Photo-Illustration: Courtesy of the retailer
There’s an entire checklist of essentials for new dog owners: toys, food, treats, a comfortable bed, and, of course, a leash. Whether you’re buying a leash for a brand-new puppy, shopping for one that will help with specific behavior concerns, or looking to change what you use for your beloved senior dog, quality and durability are key (since, ideally, you won’t be buying another one for years). Rachel Bowers, of dog-walking company Brooklyn Bark, emphasizes that a leash should keep your dog safe and help you with training. She says it’s a “literal physical connection” between pet and pet owner, so you should make sure that whatever you buy works as a tool for guidance and communication.
If you’re only just starting to train your dog, Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinary consultant at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, recommends going with a shorter leash, which will provide “safety to not only your pet but also other people you may encounter on a walk” — because you can easily hold the dog’s attention while introducing it to a new environment and new commands.
It’s also always a good idea to consult with your vet when looking for a leash that fits your dog’s individual needs. But to help you get a sense of the best leashes available online, we talked to a dozen veterinarians, dog trainers, dog owners, and other canine experts about their favorite options for all kinds of dogs. Many of them say a basic leash would be more than sufficient for everyday walks with most dogs, so that’s where we started when compiling this list. And for dog owners who need a leash to help with specific issues — like puppies obsessed with chewing or excitable dogs who simply must pull — we’ve included a number of not-so-basic leashes too. We’ve even added a few leashes recommended for their impeccable style and variety of color options.
“Certainly you want to ensure the material is durable, and you want to make sure the connections of the leash to the collar or harness are well made and secure,” says Jennifer Maniet, a staff veterinarian at Petplan Pet Insurance. Most dog leashes are made of materials like nylon webbing or synthetic rope, both of which stand up well to inclement weather and are resistant to fraying or tearing. Nylon leashes tend to be both affordable and sturdy. But they’re not best for all dogs, as “owners who have dogs that chew on their leash may want to stay away from nylon due to the material quickly fraying,” says Burch. Those owners should look for extra-tough materials like coated metal (and perhaps consider distraction training). If the leashes you’re considering have any metal clips, carabiners, or rings, look for metal that is coated and rust-resistant and clips that will stay securely closed — some might even have locking mechanisms to keep your dog’s leash from coming loose. Lastly, padded or reinforced handles will help protect your hands when walking dogs with strong pulling instincts. They can also help when working with a dog that is much stronger than you.
“The goal is to have your pet walking next to you while on a relaxed leash,” says Maniet. But when another dog approaches or a car speeds by, that same leash could mean the difference between life and death. The best leashes are designed with your dog’s safety in mind, helping you securely guide them through busy sidewalks and streets. Speaking of security, several of the experts we spoke to advise against using retractable leashes. “These provide the least amount of control over a dog, and it’s easy for pups and humans alike to get injured by becoming tangled up or pinched and burned by the cord and the retraction mechanism,” explains Dr. Zay Satchu, the co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Bond Vet. For large and unruly dogs — or those that might chase a squirrel into traffic — look for design details like a traffic handle or double clips that will give owners more control and help dogs stay safe.
Above all, you’ll want a leash that works with your dog’s size. “Leashes for smaller dogs can be smaller in width, as they will not produce as much force as a large-breed dog if pulled,” explains Burch. “But a large- or giant-breed dog will need a wider leash to prevent breaking or fraying of the material when they pull.” Most of the leashes on this list come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different breeds (from Chihuahuas and pugs to Great Danes), but we’ve noted throughout when certain leashes are only available in limited sizes.
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Secure-snap bolt clip | Size: Two lengths and three widths
Stephanie Galas, a manager at Pupculture Soho, echoes what several experts say: “The most simple leash is your best leash.” Available in four-foot and six-foot lengths and three different widths, this affordable, lightweight-nylon leash from PetSafe is “not too long, not too short,” Galas says, and just right for having your dog walk alongside you without bolting ahead. Burch also approves: “The basic nylon leash provides control and safety, especially during training and unfamiliar situations,” she says. It’s also easy to clean, comes in six colors, and is stitched with heavy-duty thread for long-lasting strength.
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Two secure-snap bolt clips, three metal D-rings | Size: One length and two widths
This leash is a personal favorite of Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer with Rover, who calls it her “everyday go-to leash” because its two clips and three D-ring attachment points mean it can be worn “a multitude of ways” — including as a typical six-foot leash, a shorter 3.5-foot leash, or a looped leash that slings across your body for hands-free walking. It also can be double-clipped to both your dog’s harness and their collar for added safety. “If you’re in a busy area where your pup needs to be heeling close by, then you can use the cross-body attachment. If you’re at a park or on a hike, where you can afford your dog more freedom, you can easily lengthen it,” she says. You can choose between two sizes, small/medium (five-eighths of an inch wide) and medium/large (one-inch wide), and it’s available in six colors (black, blue, red, purple, sky blue, and hot pink).
Material: Flex-poly coated nylon webbing strap, waterproof with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Zinc alloy snap hooks, coated carbon steel D-rings | Size: Two lengths and one width
Renaldo Webb, the founder of fresh-cooked pet-food company PetPlate, says this is “the cool leash that you see walking around in Soho.” After frequently spotting it in the hands of New York City pet owners, Webb decided to try it along with a matching Wild One harness for his bernedoodle, Cooper, and was pleased to realize that the sleek design is not only good looking but also waterproof. Available in two lengths, the leash strap is made from flex-poly, an all-weather material, to deter water damage, and its coated carbon steel D-rings prevent metal rattling so there’s no clanging during walks, Webb explains. He also likes that snap hooks on either end make it adjustable, with the option to shorten it for training purposes or secure it around your waist.
Strategist junior writer Brenley Goertzen also owns this leash — and likes it so much that she has one for each of her two dogs. Because she’s based in Minneapolis, Goertzen appreciates that the fully coated exterior makes it easy to wipe down, so it’s never soggy or smelly after snowy jaunts. She says the rubber-like surface feels soft and comfortable, adding that it’s the quietest leash she’s ever used. The brand also offers a detachable poop bag carrier as an add-on.
Material: Marine-grade rope, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Two lockable brass carabiners, two brass O-rings | Size: One length and three widths
For good-looking leashes that are also very functional, Annie Grossman, the owner and a co-founder of School for the Dogs training center (and also a co-founder of Store for the Dogs), likes this stylish leash from Found My Animal. “It has a very solid clasp,” she says, explaining that “it’s like a carabiner-style brass clasp, and there’s a clasp on both ends, which is nice because you can walk two dogs and hold it in the middle.” The leash, which is made from hand-spliced marine-grade rope that’s reinforced at the ends to prevent fraying, is strong enough to stand up to big dogs or persistent pullers, but it’s available in three widths — quarter-inch, three-eighths of an inch, and half-inch — to suit a variety of breeds, plus nine different colors. It also has two O-rings that allow you for multiple configurations, so you can sling it over your shoulder or wear it around your waist. If you’re just walking one dog, the two carabiner clasps can be attached to the dog in two places, such as a collar and a harness, which is how Fraser recommends using it. “This way, if one piece malfunctions, your dog is still attached to you,” she says. “It’s a small thing that can quite literally save your dog’s life.”
The dog parents here at the Strategist are also fans of Found My Animal: Stephanie Downes, our former director of audience growth, has the brand’s upcycled rope leash in gray for her dog Oak. While she initially bought it because she liked the elegant look of the matte-gray rope, after a few months of use, she’s now in love with the functionality of the hardware. “The lockable carabiners are very sturdy,” she says, without being too heavy for Oak’s eight-pound frame, and the handy O-rings make it easy to “slip the leash around my wrist or waist.”
Material: Polypropylene rope with leather accents, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty metal snap clip | Size: Two lengths and two widths
If you’re looking for a less expensive but no less handsome rope leash, Grossman says this one from Mendota Products is her favorite. “It’s a very nice, sturdy, not super-expensive nylon leash that comes in a couple of different widths and lengths.” She suggests choosing a length that’s just enough to create a bend in the leash when you’re out walking. Generally, that means between four and six feet long, and this leash is available in both four- and six-foot lengths. “You don’t want a dog who’s out at the end of the leash,” she says. “Maybe if there’s a parade of squirrels across the street, you’re going to have to rely on your leash, but 99 percent of the time it should just be there as a safety precaution.” The leash is made of waterproof polypropylene with oil-tanned leather details that make it stand out, yet it’s also machine washable. It’s available with large and small clips as well as in a slip style that basically acts as a training collar and leash in one. Plus all of the sizes and styles come in a multitude of different colors and patterns, including stripes, confetti, and checkerboard.
Material: Rock-climbing rope woven with reflective tape, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty locking carabiner-style clip | Size: Two lengths and one width
Bowers reminds us that, especially in cities, you need something that glows to stand out when you’re walking your dog, especially in the evening or at night. This Wilderdog leash is one of her favorites for just that, as it offers “great basic safety” to make you more visible when crossing the street (watch out for those e-bikes!). Reflective leashes like this one are also a top pick of both Burch, Erin Askeland, an animal-health and -behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow, and Sarah Fraser, the co-founder and co-CEO of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training. Wilderdog’s version has four strands of reflective tape woven right into the three-eighths-inch rope and comes in five-foot and ten-foot lengths. Askeland calls out its strong materials and comfortable handle as two nonnegotiables, while Fraser loves the extra security of the locking carabiner-style clasp. (Wilderdog’s reflective leash also comes in “quick clip” and slip-style versions, should one of those options work better for you than the carabiner-style clip.)
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty, 360° rotational metal snap clip, traffic handle | Size: Two lengths and one width
Curtis Kelley, a dog trainer and the founder of Pet Parent Allies, says the relative strength of your dog and the chance of erratic movements are two reasons why he prefers a bungee leash. “If the leash is attached at the back of their neck or their shoulder blades, [dogs] can pull to an average of two and a half times their weight going forward and downward,” he says. “For a smaller person and a bigger dog, that means a dog can generate more force than that person can withstand.” A bungee leash helps to absorb or cushion sudden pulling or jumping, which can make a big difference in how much of the load is transferred to your shoulder, spine, and hips, he says. Kelley recommends this one because it’s available in a five-foot length, which he says is just right for everyday walks compared to shorter sizes that don’t allow for much slack or longer ones that tangle too easily. This also has a padded handle and reflective stitching, and is available in three colors.
Material: Nylon with padded neoprene handles, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty metal snap clip, D-ring, traffic handle | Size: Two lengths and one width
If your daily walk involves crossing busy intersections (or if you want an easy way to hold your dog close with greater control), Galas says to look for a “traffic handle”: a second loop closer to the dog’s collar that you can grab in case your dog tries to run into the street. “Some dogs will stand at the corner with you, and then they’ll hear a loud noise — a car backfires, a cat runs across the street — and they chase after it. But if you’re holding on to that traffic handle, the dog’s going nowhere. It’s safe with you, next to you.” Nikki Naser, a content designer at Chewy, pointed us to this option, which is made of two-millimeter-thick heavy-duty nylon with reflective stitching. The handles are padded with neoprene for comfort, and there’s a D-ring to hold poop bags or other clip-on accessories. The leash is one-inch wide and comes in four-foot and six-foot lengths, as well as in seven colors, including black, purple, and red.
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty metal snap clip, D-ring on belt | Size: Three adjustable belt sizes, one leash length that adjusts from 22 inches to 40 inches
If you’re looking for a hands-free leash, senior trainer and founder of Shelby Semel Dog Training Shelby Semel stresses that you must consider your dog’s safety first. This is especially true if you plan to run with your pet. “The most important thing is that they’re in a harness — not in a collar that’s going to tighten,” she says.
Compared to a standard leash, Grossman says, the Buddy System leash — her pick for runners who like to jog with their dogs — has “a little bit more flexibility.” The leash is designed to be hands-free and to slide around the belt on your waist, “so that if the dog goes to one side or the other, it’s not going to be pulling you along.” Additionally, it features a quick-release mechanism whereby the leash attaches to the belt, both a convenience and a safety feature. It comes in handy for off-leash play and works as an emergency release for pulling dogs.
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty metal snap clip | Size: Three harness sizes, one leash length and width
Though it’s designed with cats in mind, this harness-and-leash combo is actually pretty great for very small dogs that weigh less than ten pounds. I just bought my second set for my toy poodle, Uli, who has refused to walk in any other harness, and former Strategist senior writer Karen Adelson uses it on her cat, Lovey. Available in six colors, the nylon leash is three-eighths of an inch wide and 5.6 feet long when fully extended, and the harness is comfortable and adjustable at three different points. It also tightens slightly if the dog lunges like Uli does when she sees a dog she doesn’t like, and the leash has a shock-absorbing bungee built-in for safety.
Material: Vinyl-coated steel cable, waterproof with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Heavy-duty metal snap clip, detachable carabiner handle | Size: Two lengths and four widths
When it comes to dogs who chew up their leashes, Galas says, “it’s not the leash, it’s the dog.” She explains that owners need to train their dogs to understand that their leash isn’t a chew toy. For puppies that are still learning or dogs that just can’t kick the habit, Grossman likes the durable and aptly named VirChewLy Indestructible leash. “It’s a coated-metal leash that’s also pretty lightweight,” she says, and it comes in four different widths of cable (and five colors) to handle even the largest and most enthusiastic chewers.
Material: Nylon, water-resistant with rust-resistant hardware | Safety features: Metal snap clip, metal hook to loop the leash around your dog’s chest | Size: Two lengths with corresponding widths
Like chewing, pulling on the leash is a behavior that can be managed through training. And although some dog owners think the solution is a leash with more give to it, experts disagree. Askeland says it best: “Flexible leashes or leashes with a bungee-style rope will not help your dog stop pulling on the leash and can actually encourage it.” Instead, while you’re training your dog to stop pulling — or for extra security — Weber recommends the Thunderleash, which loops around the dog’s chest to give them physical feedback when they pull. This corrects your dogs as they walk so that they learn to pull less. Burch is also a fan of this leash because it provides “gentle pressure.” (It can also be used as a regular leash.) The Thunderleash has a padded handle and is especially good for small dogs that pull as it takes the pressure off of their neck area and helps avoid injury. It only comes in one color but is available in two sizes: small (six feet long with a five-eighths-inch width) and medium/large (seven feet long with a one-inch width).
• Erin Askeland, animal-health and -behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow
• Rachel Bowers of dog-walking company Brooklyn Bark
• Dr. Michelle Burch, veterinary consultant at Safe Hounds Pet Insurance
• Stephanie Downes, former Strategist director of audience growth
• Nicole Ellis, certified professional dog trainer with Rover
• Sarah Fraser, a co-founder and co-CEO of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training
• Stephanie Galas, manager at Pupculture Soho
• Brenley Goertzen, Strategist junior writer
• Annie Grossman, a co-founder of School for the Dogs and Store for the Dogs
• Curtis Kelley, dog trainer and founder of Pet Parent Allies
• Dr. Jennifer Maniet, a staff veterinarian at Petplan Pet Insurance
• Nikki Naser, content designer at Chewy
• Dr. Zay Satchu, a co-founder and the chief veterinary officer of Bond Vet
• Shelby Semel, senior trainer and founder of Shelby Semel Dog Training
• Renaldo Webb, founder of PetPlate
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