We hate to say it but slip leads for dogs seem to have come back into fashion, you may have seen them featuring heavily on social media. They have a very specific use, so why have more dog owners started using them and are slip leads cruel?

Here at Zigzag we don’t like or do anything that will cause puppies harm, so we have quite a lot to say on the subject of slip leads for puppies! Keep on reading and we’ll dive into why slip leads for puppies are cruel. We’ll also look at whether slip leads are good for puppy training, why you shouldn’t use a slip lead for puppies, and what kind of dog walking equipment we recommend you use instead.

Slip leads have one use, typically getting a trained gundog out of the car and to the shoot, and then putting them on a lead when they come back. Dog collars can be dangerous when working dogs go out to pick up game or birds, so a slip lead is used as it’s really easy to get on and off. Maybe people have been watching too much Downton Abbey or The Crown with all the scenes of shoots and it’s given people ideas. But these days, many gundog trainers use slip leads with a limited-slip, meaning there’s a stopper, so the slip lead doesn’t go tight around the dog’s neck and cause pain. 

There is maybe one other use where they’re commonly used. Vet surgeries, to move a dog out of their kennel area. Even then, it’s 50/50 these days as to whether they use a slip lead. You see, Vets understand the damage that can be done by incorrect use, and that slip leads can hurt dogs.

If you’d like to learn how to teach your puppy to be the best-behaved dog around town, download the Zigzag puppy training app! All of our methods use positive reinforcement to get the best from your dog, so you’ll be able to teach your puppy lead walking without the need for a slip lead that can cause pain.

Week by week we’ll take you through a training journey that’s based around your puppy’s developmental milestones so you can teach them to be confident and well-mannered. You don’t have to go it alone either, we have a team of fully qualified dog trainers ready to talk to you about any new owner wobbles you might be having, 7 days a week! 

pug on lead
Photo by Ryan Antooa on Unsplash

Are slip leads cruel for puppies?

Slip leads are often touted as an easy way to train your puppy, but they work by applying a punisher (pain) when your puppy pulls ahead. You’ll have seen this be called a ‘correction’ a lot of the time.

A dog’s neck area is very sensitive. The slip lead should never be around the middle of the neck, as pressure here can cause physical harm. It can cause soft tissue damage in the dog’s neck, including tracheal and laryngeal damage, and may even cause the trachea to collapse or vertebrae to displace…..

If you think about how dogs learn, it’s not fair to use these kinds of methods, and using a slip lead on a puppy is cruel. It’s much kinder and more effective to teach a puppy what we want them to do with rewards instead.

Are slip leads good for puppy training?

Pretty much any training tool can be used in an aversive way, but slip leads, in particular, should not be used as a puppy training tool. If you’re wondering, are slip leads good for puppies? then let us fill you in.

When a dog trainer advises using a slip lead on a puppy, they typically do so because the slip lead will be used similarly to how choke chains were once used. They cause pain when they tighten on your puppy’s neck and can cause medical problems and injuries. No one wants that for their puppy, do they?

The idea is that the puppy stops pulling to get relief from the ‘correction’ i.e pain. This technique employs positive punishment (adding something aversive to stop your dog from doing something you don’t like), and negative reinforcement (your dog stops doing something to escape something aversive). Punishment-based methods, as well as escape and avoidance training, are no longer appropriate for any dogs, puppies included.

When practising lead walking, we want our puppies to be happy to walk next to us, as they’ll get rewarded for being there with treats or other rewards. If we keep hurting them when they get it wrong, it can damage a puppy, physically and mentally.

Puppy training should be positive reinforcement based, we believe there is no (good) reason to use a slip lead for puppy training.

dog on lead in park
Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

Why should I not use a slip lead? 

If we haven’t talked you out of using a slip lead on a puppy already, let’s go more in-depth as to the reasons why slips are cruel

Slip leads cause pain when used incorrectly

Slip leads sit on a highly sensitive area – a dog’s neck. In this area dogs have a lot of nerve endings which can be pinched, so when they pull into the slip lead it will hurt their throat, cause nerve damage, rope burns, and a lot of pain. 

Puppies have underdeveloped necks that are even more sensitive to slip leads, so they’ll hurt them if they pull into the slip lead.

Slip leads can cause injury

Did you know you can seriously injure your puppy by using a slip lead?

Injuries associated with slip leads are:

  • Bruising
  • Choking and gagging – you’ll often see dogs who pull on the lead coughing, right? 
  • Throat problems, including larynx and thyroid damage, can contribute to hyperthyroidism.
  • Nerve damage – particularly to the front legs, can be a reason why dogs lick their paws
  • Neurological trauma and paralysis
  • Eye problems due to higher intraocular pressure. 

Puppies under 6 months of age are not fully grown yet, so their neck area is extra sensitive and the cartilage is not fully developed, they are at a much greater risk of trachea collapse.

Slip leads should not be used for controlling your puppy

Imagine being yanked around with a lead attached to one of the most sensitive areas on your body. Yet people do employ these methods to try and control puppies. 

Slip lead pain can cause negative associations in puppies

Dogs learn by association, so if your puppy pulls towards something and then feels pain, again and again, it can start to build a negative association with that thing. Then the next time your puppy sees them, they can start to become fearful of it, because they’ve associated it with pain. 

Imagine if your puppy gets this horrible, painful sensation every time he or she pulls towards a human, a dog, or just to sniff, they’ll start to build negative associations. It’s not what we want them to learn, is it?

Slips leads are for working gundogs (maybe) not pets

Even modern gundog trainers now use slip leads with a limited stop. That means the slip lead will never tighten enough to cause pain. They also don’t walk them far on a slip lead, when their dogs are not working they use harnesses or leads and collars to walk them.

Slip leads cause stress when used as a training tool

Pain causes stress, and stressed dogs don’t learn, so using a slip lead to try and teach something doesn’t make any sense to us at all.

Slip leads are not safe to use on a puppy 

If for any reason you loosen off and the slip leads slips, your puppy can easily slip their head out. Not safe at all! If they run off with just the slip lead they’ll have no ID tag for them to be returned to you, and the lead can get caught too.

Slip leads are outdated and old-fashioned

Dog training, behaviour, and welfare have come on so much with the latest up-to-date research. We now understand that dogs are sentient beings, have a lot of feelings, and experience physical and emotional pain, so modern dog trainers do not use aversive tools with dogs. 

When using slip leads for puppy training you’re using a tool that works by using pain, just like a choke chain, a prong collar or a shock collar you’re using negative reinforcement, and what we call escape avoidance training. They want to escape the thing that’s causing them pain, choose better up-to-date methods for your best furry friend.

puppy on lead in grass
Photo by Nick Mundackal on Unsplash

What should I use instead?

To teach your dog to walk nicely on a lead, we recommend you use a properly fitted harness and a 2m training lead instead of using a slip lead on your puppy. 

A 2-metre training lead can be clipped to the harness and often worn around your waist or across your body, leaving your hands free to reward them during training. It also removes the temptation to use the lead for steering or corrections.

Of course, your puppy should be wearing a collar and ID tag too, but we don’t recommend training lead walking on a collar until your puppy is trained to walk nicely to heel.

Once your puppy has matured and is relaxed walking on a lead, you can switch to a collar if you wish, though dogs will be dogs and get excited and sometimes they’ll pull! 

Special care should be taken when switching to a collar if you own a brachycephalic breed like a Pug or French Bulldog, these guys already struggle with breathing and it’s much kinder to always have them wearing a harness.

Teaching loose lead walking is less about the tool you’re using and more about teaching the dog where you want them to walk by using positive reinforcement. We suggest you do lots of training when your puppy first comes home, without a lead, harness, or collar on. Teaching them that being in your proximity brings about wonderful rewards is way better than any tool, and it’s much easier to start this way. 

I hope by now we’ve stood on our soap box enough to convince you that slip leads are cruel and can hurt dogs and puppies. Slip leads are not good for training, there are many better ways to train, and while slip leads may be safe or appropriate to use for working dogs, in pet dogs, we don’t need to use a slip lead. 

For further reading, check out our articles on how to walk your dog on a loose lead and even loose lead walking training games. It really can be fun to train a dog without needing a slip lead!  

We’ll take you through lead walking from start to finish, as well as tons of other training skills in the Zigzag puppy training app. Download a free trial today, and you can also ask questions from our puppy coaches. They’ll probably be able to tell you many different ways to train a dog to walk on a loose lead without using a cruel slip-lead!