Small Animal Handling: A Practical Handbook. (n.p.): Taylor & Francis Group.
- Gould, S. (2014). Dog Groomer's Manual: A Definitive Guide to the Science, Practice and Art of Dog Grooming. United Kingdom: Crowood.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli