We write about arthritis a fair bit around here, as many dogs begin suffering from the condition as they age. But today, we wanted to turn things around and talk about owners with arthritis.
Human arthritis can stem from a few different causes. Overuse, which wears down the cartilage in your joints, is probably the most common cause, but it can also occur in response to autoimmune conditions. In either case, the result is the same: Painful, swollen, and stiff joints which make many day-to-day tasks difficult.
Often, arthritis afflicts the hands, which can present pretty significant challenges for dog owners. If your hands hurt, it can be difficult to hook up your pet’s leash, and it can also be painful to grip the leash once the walk begins. This isn’t only inconvenient; it can be dangerous – you don’t want to drop the leash when your pet lunges after a squirrel.
We’ll try to help you cope with these challenges below as we examine some of the best leashes for owners with arthritis. Some are easier to connect to your pet’s collar or leash, others are easier to hold than most other leashes, and some help in both respects.
We’ll discuss specific products in a minute, but let’s begin by looking at some of the best types of solutions and approaches for owners with arthritis.
Slip leads are simple leashes designed to be used without a collar (although your dog should still wear a collar to hold his ID tags).
Slip leads are primarily designed as training tools; they work in broadly similar fashion to a chain collar (choke chain), but they’re a little gentler, as they’re usually made from rope or some other flexible material. There’s an adjustable loop that goes around your dog’s neck at one end, and a permanent loop at the other end that serves as the handle.
In a nutshell, you put it on your dog and go for a walk. Whenever your dog exhibits an undesirable behavior (such as pulling), you are supposed to “pop” the lead by jerking and releasing it quickly. This causes the leash to cinch tight around your dog’s neck for a second and serves as a correction. They’re considered effective for training sessions, and many owners swear by them. However, they’re controversial too, and it’s worth noting that some trainers are vehemently against these types of leashes.
While slip leads are envisioned as training tools, they can also be valuable for owners with arthritis. Slip leads don’t have any snaps or clips to mess around with, so they may be ideal for owners with arthritic hands.
If you do opt for a slip lead, you must use them properly to avoid injuring your dog. You can’t allow your dog to pull while walking on a slip lead – this could damage his throat and esophagus. Some believe that even small corrections against the throat can injure a dog’s esophagus over time.
Instead, slip leads should only be used for loose leash walks. They’re best suited for calm or well-trained dogs who are inclined to walk right by your side. If you find yourself constantly yanking and pulling against the leash, you will probably want to avoid slip leads for your dog’s safety.
Hands-free leashes are another great option for those with arthritis. Designed to wrap around your waist (or drape across your body diagonally), hands-free dog leashes are very popular with bikers, joggers, canicross enthusiasts, and urban mushing sports. They’re also helpful for keeping your dog close when your hands are full.
Hands-free leashes can be very useful for those with arthritis. With a hands-free leash, you won’t have to grip the leash handle at all – you can simply keep your pup strapped to your body.
Many hands-free leashes have a number of snaps and connectors you’ll have to use, so they won’t alleviate all of the challenges arthritis sufferers experience, but they will keep your pup close and alleviate some of the wear-and-tear on your hands. Just be sure that you use caution – you don’t want your dog to pull you over if he lunges during the walk.
These types of leashes are probably best suited for those with dogs at the small end of the size spectrum, especially if you are worried about falling.
You don’t always have to buy a new leash to make it arthritis-friendly. There are a few after-market accessories you can use with your current leash to make it easier to connect to your dog’s collar.
Most of these are designed to replace the existing snaps or connectors included with your leash.
Some of the most helpful such options include:
A French-Scissor Snap is a great replacement for the bolt-style connectors that most leashes feature. Unlike bolt connectors, which require quite a bit of thumb dexterity to operate (and aren’t easy to use with a dog excited to go outside), French-scissor snaps allow you to use several fingers at the same time to open the connector.
French-scissor snaps use a double-ended, claw-style clamp to connect to your dog’s leash ring. To open them, you simply squeeze the main part of the clamp together, which causes the clamps to open. Once you release the pressure on the connector, the clamps close and keep the leash connected to your dog’s collar.
These types of connectors offer great value for owners battling arthritis, but many owners like to switch to these types of connectors for convenience alone.
A trigger snap is like a cross between a French-scissors connector and a traditional bolt-style connector. It uses the same type of clamp closure that French-scissor snaps do, but it uses an asymmetrical design; instead of squeezing the mid-point of the clamp as you would with a French-scissor snap, these snaps use a thumb-operated “trigger.”
To open the clamp, you’ll simply press down on the trigger with your thumb. Once it is in place, you can just release the pressure and it’ll close around the collar ring. These types of connectors are often quite secure, and some people find them easier to operate than bolt- or scissor-style connectors.
Carabiners were originally developed for military use, but rock climbers soon began using them to keep their ropes organized, and they’ve become synonymous with rock-climbing and mountaineering ever since. However, carabiners are useful for a ton of other things, including replacing the connectors on your dog’s leash.
Carabiners feature a spring-loaded gate you can easily open with gentle thumb pressure. Once you connect it to your dog’s leash ring, it’ll close and keep the leash securely connected to your dog’s collar. Some of the best models (like the one linked above) feature “locking rings,” which have a spinning collar that slides down across the gate to prevent it from opening inadvertently.
Be sure that you select a real carabiner for your dog’s leash, rather than the relatively weak “keychain” style carabiners offered by some manufacturers. These types of carabiners are usually only rated for up to 100 pounds or so, which isn’t strong enough for big dogs. The carabiner linked above is rated to withstand 500 pounds of force and makes a better choice.
If none of the alternatives above seem to fit the bill, just take a trip to your local farm supply store or hardware store. Most of these stores will have a variety of clips, snaps, and connectors from which you can choose, and you should be able to find a few different models that are easy for you to operate, yet secure enough to keep your dog safe.
Don’t hesitate to talk to the staff; they may be able to offer creative solutions. Just be sure to try out any connectors of clips you consider to make sure they’re easy for you to operate with your hands.
The following five leashes should make it easier to walk your dog, no matter how much your hands cause you to struggle. Just be sure to review each item carefully and select the best model for your needs.
Head collars like the PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar provide two great benefits for owners with arthritis: They help prevent your dog from pulling and some models – like the PetSafe Gentle Leader – are made without any clips or snaps.
This makes them very easy to put on your dog, even if your hands give you some trouble.
The PetSafe Gentle Leader is one of the best head halters on the market, and it’ll work very well with most dogs. The straps are made from high-quality nylon webbing, and padding is provided around the nose loop to ensure your dog remains comfortable during your walk.
The PetSafe Gentle Leader will work with your current leash, and it comes with an instructional DVD, which explains how to adjust the collar to achieve the best fit and how to use it with your dog. The PetSafe Gentle Leader comes in eight different attractive colors, so you should be able to find one that matches your dog’s leash.
The “Look Mom, No Hands” Hands-Free Flexible Dog Leash is a great option for owners who have painful hands.
Unlike most conventional leashes, which will force your hands to take the brunt of your dog’s lunges and lurches, this leash will transfer most of the force to your waist.
This not only alleviates some of the wear and tear your hands would normally be forced to endure, it’ll keep your hands free for doing other things. Two hand loops are included with the leash, which will give you more control when you need it, and elastic sections work like shock absorbers that help prevent your dog from jerking you around the park.
This leash is black and orange and comes with reflective stitching for maximum visibility in dim light.
Sizes: One size (should work with any dog, collar, or harness)
The Leash Boss Traffic Handle is a relatively short leash, which features a great handle for those with arthritic hands. It is primarily designed for use in crowded or dangerous areas (such as near cars), but the handle’s unique design means that it’ll also work well for those who have trouble gripping a traditional leash.
The Leash Boss’s handle is very rigid and will not flex or bend, making it easier for you to keep a secure grip on your pup. The handle features a solid plastic core, which is covered with soft padded foam to keep your hand comfortable during even the longest walks.
The Leash Boss uses 1-inch-wide nylon webbing, and it is made with only premium-quality components. It is available in three different colors, and it’s backed by the manufacturer’s 5-year warranty. Note that Leash Boss also makes a double-handled model for those with larger dogs.
The “Lend Me a Hand” Padded Dog Leash is another product specifically designed to help those with arthritis keep their dog safe.
Made from climbing rope, this leash features a padded handle, which is oriented perpendicularly to the rest of the leash. This makes it very easy to grip and gives you better leverage when trying to hold back a pulling dog.
Measuring about 4 feet long, the “Lend Me a Hand” Padded Leash provides your dog with enough slack to sniff around and answer nature’s call, while stopping her from wandering very far from your side.
The “Lend Me a Hand” Padded Leash is available in five different colors, so you can find one that’ll match your pup’s collar (as well as her sense of style).
The Friends Forever Rope Leash is a slip-lead-style leash, which you can use without having to futz around with any snaps or connectors. Simply slip the lead over your dog’s neck, slide the leather tab into place, and head out the door.
Made from heavy-duty rock-climbing rope, the Friends Forever Rope Leash is sturdy enough for even the strongest dogs, and it is completely waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about swapping out the leash whenever it rains. It is made with reflective fibers to help ensure passing motorists can see you and your dog, no matter the conditions.
The Friends Forever Rope Leash will work with dogs of all sizes (although it may be a bit heavy for extremely small dogs), and it is available in six different color patterns.
There are a few other ways you may be able to work around the challenges presented by your arthritic hands. Some of these tips and tricks will work with the products recommended above, while others may alleviate the need to purchase any new equipment at all.
Ideally, your dog won’t be pulling on his leash for most of the walk – the leash should serve as a safety mechanism to stop her from lunging out into traffic, not a perpetually taught tether she uses to drag you around.
Most dogs won’t do this instinctively; most will be eager to lead the way on your walks. So, you must employ a bit of training to teach your pet to walk on a loose leash.
Admittedly, this isn’t always very easy to accomplish, but it is well worth the effort to do so.
Just check out our loose-leash walk instructional guide and start training!
There’s no way to completely avoid the need for a leash.
Even if you live on a farm, you’ll occasionally need to take your dog into town or to the vet, where a leash will be mandatory. However, you can certainly reduce the amount of wear-and-tear on your hands by minimizing the amount of time a leash is necessary.
The best way to do this is by finding places you can safely let your dog run around untethered. Owners will differ on what constitutes a “safe” place for dogs to run free, and individual dogs will also require more or less protection than others.
Minimally, you’ll want a place that is surrounded by a fence, free of dangerous animals (potentially including other dogs), and uncluttered with dangerous obstacles.
While your dog still needs to be walked each day (and there’s always Rover and Wag if you’d rather let someone else take that task), having a fenced in yard means you won’t need to clip up your dog to a leash several times a day just for a potty trip.
In some cases, it may be easier for you to simply leave the leash connected to your dog’s collar or harness — especially if your dog’s leash or collar is easier to operate than the leash connector. When you get back home from a walk, just leave the leash connected and take off the collar or harness.
However, this will leave your dog without a collar, which will likely mean he won’t be wearing an ID tag either. This is a risky proposition – even if your dog stays inside, he may bolt out the door or slip under the backyard fence.
Accordingly, it’s a good idea to outfit your dog with a secondary collar which features an ID tag and never comes off his neck.
You may want to consider keeping a basic collar on your dog at all times, and having a harness for walks that is permanently attached to your leash.
There’s no getting around it: It can be tough to walk your dog if you have arthritis. But, if you embrace the tips discussed here and pick up one of the leashes or accessory kits mentioned above, you can make things easier. Just keep experimenting with different solutions until you find one that works.
Have you stumbled across an effective hack or product that makes it easier to walk your dog with arthritic hands? Let us know all about it in the comments below! We may even incorporate your tips into future article updates.
Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.