Dog Leads – What’s Best for Your Dog?

In our latest article of our complete guide to harnesses, collars and dog leads – we move on to selecting the perfect lead.

Anyone who has never owned a dog will probably assume there is one type of dog lead, a length of material that simply clips into a collar around the neck. But any of us who’ve had the pleasure of looking after a four-legged friend will know there’s a lot more to leads than meets the eye. Different types of leads, leads for various stages of a dog’s life. From puppyhood to plodding pensioner, leads for behavioural issues like pulling, and leashes for restraint in a car. There are even leads designed to take more than one dog at a time.

It all adds up to a whole lot of choice when it comes to buying a lead for your dog.

In this guide, we’ll examine the different types of dog lead, together with the pros and cons of each, depending on the dog’s age, size and trainability. We’ll also look at different materials.

Standard dog leads

That non-doggy person had this in mind, a standard leash, usually made from tough nylon or leather, measuring from four feet up to eight feet. For an ‘average’ sized dog, like a Labrador, then around six feet might be normal. The lead affords the owner the ability to retain complete control while giving the dog enough ‘rope’ to walk freely. Naturally, for a smaller dog, you’d want the shorter lead.

The lead will have a clip at one end that connects to the dog’s collar, and the dog will be comfortable using it, so long as the animal is not a “puller”. More of that later.


While all standard leads do the same job, materials used can make a difference.

  • Nylon leashes tend to be cheaper and, being man-made, they will be available in a choice of colours, should your dog be fashion conscious. As a material, it won’t shrink when wet and it’s cleaned easily. But, they can cause friction burns if you allow the lead to run through your hand or against your leg. One other drawback is the dog might chew it.
  • Leather is the more robust option, but a more expensive one. However, what you pay for in cash you’ll get back in durability. Some leather leads will last a lifetime. Leather is not as abrasive on the skin as nylon, and curiously it tends to change its shape over time to suit the handler!
  • Chain leads are heavy, and you’ll need to make sure the links are strong enough to cope when your dog gets bigger. They are perfect for the hound that loves to chew because no dog we’ve met can chew through metal.
  • Reflective leads are a nice idea if you walk your dog along rural roads in the evening, or who have vehicles passing close by. They are also ideal for service dogs.

Dog Leads - What's Best for Your Dog? - Dog in park on lead

Choosing the right dog lead width and clip

When it comes to selecting a dog lead, one size does not fit all. If you look around your pet store or online, you’ll see dog leads of varying widths. One clear consideration is the size of your dog. You don’t need a thicker lead more suitable for a German Shepherd if you’re out and about with your Yorkshire Terrier. It might be big on personality, but it’s not going to need much control.

Another factor, however, is if your dog tends to pull and if it is likely to try and chew the lead. Both are indicators you should go up a size regarding width.

You essentially need to ensure that your lead is strong enough to do its job, as snapping is unthinkable.

While making your purchasing decision, pay equal attention to the type of metal clip used to attach the lead to the collar around the dog’s neck. Clips will either be a bolt snap or trigger snap. You’ll want to make sure they a strong and made of stainless steel or even brass to avoid corrosion.

Buying an extendable/retractable dog lead

If you’ve ever had one of those tape measures that extend out a long way, locked in position and then retracted at the flick of a switch, then a retractable dog lead uses the same concept.

It has a plastic casing with a sturdy grip, and the nylon dog leads will retract all the way back. You can use it from around four feet, just as you would for a normal lead, but then have the flexibility on top, extending up to anything like 30 feet. When safe, 30 foot is fine. Always lock the device on the short lead when in traffic or built-up areas.

Rather than locking the lead when extended, allowing it to slacken when the dog is not far ahead. This could cause entangling issues with the dog and yourself, you can set the lead to adjust automatically. Now it will automatically ‘reel in’ and take up the slack when the dog’s distance away shortens.

While this might present apparent freedom and kindness to your dog, using retractable leads does have a few drawbacks you might like to consider.


  • Rope burn. If you do not have your device on lock, and your dog bolts, your instinct is to grab the nylon to hold it back. However, you then risk a friction burn.
  • Even the most beautifully made system will require your dog to pull a little to extend the lead. It rewards the dog for pulling, however, since it needs to do so to get where it wants. When you come to walk the dog with the leash locked tight, so it can not extend, the dog might be confused as to why it can’t get ahead. It may try and pull harder.
  • Tangling up. We mentioned this earlier, but when using these dog leads in the ‘extendable’ mode, it’s quite common for the dog to step over it and get the lead tangled around its leg or rubbing against its skin. If the animal runs around full circle, it could end up tying you in knots. While comical, this could have dangerous consequences, particularly for a senior dog walker.

Dog Leads - What's Best for Your Dog? - Woman walking dog on lead

Adjustable dog leads

Having read about the possible drawbacks of a retractable/extendable lead, you might consider an adjustable one instead. These have extra rings and a second clip midway down the length of the lead, allowing to create a loop, thereby shortening it.

Typically, this might be a six-foot lead that can be cut to three feet when desired. You wouldn’t want to fuss about changing the length of the lead while out on a normal walk. So, its main use is when you want to keep your dog close, perhaps during training when you teach it to walk or heel, or if you walk in a built-up area around lots of people and don’t want the animal to get in their way.

Martingale dog leads

A combination of a martingale collar and normal dog leads, this is an all-in-one lead that helps while training a dog not to pull. It’s not as intrusive as some non-pull leads or halti. So while it tightens around the neck when the dog pulls, it will not choke the animal. It will, however, be uncomfortable enough to hopefully persuade your dog that pulling isn’t a great idea.

The small loop of the martingale lead slips over the dog’s head and then becomes a snug fit when the leash element is pulled. If the animal tries to pull too much, the ‘collar’ tightens.

Seat belt safety lead

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states drivers are responsible for making sure your dog is restrained in a vehicle. Restraining your dog stops it jumping about, possibly being a distraction to you, as well as keeping them in the vehicle in the event of an accident.

One option is for a cage in the rear of your car, but a more convenient is a simple seat-belt safety lead. One end of the leash clips to your dog’s collar as normal. The other buckles into a seat belt clip. Seat belt dog leads are obviously shorter than normal dog leads. They need to be strong enough to withhold the force of an accident.

Your dog will quickly become used to sitting or laying down in the same spot in the car. You also won’t be distracted by any more leaping about. Another benefit is when you open the door, it can’t jump out before you’ve got it under control!

Multiple dog leash

If you have two dogs, this is a perfect way to keep them both under control and together. When walking on separate dog leads, it’s common for them to decide to head off in opposite directions, leaving you pulled one way and another.

One handle with a short leash has a coupler on the end. Into this, you can attach two leads for your dogs. If they walk well together, this is ideal. Just make sure you are strong enough to control them both with one arm.

It is possible to add more leashes to the system so that you could walk three or more dogs. Be confident that the dogs train for this to work. Otherwise if one starts jumping about it could upset the whole apple cart.

Professional dog walkers, who are expert dog handlers, will use these multiple dog leash set-ups. You may see them with perhaps five dogs at a time, all well behaved and enjoying their trip out.

Dog Leads - What's Best for Your Dog? - Multiple Dog Leads

The dog harness

We’ve written elsewhere about the importance of fitting and using the right harness for your dog. While some people might say it’s not a lead, it is! Harnesses, including those with vests, make it easier to control your dog. While some can help with those animals that insist on pulling, despite your best training efforts.

Harness leashes include the back-clip variety, which is ideal for well-trained dogs. Then the front clip harness which is better suited to those dogs that are liable to pull or to jump up. You can also add a head halter for those dogs that might be prone to aggression so that you can control its head.

The halti

A bit like you might see a bridle on a horse; a halti fits around the dog’s muzzle. It is not to stop it from biting, but rather it allows you to keep easy control of the head movement. It’s particularly useful when training your animal. Be aware that some dogs don’t like wearing them, finding the halti irritating or distractive.

What leads should you use, from pup to adult

It’s important to start training your puppy on a lead as soon as is practical, although not in the first few days as it has enough to deal with in a new home. Do this indoors or in the garden, so long as it is free from unwanted distractions.

The short lead

Start off with short dog leads. Your first task is to get the pup used to having the lead on. In a secure room at home, let the puppy wander around with the lead dangling by its side. When the dog is used to this, it will be far more accepting of finding you holding the other end.

Armed with doggy treats to reward success, get the dog used to standing and sitting by your side. Take a few steps and as soon as it pulls, stop. Call it back and then verbally reward it for doing so, perhaps it’s time for a treat! Before long (hopefully!) your pet will realise it only gets rewarded when it’s not trying to pull ahead or get away.

The short lead will help with all handling training, and the dog will feel secure and grow in confidence.

You only need a thin lead for this stage of the pup’s training, because you’re not out in the open.

The next step

However, once you’re ready to step up a gear and take the dog out on the road, then you’ll want a longer and thicker lead that will last (leather is ideal). Begin with the treats and reward for not pulling. If it continues to pull, stop. It will soon realise that pulling gets you nowhere.

If you prefer more control, you might opt for a harness rather than a standard lead.

A good collar

It’s worth stressing that all your diligence about purchasing a strong lead counts for nothing if your dog’s collar isn’t up to much. Ensure you have a quality collar that fits well with the dog. It should never be able to wriggle out of it when restraining it.

Check it is in good condition and shows no danger of coming undone. Be aware that your dog grows quickly, so check regularly for tightness around the neck. If too tight and cannot be loosened further, buy another one.

You’re now ready to make the right dog lead purchasing choice

If you’ve read through this guide carefully, which we’ll presume is the case since you’re down here at the bottom, you’ll have all the information you need to make a correct purchasing decision.

  • Think about the type of lead that will most suit the size and behaviour of your dog.

A standard leash is the most obvious choice. But if you wanted a retractable lead, remember our advice about the risk of friction burns or getting tangled up.

  • Select a material that will suit your dog.

Nylon is fine, but it may not be as durable as leather. And if your dog is a chewer, it may decide to have a go at the lead. Remember to buy a seat-belt lead if you intend to take the dog in the car.

  • Start off with short dog leads for your puppy during training.

But be sure to buy a size up when it’s growing and ready to walk outside. The lead should now be longer and strong (wider) to cope if the dog decides to bolt.

And if, despite your best efforts, it continues to pull, or you want the security of extra control, go for a harness.

One last important point. Check the condition of your dog lead regularly, even if it’s new. Look down the whole length of the nylon or leather to make sure there are no tears that could rip and set your dog free. Check over the clips regularly to ensure they remain in top condition.

If in any doubt, get a new lead.

Top Dog

Top Dog

Editor and Co-Founder of Collar & Harness. There's little he doesn't know about dogs. TopDog loves agility but is far too unfit to keep up. Offers advice and articles on dog harnesses, collars, travel, food and temperament. Has featured articles in Huffington Post, The Guardian, BuzzFeed and others. Is woeful at speaking foreign languages.

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