Service dog trainers do not usually pay much attention to leashes. However, a leash is a simple but important piece of training equipment that all service dog handlers need. When it comes to service dog work, the material, type and length of leash can make a big difference in the handler’s ease when working with the dog.
6 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Leash
- Service dog handlers will be holding the leash for long periods of time, so it’s critical to select a leash width and material that is easy on their hands. Wider leashes and softer materials are usually easier for people who have limited dexterity.
- Choose a length that allows the dog to perform tasks but does not get entangled in adaptive equipment. In most cases, the leash needs to be between 4 and 6 feet long. Leashes that are too long can get caught up in wheelchairs and walkers. On the other hand, a leash that is too short can make it difficult for the dog to move away from the owner to perform a task like a Retrieve.
- Check the leash clasp for ease of use. For some clients with disabilities, manipulating a leash clasp can be difficult or impossible. In most cases larger clasps are easier for people with limited dexterity to use.
- Teach the client how to keep the leash clean and maintain it in good working order. Clients with young service dogs in training need to be educated on the importance of making sure the leash is not chewed or damaged. Show clients how to check for signs of wear.
- If a service dog uses a harness with a handle, such as the kind used for balance work, a leash is still needed, but in most cases it needs to be shorter or of a lighter material. Some owners will want to hold the leash with the same hand that holds the harness, while others may prefer to hold the leash with the opposite hand. This may determine what length is needed.
- For some clients, hands-free leashes are a great option. There are two general types, those that go around the person’s waist and the ones that can be draped over a shoulder. While these leashes may be very helpful for some handlers, if there is a possibility that the handler could be pulled off balance and injured, these are not a safe choice.
Sometimes the only way to determine if a leash will work well for a team is for the handler to try working with the leash. It can be particularly tricky to determine the length of leash needed for clients who use adaptive equipment. It may be helpful to have an array of leash lengths, widths and materials so that your client can try several out before committing to purchasing their own. If the ideal leash and leash length or material is not readily available, some service dog equipment suppliers offer custom-made leashes.