In the first part of this article (Oct-Nov 2014), we looked at the disadvantages of each. Now we’ll focus on leashes and tethers, and what you need to know about choosing and using these particular training tools.
As with collars and harnesses, leash types are legion. Which one is best for you and your dog?
These are made of leather or cotton and are usually six feet in length. You can spend hundreds of dollars on designer leashes – but let’s face it, your dog probably couldn’t care less.
Virtually no dog enjoys his first introduction to a leash. Dogs hate being restrained; it triggers their oppositional reflex and they pull frantically trying to escape. With a newly adopted, never-been-on-a-leash-before dog, it is always a good idea to introduce the leash in conjunction with something positive like highly valued treats – chicken, cheese, and so on.
Let the dog drag the leash to his food bowl and while playing outside (supervised of course). It won’t take long for him to realize the leash is a good thing, especially as it now allows him to go on walks.
Pros: Virtually any basic leash will work fine. But stay away from metal chain leashes – they are heavier than a regular cotton or leather leash and more uncomfortable for most dogs.
Cons: Exercise caution with the clips on the end of the leash.Some are poorly made and can slip off the collar or harness. Others are simply difficult to operate and you’ll end up fumbling around to get them undone.
Also known as elastic or stretch leashes, bungee leashes are mostly made of rubber so that when the dog pulls, the leash stretches out. Some are straight and some are coiled. They come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses.
Pros: This leash’s “give” can be a good thing because the stretchiness can absorb the impact of a dog suddenly lunging while on a walk. I have also found elastic leashes very useful in teaching a dog not to pull. In fact, it is the leash I recommend for training purposes. That being said, it is not for everyone and you should hire a professional trainer to instruct you on how to use it for training purposes.
One of the exercises trainers use to teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash is the red light/green light game. If the dog comes to the end of the leash, the trainer stops walking. When the dog backs up and the leash loosens, the trainer starts walking again (green light). If you play this game while the dog is wearing an elastic leash, the dog quickly learns to feel even the slightest tension as the leash stretches, and will stop pulling, knowing that if the tension increases further, you will stop walking.The end result is a dog that walks while maintaining only the slightest, if any, leash tension.
The other thing I like about these leashes is that they don’t hang as low to the ground, so they don’t get tangled between the dog’s legs as much as a regular leash would. No bungee leash should be more than six feet in length; this is so you can maintain control of your dog. For dogs over 15 pounds, only thick-width leashes should be used.
Cons: Many of these leashes are marketed as “correction leashes”. They should never be used to give a dog a correction.
Also known as extension leashes, they work on the same principle as a measuring
tape; when the dog moves forward, the spring-loaded leash, usually a cord of thin rope
or cotton strap, extends from a plastic handle. Lengths vary from six to 100 feet. When
the dog moves back to the walker, the cord retracts into the handle. There is a clip on
the handle you can use to lock the leash at a specific length.
Cons: Retractable leashes can be very dangerous because they offer no control over your dog. He can suddenly be ten feet away from you, chasing a cat into the street, or just as suddenly wrapped around your legs, trying to escape another dog.
As well, I have seen many puppies, or recently adopted sound-sensitive dogs, suddenly bolt when their people accidentally drop the plastic leash handle, which further scares the dog as it rattles along behind him.
The safest leashes are four to six feet in length and well made from leather or cotton, with high quality, easy-to-handle clips. Leashes measuring ½” to 1” in width are preferred.
Stay away from retractable (extension) and chain leashes. Hire a professional trainer if you decide to use an elastic (bungee) leash.
The idea of putting a dog on a tether is a very hot topic, and deservedly so. The improper use of tethers has led to unimaginable abuse, such as dogs being left out in the yard alone with no water, exercise, play or socialization. Numerous reports link unattended tethered dogs with aggression. So let’s be clear from the outset: a dog should never be tied to anything while unsupervised or unattended. This is obvious when you think of the potential dangers. Along with the aforementioned aggression issue, the dog could get tangled up and injured, or suffer emotional trauma from being restrained and left alone. Tethered dogs are also more easily stolen.
In addition, a dog should never be tethered without shade, water or shelter from the cold or rain, or anyplace where he can’t escape from other animals, including insects. Nor should a dog ever be tethered as a form of punishment.
All this being said, a tether can be used safely and properly as a powerful management tool for training. When I suggest using a tether, especially indoors, many people cringe a little. When I point out that walking a dog on a leash is a form of tethering, the concept becomes a little more acceptable.
Positive trainers compare tethering to holding a child’s hand so he can’t run into the street or out the front door, steal candy off a shelf, and so on. Just like holding a child’s hand, tethering a dog is a temporary prevention management tool that gives the dog time to form good behavioral habits, rather than bad habits that then have to be corrected. Proper tethering helps resolve problems like jumping, stealing, running out the door, begging at the table, housesoiling, getting on the furniture, and more.
- Get your dog to love being tethered by using a step-by-step progression of systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning.
- Only tether a dog when you are around to supervise him.
- A tether can be made from rope, cable, cotton or leather (like a leash), or from chain. I recommend using a thick cable, so the tether doesn’t wrap around the dog’s legs and get tangled up. Plastic-coated chew-proof cables measuring 3/8” in width and wider are good choices. However, in a pinch and if properly supervised, a leash is okay.
- Only use tethering as part of a training program that includes teaching your dog appropriate behaviors.
- Only use a tether for prevention and management, and only do so for short periods.
When it comes to training dogs, selecting the best collars, harnesses, leashes and tethers – and using them correctly and appropriately – is paramount. Used in conjunction with a gentle, positive, reward-based approach, and the assistance of a professional trainer when and as needed, they can help ensure a happy and well behaved dog.
Editor’s note: Another leash option is the hands-free design. “It has many features that contribute to a good training tool,” says Meera Brown of Smoochy Poochy (smoochypoochy.com). “It has the hands-free option, and a mesh pouch that can hold training treats. The handle releases so you have the option of wrapping the leash around your waist or across your shoulders by clipping the open handle into a brass grommet.” The company’s leashes are made from durable nylon webbing and a leather-like material.