A red irish setter sits with it's slip lead dog leash casually hanging as the dog rests in this photo.

Are Slip Leads Good For Training? (We Ask The Experts)

Slip leads are a topic of much controversy in both the worlds of dog training and animal welfare. Some people advocate that slip leads are useful dog training tools, and some people argue that slip leads are too dangerous to use as training tools. But who is right, and who is wrong?

Slip leads can be useful in training if used correctly but are not necessary. Misbehavior results from pressure from the lead; cessation of mischief releases the tension.

If misused or on small dogs and puppies, slip leads can cause physical damage. Submissive or sensitive dogs benefit less from slip leads.

Slip leads work on behavioral training principles established but considered by some to be outdated and even damaging to a dog’s emotional well-being. For slip leads to be effective and safe training tools, they require correct and appropriate use. What is the proper way to use a slip lead, and when is it not reasonable to use one?

What Are Slip Leads?

Slip leads are leads that do not have a clip. One end of the lead has a handle and is pulled through a ring or loop on the other end to form a more extensive, adjustable loop. Instead of attaching to a harness or a collar, slip leads go directly around a dog’s neck.

Most slip leads also have a stopper, which allows you to set the maximum loop size to prevent your dog from escaping the lead. Slip leads follow principles of aversive behavioral training.  

The Principles Behind Aversive Behavioral Training

In animal training, people talk about the four quadrants of operative conditioning: positive punishment, negative punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement. 

  • Positive punishment involves adding a negative for bad behavior (e.g., smacking). 
  • Negative punishment involves removing a positive for bad behavior (e.g., taking a toy away). 
  • Positive reinforcement involves adding a positive for good behavior (e.g., giving a treat). 
  • Negative reinforcement involves removing a negative for good behavior (e.g., leash slack when a dog stops pulling). 

Aversive training techniques, like slip lead training, use positive discipline, and negative reinforcement. Pulling on the slip lead causes the negative result of pressure (positive discipline), then cessation of the negative behavior removes the negative impact (negative reinforcement). 

Slip Lead Training

It is advisable to consult a local dog training or behavioral professional before using a slip lead. Ask for their opinion on the benefits of slip training for your specific dog based on the dog’s personality, breed, size, and age. 

One notable authority of animal behavioral training who advocates for slip lead training is Cesar Millan of the Dog Psychology Center. Cesar refers to them as training leads. When dogs pull against their leads, they do not try to assert their dominance; they are excited and distracted.

Slip leads allow quick correction of this distraction. The increase in pressure reminds your dog that they need to pay attention to who they are walking with, and the release of tension rewards the behavioral adjustment. 

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It would be best if you corrected the misbehavior with a sideways pull of the lead. If you pull the slip lead backward, you will only pull it out of the correct position. Remember, you are not yanking your dog’s neck; you are briefly tightening the lead against the dog’s neck. 

More Slip Lead Training Info

Slip lead training is practical with bull-headed dogs who fixate on something and won’t stop for more positive reinforcements such as treats. The opposing support of the pressure may be more likely to check misbehaviors in this kind of dog.

It is also beneficial to use voice commands during slip lead training. In time, this may allow you to check your dog with voice command, and you will no longer need the slip lead. 

Start slip lead training in a calm environment where there are fewer distractions, and your dog is not likely to take off running. Also, begin with short periods and build up. Remember, your dog is learning something new, so don’t overwhelm them.

Some people also only recommend using slip lead training for a dog who already knows how to walk on a lead and now needs to learn how to walk well. 

It would be best if you placed the slip lead in the right place on your dog’s neck, not only for effectiveness in training but also for your dog’s physical safety.

How To Use A Slip Lead Correctly

The slip lead should not be at the base of the dog’s neck by the shoulders and chest. In this position, the lead is very ineffective, and your dog may even be more likely to pull against the lead. 

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.

The slip lead’s correct position is high on the dog’s neck, underneath the jaw, and behind the ears. Position the stopper so that the dog’s head can’t slip out of the loop, but there is slack when the lead is passive.

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The lead should loop around the neck, with the end coming toward the owner. 

Andre Millan and Jen Gray of the Dog Psychology Center in Valencia, California, have an excellent video for how to use a slip lead.  

Other Uses For Slip Leads

Slip leads are training tools and should not be used in place of a regular lead if you want to hold your dog at the end of your arm while you take a walk down the road.

It would be best if you never used slip leads to tie a dog up. However, there are specific non-training uses for slip leads. 

They are easy to slip on and remove, and they don’t require manual size adjustment. Slip leads are ideal for animal rescue or emergency workers who need to save dogs from fires, floods, etc.

Vets and groomers also use them because they don’t require sizing or separate collars. People also use slip leads to move dogs in and out of cars.

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When Should A Slip Lead Not Be Used For Training?

If your dog is submissive or sensitive, you should not use a slip lead for training because it can cause distress and break the bond between owner and dog. A voice check or positive reinforcement is often better for these dogs. 

When you don’t know how to use a slip lead properly, you should not use a slip lead for training. Additionally, very strong, overly anxious, or overly aggressive owners should not use slip lead training as they may apply too much force to a correction. 

It would be best if you did not use slip leads to train small or petite dogs like Dachshunds and Whippets. These dogs have weaker neck structures that pressure can easily damage.

Puppies under two-years of age have underdeveloped necks, and so slip lead training is also potentially harmful to them. 

A French Bulldog with a tennis ball
This French Bull dog is not a good candidate for slip lead training. They are too small and their necks are undeveloped.

During a training session, do not keep your dog on the slip lead if they don’t stop pulling. Even though the pressure should only be uncomfortable, not hurtful, sustained pressure can do some damage.

Additionally, if your dog is still not responding to the slip lead training after an appropriate length of time, it might be that this type of activity is not right for your dog, and you should switch to a different method. 

Pros And Cons For Slip Leads

Pros:Cons:
1. Quick to put on and take off.1. Can be dangerous for the dog if used incorrectly.
2. No need for manual size adjustment (one size for all).2. Inappropriate for small dogs with smaller neck structures.
3. Allows quick correction of misbehavior.3. Inappropriate for puppies whose necks are not fully developed until around 2 years old.
4. It doesn’t involve food rewards, which may be inappropriate in certain situations (e.g., for overweight dogs).4. Can breakdown owner-dog relationships if the dog is sensitive or submissive.
5. Prevents dogs from slipping their collar.5. Can slip down and out of the correct position.
6. Ideal in emergencies.
Pros and cons of using a slip lead

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Are Slip Leads Cruel?

Slip leads are not cruel. However, people can cruelly use them. Even if you do not oppose the use of slip leads, you must acknowledge that they can have negative physical and mental impacts on dogs under certain circumstances.

According to the Whole Dog Journal experts, slip leads should not be used for training because they can hurt your dog if incorrectly used. However, they do mention the benefits of a slip lead in moving animals at rescue shelters.

The ease with which the slip leads are put on and taken off and their easily adjustable size make them ideal for this temporary use. 

Victoria Stillwell of Positively® argues against using aversive training altogether. She opines that negative reinforcement creates emotional agitation in your dog, making it difficult for them to learn. 

Alternatives To Slip Leads

If you decide not to use a slip lead for training your dog, there are other options. 

There is, of course, the regular flat collar and clip-on lead (you can find on Amazon). These are cheap and easy but can still pressure your dog’s neck if the dog pulls hard or consistently against the lead. 

Harnesses with clip-on leads are another option. The harness removes pressure from the dog’s neck but can be ineffective for training and may even encourage pulling. 

Some people prefer to use head harnesses or head collars (you can find them on Amazon). With these, the lead attachment is on the head and not the neck or back. They provide reasonable control, especially for smaller owners with big dogs.

However, if the dog runs to the end of the lead with force or the owner jerks the lead back, it can cause significant damage to the neck, particularly the vertebrae. 

You can, of course, move away from aversive training entirely—another alternative: Positive reinforcement. You still have to choose a collar and lead, but the methods are entirely different, so the lead requirements are additional. 

The Last Word On Slip Leads

Slip leads are not abusive or cruel, but people can use them abusively or cruelly, either out of ignorance or malice. If misused, slip leads can cause damage to a dog’s trachea and larynx.

Slip leads are in the correct position when high up on the dog’s neck, under the jaw, and behind the ears. Correct any misbehavior by pulling the leash sideways toward you, not pulling back.  

Experts and well-respected members of the dog training community each have their own opinion on slip leads. Those who advocate slip leads as valuable training tools advise dog owners to consult their local professionals on the correct way to use them.

Those that believe slip leads are too dangerous to use suggest alternative devices, such as head harnesses, or alternative methods, such as positive reinforcement. 

When deciding whether or not slip lead training is the right method for your dog, you need to make an informed decision.

Ask the opinion of a professional who can provide you with sound advice regarding the appropriateness of slip lead training for your particular dog and regularly reassess to ensure you have chosen the right training method.  

I hope you enjoyed and found this article useful. Leave us a comment, and don’t forget to like, and share, because sharing is caring!

Until next time, stay safe!

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References

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