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Dog Equipment Choices (Part 2) - by Ruth Kellogg


Go into any pet store these days and a smorgasbord of leads can be found. The majority of leads are either nylon or leather but cotton and chain leads can still be found. Leads can be extremely thin, fat, short, or long. There are simple leads, retractable leads, gimmicky leads… As with choosing collars, the handler should consider the lead’s uses.

Basic lead

This, simply put, is a piece of material with a snap on one end and a loop at the other. The snap should be of good quality as the lead is next to useless if the snap breaks. Nylon used for leads varies in size and quality. Higher quality nylon does not fray easily and is soft to handle. This softness prevents friction burns for the handler’s hands. Quality leather leads are supple yet strong. To keep the leather lead in top condition, the handler must be prepared to regularly clean and oil the leather. All stitching on both nylon and leather leads should be strong and well-stitched. Width of lead is generally a personal preference. The lead for conformation work should be narrow so it doesn’t detract from the dog’s appearance. I personally find a 3/4” width gives both the strength I need for general usage and is easy to work with. Length of leads also vary. If a person only had one leash, the best choice is a 6’ length as it is the most versatile. I find a 4’ length excellent and very handy for tethering young pups before their house manners are solidly learned. A 15’, 20’, or 30’ length are useful for pleasure walks, tracking, supervised tie-outs (e.g. while travelling) or as an “emergency brake” from lead dog to musher. Uses: multi-uses. All dogs should be leash trained!


This is a hybrid collar/leash combination that is seen in the show ring. There is a solid piece of material (usually nylon) between two rings that goes under the dog’s throat. Through these two rings, a large loop is threaded through which merges into a solid lead. The action is similar to the slip collar but with the difference of the lead coming directly upwards from the back of the dog’s neck. Uses: conformation showing.

Kennel lead

This lead is identical to the 6’ obedience leash but has a ring at the end instead of a snap. Essentially, it is a slip collar/leash combination. I find this lead extremely useful for immediate leash control — particularly for my non-collared dogs. The loop can be made quite large so a dog can almost be “lassoed”. The dog should never be tied with a kennel lead. Uses: immediate leash control.

“Hands-free” leads

Essentially this is a short leash combined with a belt for the handler. As the handler has no direct control unless the lead is grabbed, it is advisable that this be used only with a well trained/heeling dog. Uses: jogging, pushing baby strollers etc.

“Gimmick” leads

There are always “gimmick leads” available such as the elastic/bungie effect lead. Overall, these leads offer lazy dog owners a way to deal with (but not teach) their poorly behaved dog.

Flexi Leads

The Flexi leash is a popular retractable nylon string or tape lead. While it can offer a dog “freedom” to run on a pleasure walk, the Malamute will often just go to the end of the lead and continue to pull. They can also be useful at the dog’s elimination time. But the negative aspects must be strongly considered. This lead is no substitute for a simple 6’ lead. If the dog spooks, the lead can easily be pulled out of the handler’s hands thus increasing the dog’s terror factor. If not used carefully, handler’s hands can be burned from the cord or knuckles skinned from the casing. In my opinion, they should never be used in the city and only in areas that if the dog should get loose, would not be in danger. If the cord does get wet, the entire lead must be left out to dry to minimize the chance of rotting. When the same freedom of movement that is offered by a flexi can be obtained with a 30’ lead, the advantages of the “retractable leash” are quickly outweighed by its disadvantages. To emphasize, the disadvantages are increased danger to the dog if the flexi should be pulled from the handler’s hand, leg injuries from being tangled in the cord, and injuries to the handler.


Most Malamutes love to pull. They all are genetically programmed to lean into weight or a restriction they feel around their neck or center of their chest. This trait helps to make the breed challenging to teach “heeling” yet is a blessing when the dogs are hitched.

As with selecting the appropriate collar, ha1ter, and lead, the foreknowledge of what the harness is to be used for is important. The various styles of harnesses, of which I’ll cover the most common generic versions, are specifically designed for different uses. For example, asking a dog to weight pull wearing a racing harness puts the dog at a disadvantage in a competition and could possibly lead to injury due to how the energy of the pull moves through and off the dog’s body.

Cart Harness

This is the most common harness seen as it is readily available in pet stores. Many little dogs wear a variation of this harness, particularly if their owners get tired of hearing the dogs cough while pulling against a collar and lead. The cart harness was designed for draft dogs who are positioned between cart shafts to pull light to moderate rolling weight. Rolling weight is considerably easier for a dog to pull thus the chest strap, while impeding shoulder action, would create less damage to the dog overall than pulling a heavy non-rolling weight. Quality cart harnesses have good padding as well as solid hardware for attaching the cart’s traces to the harness. Uses: carting

Racing Harness

This harness is the most commonly seen sledding harness. It is a nonrestrictive harness which means the shoulders have full range of motion. The harness is constructed so the direction/momentum of the dog’s energy/pull goes from the center of the dog’s chest through the traces to the ring/line attachment at the base of the dog’s tail. As the name implies, this harness is used on competitive/sprint racing dogs. The team sizes in unlimited classes are in the double digits. Simple math skills can deduce that one dog in a team of ten, for example, pulls considerably less weight than one dog pulling the same sled and driver. Thus the direction of the pull from each dog to ultimately the sled is not as critical as in a team that is pulling a heavily loaded excursion sled. For those brave souls who skijor, the racing harness is the ideal choice as the skier is higher (usually!) than a sled thus keeping the direction of the energy from the dog’s chest to the skier’s belt a relatively straight line. Uses: racing, ski joring.

Freight/Siwash Harness

This harness is similar in construction to the racing harness except that the main lines from the center of the dog’s chest are attached to a spacer bar (e.g. piece of wood) that is suspended closely behind the dog’s rear above its hocks Thus the direction of the pull is from the center of the chest straight or downwards as opposed to upwards with the racing harness. This harness is meant for the dog to pull a heavy and/or low to the ground load. Uses: toboggan, recreational sledding, excursions, freighting, weight pull.

Non-restrictive/Tracking Harnesses

This harness is commonly made from heavy nylon and features adjustments on both sides of the neck and chest for a good fit and to allow full range of movement for the shoulders. The fit is snug around the dog’s girth as it should not be pulled from side to side when the dog is working. As with the sledding harnesses, the tracking harness is designed for the dog to pull from the center of the dog’s chest. The lead is attached to a ring on the top of the harness along the dog’s spine close to the dog’s shoulder blades. Uses: tracking, springer bicycle attachments, attaching to a tether as a “seat-belt” harness.

“No-Pull” Style of harness

This type of harness, in my view, is a gimmick for lazy dog owners. The harness probably hits acupressure points on the dog which gives immediate negative reinforcement. The general dog owner/handler would be farther ahead spending money on classes and taking time to properly train his dog rather than a “quick-fix” gimmick. However, in a skilled trainer’s hands, this harness could be useful in rehabilitation obedience work in conjunction with a positively orientated operant conditioning program.

Every piece of equipment that we choose to use with our dogs has both positive and negative aspects. It is up to us to understand all the pros and cons associated with the equipment and choose the most appropriate pieces to use with our Happy Dogs.

Copyright © 2003 Ruth Kellogg. All rights reserved.

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