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What Is the Difference between a Lead and a Leash?

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  • Written By: Cynde Gregory
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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People love their dogs like they love their kids. Pups, however, are generally not allowed to race through department stores and restaurants untethered. In fact, in many towns and cities, dogs must be on leashes. Anyone who has gone through dog training, though, has been told that dogs need to be on nonretractable leads so that owners can control them. The difference between a lead and a leash is partly semantic, partly attitude, and very little else.

Dog trainers, breeders and serious owners think of themselves as alpha beasts. “Where I go, my dog will follow” is the motto they seem to be chanting as they march around the park perimeter, Fido trotting obediently at the heel just a smidge behind them. These folks are not likely to take kindly to the idea of leashing their pooches because that implies a certain persnickety disobedience on the part of the pup.

CEOs, certain types of parents, and other human alphas would check leading in a personality test that asked if they prefer marching at the head of the line or falling in behind somebody else. People who lead set the pace, control the mood, and make the decisions. As anybody who takes being a dog person seriously knows, that role should always be filled by a human pack leader, and such a person knows the difference between a lead and a leash.

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Leash is both a verb and a noun. As a noun, it names that ropelike object that acts as an umbilical cord between a romping mutt and that dog’s person. As a verb, it suggests a pup who’s slightly out of control and an owner who is even more so; after all, there's no other reason for the creature to be so firmly lashed, tied, and attached. One difference between a lead and a leash is that folks with dogs who jump on strangers are usually using a leash.

There’s another subtle difference between a lead and a leash, and that difference is social. The term lead suggests a better class of people or, at least, a class of people who consider themselves better educated about dogs. It’s mildly high falutin’ and carries the whisper of a subtext: People who talk about leashes just don’t get it. People who melt into a puddle of puppy love when their wiggling, little cutie-pies want to lick them all over their faces are much more likely to prefer a down-home leash.

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