The Beginner's Guide To Picking A Dog Leash

Investing in a good set of leashes and being prepared for a variety of scenarios will always pay off.

January 11th, 2019

A dog leash is something you must have starting day one.

Your dog will be spending a significant part of life walking alongside you on a leash, so it’s important to pick out a good one.

When it comes to leashes, there is no shortage of options on the market.

There are all kinds of materials, different lengths, and various other special features in leashes to choose from.

How do you pick the most suitable leash for your dog?

Moreover, what if you’re just about to get a dog and you have no idea what your dog is like?

This article will first go over what essential traits and qualities make up a good leash. We will also break down the most common types of leashes you’ll find out there, and the pros and cons for each.

The ultimate goal is to make picking a leash for your unique dog as worry-free as possible!

Essentials Of Any Good Leash

If you ask me, any good leash boils down to just a few essentials. No matter what kind of adventure you’re taking your dog on, the leash must have these key traits.

1. Durability

Durability is the single most important factor in a leash. If a leash is not durable, it’s not a good leash.

Durability means two things. Not giving in to tension (over a long period of repeated usage), and being teeth-resistant to leash chewers.

The very first thing most commercial dog leashes will advertise is their durability.

Most modern leashes are pretty sturdy, but remember that this depends a lot on the dog as well. Durability means something new when you have a large 100 pound dog who loves to tug and chew.

In my reviews, durability is without a doubt the first thing I would evaluate in a leash.

Whenever you shop for one, be sure to sift through other user reviews. It can give you a really good idea of how durable the leash really is versus advertised.

2. Ease Of Use

This is a pretty broad trait, but ultimately this boils down to questions like the following:

How easy is it to attach this leash onto the collar or harness I’m using?

Can I get a good grip on the handle? Is it likely to slip out of my hand or off my wrist?

How complicated is the leash? For example, for leashes with special features such as retractable leashes, how user-friendly is the retracting button?

If you’re at a physical store, you can try the leash in person. However, if you’re looking online you’ll need to rely on user reviews.

3. Worth The Money

Let’s face it, some leashes are real expensive! It’s yet another expense to factor in in dog ownership, and it can get real frustrating if your dog opts to chew through them one by one.

The lifetime of a good leash is potentially… forever. If your dog is not an aggressive chewer, and the leash is as durable as advertised, there’s no reason it should fail you.

Some leashes these days are pretty expensive (I’d consider any leash above $40 really pricey).

You can get a very good quality leash for $20-$30 and even less than that. The more you fish around, the better deals you’ll find.

In my experience, most leashes do very well nowadays in the first two traits we discussed. This third one is where a lot of them get tripped up.

Just keep in mind that before you place that order, you are sure that the leash exhibits all three of these key qualities!

Yuna loving the snow in her bright pink leash!

Other Qualities of Any Leash

Picking a leash shouldn’t be hard. And it really isn’t!

Once you’ve gone through the essentials, there are a couple other variables that depend on the nature of the walk, as well as your dog’s habits.

Keep in mind that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to most of these qualities. For example, one scenario may call for a short leash, while another may allow for a longer one.

More than likely you’ll have to buy a couple leashes that cover a combination of these qualities.

Here are some other choices you’ll be faced with, in no particular order.

1. Length

The majority of commercial dog leashes (for walking purposes) range between 4 feet and 10 feet in length. Some special cases of traditional leashes and retractable leashes allow for even longer, but 4 to 10 feet is what you’re primarily dealing with.

After using leashes of various lengths for some time now, here are some key principles to length which you should keep in mind.

The longer the leash, the more likely it is for it to get tangled up. During a walk, your dog will explore fire hydrants, trees, and perhaps complex mazes of bushes.

So fair warning: a 10 ft. long lead could get stuck in odd branches or get caught on a pole. It could also trip your innocent dog.

The longer the leash, the more experienced (I hope) your dog is at walking. As this article points out, your dog should be highly trained in controlled situations before using a longer leash.

A longer leash obviously means more freedom. Thus, if your dog is unruly on a leash and likes to dash whimsically at other humans and dogs, start with a shorter leash and master proper walking behavior first.

The shorter the leash, the more suitable for crowded city walking. I take Yuna to and from work most days. It is a 30 minute walk with a decent chunk of it in a crowded area.

Navigating through the sea of humans and other dogs (and there are always many other dogs hanging out in Seattle) is much more controllable with a shorter lead. We employ our 4 foot leash on nearly all our city walks.

The pink leash is our four footer!

I think these three principles are the most important when it comes to considering length of a leash.

There are some other details to consider though.

For example, using a 4 foot leash on a hike is probably not the best idea if your dog likes to pull. Going downhill, your dog could lunge forward faster than you and cause you to slip.

Think about the various activities you’d like to do with your dog. Walking and snowshoeing, for example, may call for different lengths of leashes (We used a 4 ft leash for snowshoeing—terrible idea).

The most popular length of dog leashes is 6 feet, acting as a sort of compromise between a short leash optimized for control, and a long leash optimized for freedom.

2. Material

When it comes to leash material, there are a couple of popular options on the market.

The most popular is nylon. Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of this material.

Pros of Nylon Leashes

  • They are often the most affordable, yet they don’t compromise durability. Nylon is, relatively, the cheapest material. A good nylon leash still will not wear out given reasonable usage and no chewing.
  • They are often easy to grip, yet do not rub too hard on your hands and wrists. If you’re dealing with a puller, most likely you’ll have to deal with a lot of tension and rubbing on your hands and wrists while keeping your dog in check. You will experience some pressure and it can get painful depending on how hard your dog pulls, but strain is relatively light compared to some of the other materials listed here.
  • They dry well. Live in an area that’s humid, or rains way too much? Just hang the nylon leash to dry and it’ll be good to go by your next walk.
  • They are lightweight. You could pack up a couple on a road trip and not notice an ounce of difference in your bag’s weight.
  • They are widely adopted, so they have the best variety. As we’ll also mention later, a leash is important in establishing a personality for your dog. Nylon leashes come in all colors, patterns, and custom designs. You’ll likely be able to find (or create) your dream leash.

Cons of Nylon Leashes

  • Nylon is not chew resistant. If your dog is a chewer, you’re better off choosing a different material.
  • Nylon may not be completely pull-proof. If your dog loves to pull, nylon can stretch out over time. This poses a safety problem since it could eventually cause the leash to give in over time.
An older photo of our first purple nylon leash and harness. Yuna's not a chewer, but you'll notice even she put some holes in this one!

A popular and stylish alternative is leather. Here’s a complete list of pros and cons.

Pros of Leather Leashes

  • Leather is durable. Given reasonable usage, no chewing, and appropriate care and maintenance, a good leather leash can outlive a nylon leash.
  • Leather is aesthetically pleasing. Leather gives off a more high-class feel, suitable for dogs that show that vibe. Owners looking to inject personality and style into their dogs have their wishes answered with leather leashes.
  • Leather can be softer on the hands and wrist. Leather can soften over time, making walking more pleasant as there’s less tension and rubbing on your hands.

Cons of Leather Leashes

  • Leather leashes are more expensive. It’s just a fact. Prepare to place more of an investment into a leather leash than a nylon alternative.
  • Leather leashes are heavier, and harder to pack. Where nylon leashes are lightweight, leather leashes are not. Packing up a few of these for an outing is more likely to add a bit of weight to your trip, but also could damage the leather. You don’t want to be bending or folding a leather leash too much.
  • Leather leashes require more maintenance. Without proper maintenance, cracks will emerge and wear and tear can become very visible (5).
  • Leather leashes are not waterproof. Nobody likes taking a wet leash home after a walk in the rain, but since leather comes primarily in darker colors and can rub off on things, your hands or clothes may emerge with a stain as well.

Some owners prefer chain leashes. They were popular decades ago and a little more rare now, but here are the pros and cons for chain leashes (6):

Pro of Chain Leashes

  • Dogs won’t bite through chain. Even if they did take a crack at it, most dogs don’t enjoy the flavor and texture of the chain leash and will usually leave it alone.

Cons of Chain Leashes

  • Chain leashes can hurt both you and the dog. Agh, I can’t imagine how painful it must be to hold a dog back from pulling with a chain leash digging into your hands. When out meeting other dogs (inadvertently on a walk or otherwise), if your dog is still on a chain leash it can potentially hurt your dog or the other dog.
  • Chain leashes are noisy. You’ll be the loudest dog walker on the block with all that clinging and clanging (this might be a pro for some people actually?). You might also easily attract the attention of other dogs (have you realized, dogs seem to be able to hear little things from a mile away?).
  • Chain leashes are heavy. Like leather leashes, chain leashes can also be hard to pack because of their relative weight.
  • Chain leashes may not always be as durable as advertised. Got a large dog that loves to pull? The chain links can whittle away over time, due to repeated strain or just due to rust and wear.

The above three are the most popular leash materials today. However, there is a special leash material we’ve been using quite extensively, so let’s also take a quick look at it.

Hint hint it's been popping up a lot in this post!

Rope leashes seem to be gaining popularity. Many up and coming small businesses are turning to leashes made from climbing rope. Here’s a brief summary of the pros and cons.

Pros of Rope Leashes

  • Rope leashes are teeth resistant. There’s a reason why a whole class of dog toys are rope toys—even after all that pulling and tugging, it’s really hard to snap. Same goes for leashes.
  • Rope leashes have great grip. As long as you’re holding onto the leash properly, your dog is not going to wander out of sight!

Cons of Rope Leashes

  • Rope leashes can hurt your hands. Climbing rope is rough, and if you’ve got a dog like Yuna eager to meet everyone on the street, all the tugging against your wrist is going to leave a mark.
  • Rope leashes can be more expensive. Perhaps since climbing rope leashes are still relatively unadopted, the prices can be a bit higher than your average leash.

3. Thickness

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at some common leash materials, let’s consider the final quality you’ll want to decide on—thickness of the leash.

Note that this quality is less flexible than the others. It pretty much just boils down to one principle.

The larger your dog is, the thicker leash you should use. It only makes sense this way—smaller dogs need a thin leash, and larger dogs need thicker leashes.

If you don’t follow this principle, it could pose a safety hazard to your dog. A large dog could snap a thin leash.

Conversely, if you’ve got a smaller dog, you could end up confusing him. If your leash is too thick and heavy, your small dog man think you’re pulling on the leash when you’re not.

A Note On Personality

Dogs don’t normally wear clothes. The only regular “outfit” your dog gets to sport is a collar/harness and leash.

That being said, your dog has very little options when it comes to showing off his personality through gear.

A leash is probably the best way you can help him with that!

Of course, usability is still more important when selecting a leash. However, once you get to know your dog, think about investing in a good leash that also reflects your dog’s personality.

Got a playful, happy-go-lucky dog like Yuna? I am a big Disney fan, so I search regularly for dog gear that also features Disney. We have a Minnie leash perfect for this.

Yup it's a good leash!

Have a more elegant, composed, stylish dog? Perhaps a fancy leather leash would suit her.

Like to get out on hikes with your active dog? A bright-colored climbing rope perfectly suits this!

Don’t neglect personality when choosing a leash!

Common Classes Of Leashes

So we’ve covered three “essentials”: durability, ease of use, and worth your money. We’ve covered three “qualities”: length, material, and thickness. And we’ve also highlighted personality.

You might already know which combination of qualities you want in a leash. Let’s now look at some different classes of leashes out there.

Standard Walking Leashes

These are just your everyday walking leashes, usually 6 feet in length (or shorter), and made of either nylon, leather, or chain.

You’ll be using your standard walking leash multiple times a day, so be sure you pick at least one (preferably two or more, for backup and just to change it up) with all the essentials and qualities you think will suit your dog.

If you’re just about to get a dog and you know little about the dog’s temperament, I would just recommend getting a six-foot nylon leash just to start. They are likely not very expensive at your local pet store.

Once you’ve been on a couple walks with your dog, you’ll start to pick up on tendencies. Then you can look into other materials, lengths, and styles depending on personality and temperament.

Training Leashes

Training leashes are special. Usually they are made of nylon and are extremely long (i.e. 30 ft).

Such leashes can be really useful around the house for a new puppy. When you bring home a new puppy or newly adopted dog, keeping them on leash even inside the house to slowly introduce them to their new surroundings can help wonders with potty training and other common dog issues.

Training leashes can also be used to teach tricks that require distance, such as stay, come, and fetch. With a long training leash on your dog, you won’t have to worry about them wandering off.

You likely won’t have to purchase a training leash before your new dog comes home. During your new dog’s first few days home, evaluate whether or not you think a training leash is necessary for any behaviors you want to teach.

Retractable Leashes

Retractable leashes are an interesting concept. When not “locked,” the leash acts like a measuring tape, allowed to stretch in and out as far as the dog desires. When “locked,” the leash is fixed at whatever length it’s currently at.

They usually have a max length of somewhere between 10 feet and 16 feet.

Retractable leashes are quite controversial.

Opponents mainly argue that they’re not safe. Since the whole point of a dog leash is to keep them by your side at all times, giving them the freedom to wander away from the leash any further than a standard length is a real safety concern.

In addition, suddenly locking the leash on a dog running at full speed can severely injure him! This also causes a jerk on the leash handle and if you’re not fully paying attention, it could fly out of your hands.

But they have their pluses as well. If your dog is well-trained and can come to you reliably even in the midst of distractions, a retractable leash makes a lot of sense.

You’ll grant your dog more freedom to sniff around and make their walks more interesting.

In addition, a retractable leash can be locked at a very short length as well, shorter than 4 feet if necessary. Perhaps you’re trying to teach your dog the heel position—the retractable leash can be useful there.

All in all, you shouldn’t buy a retractable leash until you perfect your dog’s recall outdoors.

A new dog should definitely not be using a retractable leash. Young dogs need to learn boundaries. Granting too much freedom in the early months is counterproductive.

Personally, we have a retractable leash but I dislike using it. I find that our locking button is not super user-friendly, and is not worth the benefits. Perhaps we will fish around for another in the future.

Slip Leashes

Slip leashes are unique in that they act as both the collar and the leash.

Just “slip” the loop on over your dog’s head and position it just behind the ears, under the chin.

Slip leashes are primarily used to train proper walking behavior in dogs, because the harder you pull on the leash, the tighter the leash closes on your dog’s neck.

Depending on the slip leash, they can come with a stopper that locks the leash at a pre-defined “tightest” position.

Slip leashes are also controversial. In recent years there has been a notable shift towards positive, reward-based training.

On the other hand, slip leashes embody negative reinforcement. For this reason, many articles like this one list no pros for slip leashes.

If you choose to employ a slip leash to try and train better walking behavior in your dog, consult with a vet and/or trainer first. They could potentially harm your dog.

We personally do not use slip leashes.

Attachments to Collar or Harness

Finally, let’s briefly look at the way your leash is attached to your dog’s collar or harness. It’s just as important in keeping your dog safe out on walks.

Most leashes come with a small clip that hooks onto a ring on a collar or harness. They are sturdy and it’s unlikely to inadvertently come off under normal circumstances.

Things do happen when dogs get out there, especially when they get tangled in bushes or even other dogs.

Carabiners are a very durable alternative. Leashes that come with a locking carabiner are generally more expensive, but can be well worth the extra layer of security it offers.

You can see the carabiner on the leash.

Conclusion

Ultimately, you should treat a dog leash as more than just something you use to keep your dog by your side during walks.

Investing in a good set of leashes and being prepared for a variety of scenarios will always pay off.

If you’re preparing for your first ever dog, I’d suggest you start with the 6 foot nylon leash, and pay attention to your dog to learn his quirks. That will help you optimize future leash buying decisions, and you can always return to this article for reference.

Keeping our furry friends safe on walks but also allowing them a certain degree of freedom is paramount to their overall well-being.

Allowing them to show off their personality through a leash is a great added bonus!

I hope this article helped you dive deeper into the different variables in leash buying. More quality content on dog care and advice is in the works!

Be sure to also follow Yuna’s Instagram to get daily updates. We are also posting useful free dog care tips every other day!

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