Dog Leashes: Getting a Grip on Your Choices

The leash is far more than a tool that prevents your dog from running off—and keeps you in compliance with municipal rules for leashed walks. Instead, a leash is also the physical connection between you and your dog. The leash carries your signals down its length, transmitting everything from your directions to your mood.

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The leash market is enormous and growing—but which type of leash is best for you? Leashes come in a wide variety of styles as well as materials, from leather to metal to nylon. Leather, which gets softer as the years go by, is easy on the hands–but also a favorite with chewing puppies and generally more expensive than other options. Nylon is soft and a great choice if you’ll be taking your dog on-leash to the beach; it’s easy to wash but is also easily chewed. Nylon leashes can also burn your hand if suddenly pulled. Metal chain leashes are the most chew-resistant but these can be heavy.

Length varies greatly as well. “The absolute best length of leash is not 100% established, but the key is to not have the leash be so long so that you are unable to control your pet when they are on the leash,” said Dr. James Barr, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Here’s a look at the most common types of leashes:

Fixed Leashes: As the name suggests, fixed leashes are made in a set length. The shortest are city leads, usually 12 to 18 inches long, designed for maneuvering your dog through crowded streets. More popular are 4- and 6-foot leashes. If you’ll be traveling with your dog, fixed leashes are required in many parks and venues. These typically terminate in a clip that attaches to the dog’s collar or harness.

Retractable Leashes: Retractable leashes—some extending to over 20 feet—use a relatively thin cord or a flat belt housed inside a spring-loaded handle usually made of plastic. The owner pushes a button on the leash to brake and lock the leash at a particular length. These leashes can present a hazard to the owner, the dog, and passersby, and they are prohibited in some parks and pet expos.

Slip Leash: The slip leash is a leash and collar in one, combining a leash with a slip collar. A slip leash can be a great tool to keep in your car for rescuing lost or homeless dogs with no collar.

Long Leash: The long leash is a training tool for teaching recall and is sold in different lengths including some as long as 50 feet. These leashes can also be used in open fields (where you don’t have to worry about the leash tangling around a tree) for a game of fetch while still obeying leash laws and maintaining control of a dog without dependable recall.

Most dog owners will find that they use one leash on a regular basis but keep other leashes for special purposes, whether that’s a training exercise or a romp on the beach.

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