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The History of Dog Leashes

| Updated September 26, 2017

From the time man began to keep company with dogs, leashes were used. Throughout history, from sport to companion, dogs were leashed so man could control them. The type of collar and leash worn depended on the job the dog was expected to perform.

Ancient Times

Images of dogs in ancient art date back to 4400 B.C. Mosaics from Pompeii show dogs wearing chains and collars, some performing heroic deeds while protecting their owners. Tablets from the seventh century B.C. feature aggressive mastiff-type hunting dogs restrained by leashes. In Egypt, leashes were used in training dogs to hunt and protect people, and some Egyptians who kept dogs as pets had them mummified with them after death. Roman women walked Italian greyhounds on leashes. Roman dogs used in warfare were protected with metal armor. Greek sheepdogs wore nail-covered leather collars to protect against predators.

Middle Ages

The French king Louis XI’s favorite greyhound sported a collar of rubies. Dogs used for hunting and as shepherds during the Middle Ages wore leather collars and leashes. Flock guard dogs wore metal collars with spikes for protection. During this period spiked collars became popular in vicious sports. Leashes were used to make dogs more aggressive. This practice began in the 11th century and became illegal in the 1600's.


During the Renaissance period, dogs became affordable to the middle class instead of only the aristocracy. Not all dogs led a pampered lifestyle, however. While some dogs sported painted collars, fighting dogs used as bait for sport wore spiked collars. Leashes were traditionally held in the left hand, leaving the right free for men to carry a hunting rifle. Collars with padlocks were common, with owners having keys for proof of ownership. English bandogges, dogs leashed during the day so they couldn’t stray, were released at night to protect property.

18th Century

During the 18th century, companion dogs were kept mostly by the nobility. In Britain, pugs, spaniels, bulldogs and foxhounds became popular as pets and for sport. In late 18th century England, the question of humaneness was raised and dogs returned to being pets on leashes. Decorative collars replaced spiked ones, featuring owners’ names for the lost dog’s safe return. Engraved collars were fashioned of gold and brass and toy dogs wore collars with bells. Wide collars and chain leashes were still used. Coupling collars, attaching two dogs by a chain, were used before releasing dogs to hunt.


Pets were held in high esteem by all classes including the nobility in Victorian England. Society emulated Queen Victoria, who felt deep affection for her dogs. Pets appeared as the subject of paintings by Edwin Landseer and Maud Earl. Dogs were kept for other uses besides being pets. Beggars sometimes kept them on rope leashes with tin cans attached to their collars. Hunting dogs such as setters were chained until being released in the field. The sentimentality toward dogs as pets that continues today began in the Victorian age.