Long vs. Short Dog Leashes: How To Choose

Your dog’s leash—long or short—influences the daily rhythm of your life with him. Whether walking your dog is peaceful, controlled, or unruly depends, at least in part, on the length of his leash. In certain scenarios and with particular dogs a short or standard-length leash is your best bet, but in other situations, you and your dog will appreciate the freedom of a long leash. Either way, a leash helps protect your dog and other dogs from unexpected encounters. Here’s the long and the short of it:

What Are the Different Types of Dog Leads?

  • A standard dog leash is the type you’ve probably used and seen around the most. It is often made in flat woven nylon, but also commonly comes in leather or a roped material.
  • A short dog leash, sometimes called a traffic or city leash, provides better control in small or crowded spaces, and it’s often used on service dogs.
  • A long dog leash is best used with a harness, rather than a collar, to prevent injury and to provide proper control should your dog decide to run or chase. A long leash is great for hiking, but should be used only on a dog who already walks politely on-leash. When using this type of leash, keep the slack off the ground to prevent tangling or tripping.
  • Longline leashes and check cords are often used for recall or field dog training. A leash of this type allows you to give your dog freedom to roam, without relinquishing necessary contact for safety. Whether you’re practicing recalls or retrieves with a well-behaved dog, these extra-long leashes provide just enough control.
  • In a rope slip lead, the collar and leash are combined in a single slip-over piece; it’s best used for dog training. This style is not recommended for strong pullers or breeds prone to trachea damage, nor is it ideal for everyday walking. If you use a slip lead, your dog will still need to wear his regular collar with dog ID tags and contact information in case he gets loose.

Most leashes include a comfortable loop for your hand so you can maintain control of your dog while you pick up after him. Never wrap the handle around your wrist as this can cause serious injury if your dog decides to run.

Leashes without handles can be used for a variety of activities, but are most useful for off-leash training: While you’ll want a leash attached in case you need to get a grip on him, a handle may snag on branches or furniture. A handleless leash can drag on the ground without snagging but still allows you to grab or stomp on the leash quickly to prevent a mishap.

Leash Lengths by Type

  • Short leashes are four feet long, sometimes fewer.
  • Standard leashes are six feet long, which is the average length for dog leashes, including the handle on most models.
  • Long dog leashes can be between eight and ten feet.
  • Longline leashes and check cords are available in lengths of 15 or more feet—a favorite length is 30 feet as it provides plenty of freedom, but still provides control.

Read on to learn when to use each of these common leash lengths, when to choose a different length, what leash is best for dogs who pull, and answers to frequently asked questions.

When To Use a Standard Dog Leash

The standard six-foot dog leash, whether it’s made of flat nylon, rope, or leather, is the go-to walking lead for most dog owners. It offers plenty of control, while giving your dog some room to roam. When you use a leash that’s long enough for a little slack in the line, your dog is less likely to pull—instinct causes dogs to pull against a tight leash, so aim for loose-leash walking with a standard length leash to start reversing pulling habits. It’s smart to keep several on hand, including a leash made with reflective material for walking your dog in low light or at night.

Pros: Allows enough length for loose-leash walking.
Cons: May not provide enough control for very strong pullers.

When To Use a Long Dog Leash

Long dog leashes, longline leads, and check cords are most often used for training. Using a long lead, you can train your dog to respond to the commands ‘come,’ ‘leave it,’ ‘sit,’ and ‘stay’ when he is farther from you. This increases the chances he’ll listen in unexpected situations, such as escaping from the yard.

A long lead can also give your dog a taste of off-leash freedom to wander and explore where he likes without constraint, while keeping him and others safe. Your dog should be highly trained in controlled situations before you walk him on a long lead. Using a long lead on your dog requires constant attention to prevent the leash from dragging on the ground where it can catch on stones, wrap around a tree, or around his or your legs. You’ll be adjusting the lead length throughout your excursion. As your dog walks towards you, pick up the slack as you would loop a rope, and then let it out again when he walks farther away. Long dog leads are safest when attached to the back clip of a dog harness.

Pros: Great for training well-behaved dogs who are already polite leash-walkers.
Cons: Does not offer enough control for dogs who pull, the leash can snag on trees, stairs, or branches, and it may be ungainly for people unused to dealing with the length.

When To Use a Short Dog Leash

A short dog leash gives you better control over your dog than a standard or long leash. It’s perfect for a dog who always pulls, or who’s unpredictable around other dogs or people. A short leash is also beneficial when you walk your dog in an urban environment, where there is always a lot of car traffic nearby and the sidewalks are crowded. And a short leash can help train a dog who shows signs of leash aggression.

Even shorter, a tab leash looks like a handle with a buckle—with no leash length between the two. It attaches directly to the dog’s collar. This is not used for walking, but offers an extra handle in case you need to get a grip on your dog quickly, or in tight spaces where you need a bit of extra control.

Pros: Offers control in tight spaces or for dogs who are strong pullers.
Cons: Not enough length to allow slack in the leash for regular walks in open spaces.

When To Use a Slip Lead

Use a slip lead to train a dog who is having difficulty learning to walk without pulling, or when you need to maintain his attention. The positioning of a slip lead should always be just behind your dog’s ears and under his chin to indicate corrections to him. Never position the collar part of the lead over his windpipe, or yank or pull it too tightly. Slip leads are not meant for everyday walks.

Pros: Ideal for temporary use for training and quick on-and-off.
Cons: Not a solution for every walk—this style should be used only for training or in an emergency.

How To Use a Dog Leash Properly

Clipping a leash to a collar may seem easy enough, but a wary or untrained may make this step more difficult than you’d expect. When attaching your dog’s leash, follow these guidelines:

  • Always make sure your dog knows you’re reaching for his collar to avoid startling him. An intrusion into his space may result in a bite, even in the most friendly dogs.
  • When using a head collar, martingale-style collar, front-clip harness, or slip lead, always ensure your dog is wearing a permanent collar with tags for backup. Clip your dog’s leash to both the temporary walking collar and permanent collar. This way, you’ve got an added layer of protection against your dog slipping away.
  • Ask your dog to sit or lay down prior to clipping the leash onto his collar to prevent injury or chaos. When you’re ready to go, release your dog with a signal command like “okay,” or “let’s go.”
  • Choose the right leash for the occasion: Long leashes are best for walking dogs in open spaces and to provide a little extra freedom, while short leashes are best for walking dogs in crowded areas or tight spaces where you need added control.
  • When walking, allow a little slack in the leash to prevent pulling—and never jerk or tug on the collar as a training method as this can cause serious injury.
  • Require your dog to sit and stay before removing the leash as well, and offer a signal word when she can get up.

The Trouble With Retractable Leashes

Any discussion of dog leashes should include the popular, but highly problematic retractable variety. Many dog trainers and veterinarians warn that retractable leashes teach dogs to pull, don’t offer enough control and, worst of all, pose a danger to dogs, their owners, and others. One of the most common problems is owners who can’t lock the retracting mechanism fast enough when their dog runs towards traffic, another dog, or people. The thin cords themselves can be a hazard when they wind and tighten around dogs and people, causing lacerations, rope burns, and worse. Finally, the hard plastic retracting mechanism is prone to breakage because of the moving parts inside it. Retractable leashes are not a recommended restraint for dogs, however well behaved they are on the leash.

Before Buying a Leash, Consider These Factors:

  1. How large is your dog? You’ll want a leash that’s sturdy enough, but not overwhelming. Consider leash length and width compared to your dog’s size.
  2. Is your dog likely to pull? Long leashes aren’t the best option for pullers—instead, a four- to six-foot leash paired with a harness or suitable collar can provide better control.
  3. Where are you most likely to walk? Hiking and trekking through large, open fields are perfect scenarios for using an extra-long leash, but the same leash won’t do for a jog in a crowded park. Don’t rely on one leash to take on everything: Keep the right leashes on hand for each of your favorite activities.
  4. Are you working on off-leash training, or looking to allow a little extra freedom without letting your dog roam free? A longer leash is the best option—choose the length based on your intended activity. A check cord is designed to resist tangling and snagging for romps in the field, while a long nylon leash gives your dog a little extra distance while keeping him secure.
  5. Does your dog have any health considerations? Brachycephalic dogs or breeds with delicate tracheas are not good candidates for slip collars or short collars that may trigger pulling. Choose a leash that allows a little slack, and clip it to his harness and not his collar.

Leash length isn’t dogmatic: Whether you choose a long or a short dog leash mainly boils down to the situation and your best friend’s temperament. Once you’ve got a couple of strong, appropriate options there’s only one thing left to do—get out there and enjoy walking with your dog.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Extendable Leashes Bad?

Simply put, an extendable (or retractable) leash is bad because it can cause grave injuries in some situations, especially in a scenario where your back is turned or you lose control of your dog, or around other people and their dogs. Most extendable leads are made with a wire cord spring-loaded inside a molded plastic housing, and attach to the dog’s collar via a conventional clip. The lead length is controlled using a brake-and-release mechanism on the outside of the plastic housing. Becoming entangled in the cord is possible and can result in burns or cuts, and in extreme situations, even finger or limb amputation. Additionally, the wire cord wears out with use, together with the mechanism that controls it, so breakage is not uncommon and can result in tragedy. 

One of the biggest negatives is not the extendable leash itself, but the human controlling it: Some dog walkers routinely give their dog too much leash slack around other dogs and people, or fail to retract the lead quickly enough in an undesirable or risky encounter with another dog or person. Dog trainers also maintain that a retractable leash is confusing for the dog because the length of the leash is variable, the person at the other end can lock or release it at will, and so the dog gets mixed signals about how much freedom he has (or has not).

What Is the Best Type of Leash for Running With a Dog?

While preferences in leashes for running with a dog are as individual as the runner and the dog, many runners and their canine pals prefer the freedom of a hands-free leash, typically used in tandem with a dog harness. The common denominator among favorites is some degree of stretch, or flex, in the leash itself, so there’s no constant ‘tug-of-war’ going on between runner and dog; these stretchy leashes are sometimes referred to as ‘bungee’ leashes for this attribute.

What Is a Hands-Free Dog Leash?

A hands-free leash is a tether that attaches to the waist of the person at one end, and to the dog’s collar or harness at the other end. It’s one piece in a system that typically includes the waist belt for the person, the harness for the dog, and the tether that conjoins the two.

Do Hands-Free Dog Leashes Work?

Yes, in some scenarios and for some dogs. Aside from the benefits to runners outlined above, a hands-free leash works well for a polite dog with excellent leash skills, and allows his person hands-free convenience for everyday walking. A hands-free leash is also an excellent ‘passive’ training tool to use indoors: Attach the tether to yourself and your dog and simply let him accompany you around the house, rewarding him with treats for good behavior. NOTE: A hands-free leash is not recommended for a dog who tends to lunge or pull towards other dogs, pedestrians, or cyclists.

What Length Leash Is Best for Training a Puppy?

You’ll have gathered up the right toys, food, collar, and dog bed for your new puppy—but you may be unsure which size leash to buy. The standard six-foot leash is the best length for a puppy: This length strikes the perfect balance between freedom and control. Consider width, as well. You won’t need an extra-thick leash as you’d use with a heavy-duty puller, but you’ll want to make sure the one you choose is thick enough to withstand curious, nibbling puppy teeth. A three-quarter- to one-inch leash width is probably perfect unless your puppy is a small breed.

A standard-length leash can be a helpful tool for initial leash training, as well as for housetraining. After he has gotten used to his collar, clip the leash to it and allow him to wander the puppy-proofed areas of your home with the leash dragging behind him. Your puppy can become accustomed to the weight of the leash, and it’s easier to scoop him up and take him outdoors when you spot the signs that he needs to go. It’s also a safety device that can prevent daring escapes: If your puppy dashes for the door, grab the leash to keep him safe.

Leash training can start right away by letting your puppy wear his leash through the house. Just remember: Heel doesn’t happen overnight. Training your puppy to walk politely on a leash takes practice, patience, and plenty of praise.


12 thoughts on “Long vs. Short Dog Leashes: How To Choose”

  1. Leashes are meant for controlling the dogs. These are available with different lengths- you can category them as long and short. Sometimes, leashes pose threats to the lives of your pet dogs. The thin cord one is very dangerous. So, you should pick the proper quality of leads asking a veterinary. The ideal length of a leash is six feet. If your dog is properly trained, then you can make it go free. It is considered the safest way for dogs. So, at first you should train them properly. It may take more time but one day you will succeed. But in the early stage, you need a leash. So, it is better to use a thick leash.

    1. It may be even better to ask a dog trainer or canine behaviorist for a dog leash recommendation rather than a vet. They will be able to steer you in the right direction. They as well as a vet and hospital ER staff all agree, I’m sure, that everyone should stay away from those dangerous retractable leashes!

  2. Reel type dog leashes are mot legal in California. Just last week we had a skater seriously injured by a dog on one. I have been bitten by a dog on one. Other dogs have been harmed as well as the dog on the leash and its owner. We need to ban them.

    1. Indeed, even canines need limits. The long and retractable rope don’t permit that control. We as a whole suspect our dogs are the cutest ever. In all honesty, not every person feels the same way. Be careful and aware of other people’s very own space…

  3. Even dogs need boundaries. The long and retractable leashes don’t allow that control. We all think our pooches are the cutest ever. Believe it or not, not everyone feels the same way. Be mindful and respectful of others folks personal space…

  4. What if your dog is USED to having privacy away from the walker on a leash longer than 6′ and ONLY does her *poop dance* further away from walker and poops every time? DO YOU rry to **reverse** to a short leash? Because my dog went 4 days w/o pooping due to NO Privacy away from a new walker person that walked her on a 6 foot leash she wasn’t used to. With no privacy my dog just refused to go til it was built up in her for 4 days. THEN? She let go in the house.

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