Leash Matters

A double leash, a small retractable leash, a leather leash and a coiled fabric leash
Just a few of the leashes in my collection

Choosing a leash for your dog seems like a really simple thing, but, as I have talked to dog owners over the years, I’ve discovered that a poor choice can make walks miserable for you, your dog, or both of you — for years.

Many people buy a leash without giving it much thought. They might get the one that matches the cute collar they’ve selected for their new dog or choose a durable looking chain one. Some people think an extendable or “flexi” leash is a good choice (it’s not; more about that in a moment).

But the wrong leash can be uncomfortable to hold, too heavy for your dog, or actually make walks less safe.

Why I avoid extendable leashes

The idea behind an extendable leash seems sound. You can “lock” it at any length, offering flexibility — or allow your dog more freedom to explore. What could go wrong? How about:

  • The cord ones can get wrapped around a finger or wrist when the dog pulls and cause serious injury (up to and including loss of a finger). The tape or belt ones are less risky, but they are bulky, so the handles are large and cumbersome.
  • Most extendable leashes have large plastic handles where the retractable cord or belt winds up for storage. If/when the dog pulls suddenly, you might drop this awkward handle, then this large plastic monster is clanking on the ground, chasing your dog as she runs away in fear. I’ve seen it happen many times, and had it happen to me during the (very brief) period when I thought an extendable leash was a good idea.
  • Your dog might get tangled around bushes, trees, children, parking meters …
  • You have little control over the dog and if she’s surprised by another dog, tempted to chase a squirrel or cat, or spooked by something, and bolts, you could get hurt. You could also drop the leash (see above).

Why I like leather leashes

I’m not generally a huge fan of leather. I hate leather furniture and car seats, for example. But I nearly always use a leather leash. The handles are easy on my hands. A leather leash won’t scrape or cut my hands — or arms and legs — like a nylon one will if the dog pulls suddenly or the leash gets wrapped around a limb. Leather leashes last for years — The one I use daily on walks with Cali is more than 25 years old. I saddle soap it occasionally to clean it and keep it soft.

What about chain leashes?

Chain leashes with leather handles might seem appealing for their durability and the advantages of a leather handle. But be careful. They might be too heavy for your dog, especially if you walk the dog using a collar. (I use a chest-fastening harness, so there’s no pressure on Cali’s neck. She also is less likely to pull.)

When I got my first dog, a small mixed-breed dog, I bought a chain leash. the metal clasp alone was too heavy, and the whole setup was just wrong for him. I then got the leather leash I still use …

Consider having more than one

Cali has a shorter leash, also leather, that I use when I want more control. For example, if we’re on a road trip and I have to take her to a dog-friendly restaurant patio, I’ll want to keep her close. If I’m training a young puppy, I will also choose a short (3-4 foot) leash. Cali’s usual leash is a little over 6 feet long. She can wander and sniff, but she will come back if I call her and ask her to heel. She’s not happy about it, but she’ll do it.

I usually have an extra long leash or two around — 20 or 30 feet — for training or swimming when I am nervous about letting dogs off leash. I only buy the cotton ones (the nylon ones are rough on the hands) and I tie a knot every 2-3 feet. This makes it easy to step on the leash and stop a dog who bolts suddenly, perhaps in pursuit of a deer. Or a duck. The knots keep the leash from sliding under your shoe.

Other options

There are many more leash options to consider, and if the cute matching leash has a comfortable handle and is a good length for you and your dog, go for it. I’ve had canvas ones; leashes with soft, fleecy handles; elasticized ones that stretch a little to reduce the impact of a pulling dog; braided nylon ones; and double leashes with a single handle, for walking two dogs at once.

So, although I’ve got several leashes, for regular walks, I almost always turn to my favorite leather leash.

But you’re not me! The reason there are so many options out there is that people (and dogs) have different preferences and needs. I encourage you to do your own research — with lots of dog walks to try out the different options. I am sure that your dog will enjoy helping with that project!