Garret is the owner and operator of American Standard Dog Training and has been training police and civilian dogs for over 20 years.
Which Type of Leash Is Right for Your Dog?
Every dog or puppy on the planet needs some form of leash, but the number of different options can be overwhelming. Should you choose a rope leash or a leather one? A slip lead or a pull tab? In this article, I'll go over the most common leash materials and types and outline the pros and cons of each.
The Best Leash Length for Dogs
If you had to pick one leash and one leash only, I'll cut right to the chase, go out and get a 6-foot leash in the material of your choice. The reason I push you toward a 6-foot leash is that most leash laws across many different countries require that you have a dog on a leash—typically a 6-foot leash (sometimes a 4-foot leash). So you can't go wrong with a 6-foot leash.
Now, why not a 4-foot leash? Well, because a 6-foot leash can always be used as a 4-foot leash, a 2-foot leash, a 1-inch leash—you get the idea. So you have a lot of flexibility, whereas if you lock yourself into only a 4-foot leash, you're taking away that little bit of extra freedom your dog can have to push a little deeper into the grass, do their business, and so on.
So a 6-foot leash is pretty much the standard go-to length across the board, whether you're working obedience or protection sports or just taking your dog for a walk.
Different Dog Leash Materials
Leash materials can span from nylon to leather to biothane. Each has its pros and cons.
Feels great in the hand and can last forever if properly maintained.
More expensive and requires ongoing maintenance.
Cheap and durable.
Doesn't feel good in the hand and can cause rope burns.
Cheaper than leather, but feels equally great in the hand and is extremely durable without requiring extra maintenance.
Can become slippery when wet.
My favorite feel in hand is leather. However, it is more expensive and you've got to find a high-quality distributor. You do have to maintain leather, but if well maintained and oiled, a leather leash could last forever. If you don't maintain it, it can get dry and crack and fail you, and we don't want that.
TL;DR Unless you're willing to put in the extra maintenance work, avoid buying a leather leash.
Nylon is great—it's very, very durable and quite inexpensive—but in my opinion, it has the worst hand feel. It's also the most likely material to give you that rope burn effect or feeling should the dog pull or tug. And as you and I both know, many dogs are out there pulling. So you can use this, they're inexpensive, very tough, but not the best feel in your hand.
TL;DR If your dog doesn't have a habit of pulling and you're looking for a cheap leash that will last, nylon is a fine choice.
My favorite material for my clients—every dog that goes through my program goes home with one—is a biothane leash. Biothane is basically a synthetic leather; it has the look of leather, but it comes in a myriad of colors, textures, thicknesses, and lengths.
Biothane is extremely strong and durable, and it has a fantastic feel in the hand. The only problem with biothane, is that if it gets wet, it can get a little slippery.
TL;DR Biothane has the pleasant hand-feel of leather for a lower cost and no maintenance.
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Different Types of Leashes
In addition to the many materials leashes come in, there are also many different leash styles. Each has its ideal uses.
Slip leads are fantastic tool used by many trainers. It's basically a collar and leash in one, so really, really convenient. Oftentimes when you visit the vet, the vet tech will come out and grab your dog with some form of slip lead because it's not reliant upon a collar. That's because a slip lead has no point of failure (vs. a collar that's too big or doesn't fit properly).
What do I mean by that? If a dog is stressed out or for whatever reason wants to try to back out of a collar, a slip lead makes that impossible. The way the mechanism works is the harder the dog pulls, the tighter it cinches, so the dog cannot slip out of it. So the only point of failure here is if you were to happen to let go of the leash!
There are many different kinds of slip leads—from very thick rope to thin nylon. A lot of slip leads on the internet and in stores are going to be pretty thick (around a 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick in diameter). While there's no problem with a thick lead, as a professional dog trainer, I'd rather not need to put a ton of pressure on the leash in order to deliver the message to the dog. Too much thickness will go against the whole purpose of the slip lead. Plus, it's a little harder to fit in your pocket.
As a professional dog trainer, I prefer a slimmer slip lead (vet techs usually do too)—around a 1/4 inch to an 1/8 inch diameter. They also make them flat or round, depending upon what source you're looking at. I don't care either way on the flat or round, they're very similar.
Thinner slip leads will give you a little bit more oomph, and surprisingly enough, I would use them on small and large dogs alike. Why? Because the small dogs won't have to carry the weight of a big rope leash around, and you'll have a little bit more control and precision with a bigger dog.
TL;DR A thin slip leash will give you a little more oomph and allow for more precision in your training. Slips leashes also have zero points of failure.
Long lines are awesome. They come in many lengths (anywhere from 10 or 15 feet to 20 or even 30 feet) and can be a very helpful training tool. The main reason to use a long line is to help teach recall.
That's the number one use of a long line—when your dog is a certain distance away, you can guarantee a reliable recall and train that again and again. And the dog can never fail the exercise because you can always basically reel them back in like a fish. So long lines definitely have their place in obedience training.
TL;DR Long lines are fantastic training tools for teaching dogs how to come when called.
Pull Tabs (aka Traffic Lead)
While we're talking about lengths, the pull tab is on the opposite end of the spectrum from a long line. You can get pull tabs (also called traffic leads) in lengths anywhere from 3 to 4 inches all the way up to about 18 to 20 inches.
Pull tabs are great for dogs that are transitioning to off-leash behavior and dogs that already know how to heel, because that's the only thing this is good for—little micro adjustments while the dog is in heel position.
You can attach a pull tab to a proper collar to deliver mild corrections or to steer your dog's behavior, sometimes in conjunction with a 6-foot leash. For example, your pull tab could be hooked up to one collar, while the leash could be hooked up to a harness or another collar. That way, you have access to two different leashes that both have a different purpose depending on the situation.
TL;DR Pull tabs are a great tool for "tuning up" your dog's training, but they require that your dog already know how to heel.
So What's the Best Leash You Can Buy?
At the end of the day, I would highly suggest buying a 6-foot biothane leash or a slip lead in a nylon material (just remember that nylon slip leads can lead to rope burns if your dog pulls).
© 2022 Garret Wing