Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good Leash Design With Low-Cost Materials

Over at the Regal Vizsla blog, Andrew talks about liking his new European-style hunting leash available from Hogan Leather.

I too like Euro-leads, but I do not think I will ever shell out $42 for a leash -- I am simply too cheap, and too disorganized. And yes, I have lost leashes in the field while hunting, and done it more than once.

In my defense, I think terrier work may be a little more chaotic that bird-shooting -- we have hedgerows to machete, anywhere from two to four dogs to cope with, ten or more tools to keep up with (shovel, bar, machete, posthole digger, root saw, yoho trowel, den scraper, critter snare, two packs, dog tie-outs), the physical work of digging, live quarry that can take a finger off, and the mound of dirt that has been taken out of the hole, which has to go back into the hole. In the ballet of it all, it's easy to overlook a single leash tethered to a small tree 15 feet from the dig.

The good news is that a pretty nice 6-foot "Eurolead" leash can be had for $18 plus shipping. These are made by Hamilton, and are pretty-fair quality as I recall (my folks still use the one that I gave them some years back).

A couple of years ago, however, I decided to experiment, and I came up with a very simple $7 do-it-yourself leash that has worked well for me. And though my leashes are ugly, they are also useful, simple, and cheap.

As a consequence, if a visiting dog chews through one, or if I leave one dangling from a tree in the forest, or if they are ground into the dirt during a dig, I do not feel too bad about it

Here's how I make them:

  • Start with a 30-foot long black cotton training lead, and nine brass trigger snaps. If you prefer stainless or some another kind of snap, use that.

  • Cut the lead into three nine-foot sections.

  • Slip a brass clip into the bite in the middle (see far right, at picture below).

  • Dip each of the slightly frayed ends of the cotton leash into a bit of black plasti-dip which is sold at most hardware stores for covering tool handles. The plasti-dip effectively seals the cotton ends so they do not unravel.

  • When the ends are dry, use a single overhand hitch to tie a brass clip on to each end of the two leash ends (see the two clips on the left).

Believe it or not, that's all there is to it -- no real knots or sewing is needed.

The cotton is soft enough that it crushes on itself and holds well. I have never had a dog come off a leash (granted my dogs are small working terriers and not wolfhounds), and I can adjust the clip length any time I want.

The elegance here is not in the materials or the manufacturing, but in the simple design and its myriad uses in the field.

The finished leash should look very much like a brace couple with each side from the center clip approximately 4.5 feet long.

In fact, that's one way to use this leash -- to tie out two dogs at once at a dig, or to walk two dogs at once when the center clip is affixed to a belt or a rucksack's shoulder strap ring.

You can also affix the center clip to a low-hanging shrub or tree branch and tie out two dogs in the shade -- the branch will give some spring, and if you pick the right shrub, they cannot get entangled.

Perhaps the best way to use this leash is to simply take one side of the leash and hook it to the center strap, and then slip that over your shoulder and across your chest. The loose end, of course, is clipped to a dog (or dogs if a very short brace-couple is used there). Now you can walk hands-free, no matter how hard the dog lunges.

This same set up can be used to tie a dog to a fat tree, or to clip two dogs to a cyclone fence.

Put two of these leashes together, and you have a no-hands, over-the-shoulder leash with 4.5 feet of leash that you can affix to the middle section of the second leash which you used as a kind of long brace-hitch. Now you can walk two dogs hands-free, with the dogs free to roam as far as 10 feet in front of you. Or, if you prefer, you can hook the second leash to where the first leash is hooked at the shoulder, and now you can walk three dogs at once, hands-free.

Other than price, why do I think my do-it-yourself version is a little bit better than the off-the-shelf design commonly sold?

The short answer is length. A 9 foot-long leash is simply a lot more useful than a 6-foot long leash, especially if you are walking two dogs at once, or if you are looping a 4.5 foot section of the leash around your shoulder in order to walk one dog hands-free. In the field, I am more than willing to trade a little ugliness for a little utility.

Of course, these 9-foot leashes could be from leather by simply cutting down a really long long set of reins and putting in some rivets, or they could be made from nylon webbing. However, if I used either of these materials, cost would go up and loss and replacement of a leash would then be a bigger deal than I ever want it to be. So I race to the basement, sacrificing looks for utility, and the dogs do not really seem to mind.
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1 comment:

Andrew Campbell said...

Guilty as charged! Thanks for coming by, Pat.

I used to make leashes out of nylon tubular webbing (for rockclimbing)-- and I think we found our back-up leash in the woods behind our house. But I am also a sucker for well-tanned leather leads -- like a well-made, old shotgun, they acquire character from being used.