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I use a 24" lead when we're in downtown and really crowded areas (the mall the day after Thanksgiving for example)

With other dogs approaching on a traffic lead, it's just the same, for us. He's in a heel, and we ignore them. Do you usually let your kids socialize on leash? Do they have leash aggression? Then a shorter leash might be more of an issue. But otherwise, it's not at all for us.

Otherwise, most of the time, I use a lead very similar to this http://www.activedogs.com/default.asp?S=503&A=E&PKV=407501L|0. It allows me to drape the lead over my shoulder and keep my dog quite close (by draping it, you're decreasing the leash length to about 3', but it's about waist high, so depending how tall you and your dog both are, your dog ends up with about 30ish inches of length). And it's hands-free! No discombobulation necessary!
 
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