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While I prefer to run with my dog off leash when possible, there are times when you need a leash. I use and prefer to wear a hands-free dog leash when I hit the trails with my pup.
I have been running with my dogs for many, many years. It is one of my favorite activities to do together and it’s an incredible way to bond with one another, especially if you trail run in more remote regions.
Running together really is a team sport and it’s important to get the right system set up so that you are both successful and having fun. I have used a variety of hands-free dog leashes for running and include my favorites in this post.
Why Run with a Hands Free Dog Leash?
Running with a hands-free running leash provides several advantages for both the human and the dog:
- You can run with a normal running gait. Running with something in your hand, whether a water bottle, leash, or phone alters your gait. Long term, this could result in injuries from the slight lopsided body posture.
- You eliminate the risk of shoulder or back injury if your dog pulls suddenly at something. Dogs can be insanely strong when they want to, even small dogs, and if they catch you off guard, they can cause serious injury.
- Running hands-free means that you’re not constantly tugging at your dog’s collar each time you move your arm back and forth. Not only is that annoying to them, but it also can be confusing for dogs who have been taught about pressure/release for loose leash walking.
- For trail runners, it means that you have better balance and use of your arms over technical terrain.
Different Styles of Hands Free Dog Leashes for Running
There are a variety of setups for hands-free running with your dog. Try a few different combinations out to see which one works best for you and your pup.
I switch mine up depending on the type of run we’re doing, distance, and whether I need to bring additional gear along.
I have or will have tried all of the suggestions below and am happy with all of them.
Waist Belt + Bungee Combo
This is usually my personal go-to set up. I keep one in the car and another at home, so I always have one wherever I go.
Usually these are sort of like small fanny packs with a larger pocket for treats, poop bags, and car keys. My phone sometimes fits, depending on the other items I need to carry, but I have yet to find a pack with a large enough capacity to truly fit my phone.
The waist packs include an attachment to connect the leash and many feature a water bottle holder so you can carry water for your pooch.
I love these because If I choose not to wear my running vest, I can still carry essential items in an easy to access pouch.
Bungee leashes are great for running because they allow your dog a few extra inches of give in case they pull or you stop suddenly. They have an adjustable waistband that clips around your hips and are otherwise like a normal leash.
I personally like the ones that include a traffic handle or at least a section of non-bungee material close to the dog so that I can grab my dog easily when we pass other trail users.
Bungee leashes come in a variety of lengths, so choose accordingly depending on your running style and your four-legged running companion.
A long leash on a well-trained dog means that it will drag along the ground and cause a tripping hazard. A short leash on a dog that pulls that they’ll be constantly under your feet and you run the risk of stepping on them or falling.
Also consider the size and height of your dog. A short leash one a short or small dog is probably not the ideal combination
For dogs that are very well trained and run mostly off leash, these leash+collar combos allow the handler to quickly take control of their dog on the trail. They are usually contained within the leash and feature a large handle for easy access.
Features to Look for in a Hands-Free Dog Leash
There are a ton of hands free running leashes out there on the market and some are better than others. I am a huge proponent of buying for quality in order to have a product that last a long time. It might mean spending more, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Strong bungee. You want to make sure that the leash you get is made from strong bungee material, otherwise, it’ll lose its elasticity quickly and you’ll just have to buy leash after leash. It’s worth it to spend more and buy a quality leash.
But not too much bungee. If the majority of the leash is bungee, then rearing in your dog when you need to do so quickly is really difficult. I’ve used such leashes and they just left me frustrated.
Think carefully about how much your dog pulls, lunges toward distractions and decide the maximum bungee amount to give your dog that give, but also reign him in when necessary.
Easily adjustable waist belt. Whether using a waist pack or adjustable handle, you’ll want to make sure that it adjusts easily, especially if there are multiple dog runners in the household.
Comfort. Depending on your mileage, you want to make certain that the waist attachment doesn’t chafe or ride up while you run. Nothing is worse than constantly having to adjust a leash or waist pack while you’re just trying to run.
Gripping points on the leash. Since bungee leashes allow that extra give to dampen any sudden pulls or stops, they make it a little more challenging to control your dog with little notice. Leashes with knots or traffic handles along the leash make this task infinitely easier and bring peace of mind.
My Favorite Hands-Free Dog Leashes for Running
I have tested most of these leashes over many, many miles of running. Those I have not yet tried have come recommended by fellow running friends. I vary which one I use depending on where I’m running, the terrain, and the distance we’re going.
Of the several I have tried over the years, these are my favorite.
Price $39.99 (belt only), Springback Leash ranges from $17.99 to $22.99
About: The Kurgo K9 Excursion Belt features a pocket, two sliding leash clips on both the left and right side of the belt, and a water bottle holder next to the zippered rear pouch. The dual-sided leash clips are great for those with two dogs who don’t want to use a splitter.
- Adjustable waist band
- Reflective piping
- 12 oz BPA-free water bottle
- Zippered pocket with key clip
- Smaller front stash pocket for poop bags
- I love that the sliding leash clips keep your dog from crossing in front of you
- Waist belt adjusts easily among different users
- Velcro material stays keep extra fabric from flopping around
- Side clips allow for easy running with two dogs by keeping them separate
- Larger zippered pocket fits some phones, but you really have to find the right angle
- Leash does not detach easily from side clips. Would love to see an O-Ring or D-Ring to attach to side clip.
- Zipper sometimes gets stuck
About: The Trail Runner System is a bounce-free waist belt that includes the 3.3-.59” Ridgeline bungee leash. The belt includes a zippered water resistant pocket, side mesh pocket, water bottle holder.
- Larger rear pocket
- Comfortable belt with easy adjustment
- Low light visibility with light loop and reflective trim
- 21-oz BPA-free water bottle
- Leash attachment release for quick disconnect
- Zippered pocket fits my phone better, but you still have to get it in at the exact right angle
- Easy to slide dog to either side when passing other users on the trail
- Side mesh pocket has elastic, which keeps treats from falling out during run
- Water bottle bounces when full
- The extra leash attachment material flails around because there is nowhere to secure it
Price: Runner’s Choice – $47.95; SideKick – $42.95
About: Iron Doggy founders created these leashes when they couldn’t find what they wanted on the market. Both leashes include innovative features designed with the runner in mind, like extra grabbing points for quick access, a traffic handle, and ability to recoil the leash.
- Sliding snap buckle that acts as a stopper (flip upside down if your dog runs on your left hand side)
- Marine grade bungee
- Length ranges from 30” to 54” (28” to 48” for SideKick)
- Multiple grabbing points with [adj] located knots and holds.
- Reflective stitching
- Lots of spots to grab the leash in case of sudden pull or lunge
- Heavy duty materials
- Breaking strength of 132 to 215 (depending on leash), perfect for large dogs
- Heavy materials
- Bunching hits leg with the Runner’s Choice Leash
Price: Harness – $35; Leash – $21
About: Howling Dog Alaska products are designed by an Alaska sled dog racing veteran named Ivana Nolke. After being approached by a climbing gear manufacturer, she began to develop harnesses to suit her specific needs. The Distance Harness is designed with the help of four-time Ididarod champion, Jeff King.
I have always shied away from using harnesses for running, but after e-collar training Sitka, I began to look for better ways to run with him on leash so he wouldn’t become confused by pressure/release when he pulled on his prong collar. I don’t feel that I have good control of my dog using a harness, but when coupled with the e-collar, I think it can work quite well.
Several fellow running friends have recommended the Howling Dog Distance Harness and I will be giving it a try to see what I think!
- Designed by four-time Iditarod Champ Jeff King
- Reaches ⅓ of the way down dog’s body which eliminates pressure on dog’s hips
- Reflective thread woven into the edges of the harness
- Fully padded to reduce chafing
- Leash features two knots for quick grip
- Super affordable
- High quality materials designed by professional dog sled racers
- Can be used for multiple purposes, including walking, bikejoring, skijoring, and car safety
- Designed with a steeper angle to reduce lifting force on the harness
- I haven’t tried this out yet, but reviews on the Howling Dog Alaska site score perfect five stars across the board.
About: This is a very basic running leash and I love it. It clips around your waist easily, you can attach it to posts as a tether, the bungee isn’t so long that you can’t easily grab your dog quickly to move aside on the trail or stop a lunge, plus the traffic handle allows for a quick grab. This leash goes from your daily walk to the trails easy peasy.
- Adjustable handle
- 6.5’ length when used as a walking leash
- Soft neoprene handle
- Reflective stitching
- D-ring and Barrel lock for accessory attachment
- Comfortable waistband
- Grab handle
- Not sure what I would attach to the accessory attachment that wouldn’t bounce around
About: This genius collar contains a hidden retractable leash wrapped inside. While I normally dissuade folks from using retractable leashes, this particular one serves a great purpose. The short length allows for quick access to your dog when you are running off leash and need to grab them quickly.
- Built in 36” retractable leash
- Made from durable material
- Auto retraction upon handle release
- Salt and freshwater safe
- Great for mostly off leash dogs
- Easy to find handle
- Can quickly secure dog
- Some users complained about the handle size being too small when wearing gloves
About: The Quick Draw is an adjustable leash ranging from 7” to 27” that clips to your dogs existing collar, wraps around your dog’s neck, and secures closed with a hook and loop feature. To use, simply grab the tab.
This is a fantastic option I am going to try (and will update when I do) for running off leash. I always like to carry a leash with me, but don’t always like to have it draped around my shoulders or wrapped three times around my waist. This gives me the option to grab a hold of Sitka quickly when we pass other users and dogs on the trail.
- Adjustable leash length
- Clips into any existing collar
- Great for mostly off-leash dogs
- Allows for quick access to your dog
- Long enough to hold your dog without bending over
- Made from strong and thick material
- Secures with Velcro, which can get filled with dog hair
- Loop handle not comfortable when you have to hold your dog for longer periods of time
- Not long enough for dogs with larger necks
Running with Multiple Dogs
If you run with two dogs, then you’ll want to look for what is called a coupler. There are a couple different versions.
One style is leash attachments that split into two separate shorter leashes and another is simply an attachment that allows you to add two leashes to your belt. Look for attachments that have fully rotational swivels to avoid tangled dogs.
These are the couplers I would recommend:
This 12” bungee coupler featuring a swiveling clip to reduce tangling. If you go with this option, consider running with my favorite Ruffwear leash, the Crag Dog Leash (formerly the Slackline). Rather than add double bungee power, you can continue to use the Ruffwear Trail Runner System, and adjust the leash to your desired length. See my full review here.
The Double Dog is adjustable from 2” to 25” and includes swiveling snap hooks to avoid tangling. Reflective trim runs along the entire length of the leash and is compatible with any existing leash. Since this coupler does not include a bungee, you can attach to the Springback Leash to maintain the shock absorption.
Similar to the Ruffwear and Kurgo couplers, the Ezy Dog Zero Shock Coupler differs in that it includes a traffic handle. I love this feature for containing your pups when you need to.