Canine Behaviour: Lead by example ... the best choices

Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001
Karen Wild column EMN-140715-124751001

What sort of lead would be best for your dog? They spend a lot of time wearing these and we spend a lot of time holding the other end, so it is worth examining what might suit your needs.

We have a collection of all shapes and sizes, and colours too. As we have four dogs they each appear to collect additional leads as they grow, plus leads belonging to beloved dogs from the past.

Do I need a lead? YES. In spite of protestations that your dog may be under control near roads, you cannot guarantee this. Never, ever, let them walk near a road without a lead on. It really isn't worth the risk to your dog – or to anyone else for that matter, should your dog get spooked, attacked, or chase a cat and run into the road.

Bungee leads. These have a piece of elastic or similar which stretches as the dog pulls. Great if you have a dog that tends to lurch forward suddenly. However, the delay they allow can be very risky as it reduces the control you have over timing your responses. I would not recommend these with an untrained dog (come and see me for a lesson on walking nicely on lead, perhaps)!

The 'flat' lead. This is the essential piece of any dog owner's kit. Unless you are very tall, or short, the normal length of such a lead is around 4 feet. Any longer and you will have to gather up a lot of slack when your dog is close to you (as they should be, of course). Any shorter and you are potentially one of the 'tight lead, stressed dog' brigade, which we do not want either.

A flat lead should be made of a really comfortable material. Leads that hurt or burn your hands aren't a good prospect. You need to move your dog safely, and may need to grab the length of the lead and not just the handle. Choose a soft lead that is strong and does not stretch when handled, as this causes a delayed response at the other end. Rope leads cause choking and damage and should never be used with a dog that pulls. There are many kinder and safer devices to use.

The very best material for a lead of this type is bridle leather. These are expensive but last and last. Bridle leather gets better in the wet, is never brittle, very comfortable to hold along its length and well worth the investment. They also come in many colours! Ours (made by saddler Ginny Pestell) is 15 years old and is still going strong. It is very soft and pliable and I would be devastated to lose it.

Retractable leads. These are sometimes known as 'Flexi' leads and retract back into a plastic handle, held by a trigger button. Good for 'easy' walks with a dog that may have an unreliable recall, in areas well away from roads. They can be very risky if your dog is too large for the lead strength, or if they become entangled around legs of dog and human alike! If you have a fast dog, a retractable lead is extremely dangerous.