A Guide To Semi-Rigid Handles

Choosing which pieces of gear you need can be confusing, not to mention expensive if it takes a few tries to get it right. Our gear guides are here to help everyone, EWG customers or otherwise, to make informed choices about the products they'd benefit from the most.
Looking for information on material choices for semi-rigid handles? They have their own page! Check back in a few days for a link.

Safety Note

This page is intended as a guide only. Please consult a canine physiotherapist and a vet before using any form of handles on your dog. Weight bearing work should only be used with dogs who are Collie - Labrador sized and upwards, and who are 24 months old and over. It is your responsibility as the dog's handler to ensure you are using gear and utilizing tasks ethically and responsibly. 

The Basics

Semi-Rigid Handle, Pullstrap and Grounding Strap/Handle are the names given to a handle which attaches to an assistance dog's harness and does not have a metal core. Semi-Rigid handles are fairly flexible and have more "give" in the material than the classic guide handle. SRHs can be made from a range of materials but the most common are fabric and webbing, fleece, BioThane and leather. They are typically made to a set length, but adjustable SRHs are something a number of makers offer.
Semi-Rigid handles are fairly affordable, easy to source second-hand and work with almost any harness or vest as long as it has D-rings, so are a great option if you're starting out and aren't sure exactly what will suit you and your dog.
Upright SRHs are suitable for a wide range of tasks and can help to mitigate almost any form of disability in one way or another. They are significantly safer for you and your dog if you are prone to falls as they have enough give to avoid injury if you fall.
Typically most medium or larger mobility harnesses will have either a fixed upright SRH (or rigid handle) or will come with attachments to fit your own.
Standard SRHs (attach to the back or shoulder rings on a harness) are suitable for forward momentum, grounding, light leading work and most other light mobility tasks.

Uses and Tasks

Neurodivergent handlers (including those with psychiatric disorders) often do well with soft, sensory type SRHs and use them for being lead out of crowds or busy places when overloaded, as well as fidgeting/stimming with the material when stationary.
Wheelchair users can find them helpful to maintain close control at crossings and through tight gaps(note - the dog should never be pulling the weight of your chair regardless of equipment used). For wheelies with smaller dogs, a short SRH can offer some added security to catch your dog if you suddenly stop or hit a kerb.
Handlers with Neurological disabilities can utilize a SRH to keep themselves walking straight, to avoid walking into their dog and for forward momentum pulling.

Some visually impaired handlers find that a SRH offers enough support for guide-work such as finding kerbs, navigating routes and finding members of staff. They are a safer option than rigid handles for those who aren't able to have their dog hip and elbow scored.

Teams who regularly take public transport may find them more convenient than rigid handles, as they fold up easily into a bag and easily clip on and off. They will also have more flexibility when the dog tucks under seats or tables, although this can damage leather over time if the handle is regularly pushed down.

For those with conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or severe allergies, a fleece or paracord handle could be very beneficial as they can be regularly washed.

For those with In Training dogs, SRHs are great for helping your dog to adjust to handles - they should not be used, but can be clipped to the harness so they can get used to the feel. A semi-rigid handle will move with the dog when they shake, like a normal dog leash would. A rigid handle doesn't have that level of flexibility and will cause torque on the dog's spine even when there isn't pressure on the handle.
Additionally, if a handler is a fall risk, SRHs offer a team more safety than their rigid counterparts. The handle's added flexibility means you are less likely to harm you or your dog if you catch it on the way down.
Those who use public transport regularly may find them more convenient as the dog can comfortably tuck into a small space without needing to have the SRH removed, whereas rigids can lie awkwardly if the dog is curled up.
In some cases, if a dog isn't quite big enough to wear a rigid handle, it is possible to use a semi-rigid handle with very little pressure going through the handle. It can be a safer, more ethical option for those who would benefit from leading or grounding tasks.

Material Choices

Braided Fleece handles come in a range of textures, from plain polar fleece to textured, fluffy Sherpa. They are ideal for many different tasks, easy to wash and hold up well to frequent use.

Leather SRHs can be padded, double layered for additional rigidity, rolled to make a rounded strap, braided or simply just a strap with stitched ends. Many handlers prefer the texture and general resilience of leather, as well as the variation in textures.

Biothane has gained popularity in the past few years. It's a "no nonsense" material, rarely needing more than a wipe down even after getting muddy. Some handlers find Biothane can become slippery when wet and doesn't tend to hold its shape when used for weight pull tasks.

Rope SRHs aren't as common as they once were but many handlers prefer the smooth, lightly textured feel of rope. These handles can come in thick or thin single or double layer flat varieties as well as braided options.

Paracord is steadily making a comeback within the community, offering a smooth braided texture in a variety of patterns. Paracord is quite flexible and ideal for grounding straps, but doesn't give much feedback in terms of leading tasks or weight pull.

Fleece & webbing handles are typically a layer of webbing stitched onto a flat fleece backing. Some handlers utilize them for adjusting novice dogs to handles given their light weight, These handles tend to be quite flexible and can be backed with ultra soft lining, making them ideal for grounding or very light feedback with dogs who are unable to safely perform weight-bearing leading work. 

Measuring for a Semi-Rigid Handle

Note: Some materials and makers may have individual limits for handle lengths.
 For FMP (Forward Momentum Pulling) or grounding, the handle usually attaches to the back (also known as the saddle) attachments on the harness. This means shorter straps typically work better and are comfier for the dog as they haven't got a long strap falling to one side when it isn't in use. This also applies to our Hybrid traffic/semi rigid handles.
Our most requested FMP/Grounding handle lengths: 12" - 16"

For leading and guide tasks, the handle is typically attached to the front D-rings on the shoulders. Because these rings sit further forward and the dog is typically further in front of you, most handlers opt for 22" and upwards. These handles work best on a harness with bunny ears to keep the handle in position. You may also consider a bridge (a sturdy strap which goes across the middle of the handle to keep it in shape)for longer handles.

(Note: Buckled and adjustable straps can affect the level of feedback given)

Our most requested semi-rigid Leading/Guide handle lengths: 18" - 30"

For balance and some stationary grounding tasks, an upright handle can be attached to any upright-capable harness. An upright handle should not exceed 6" off the dog's back, even if only used for grounding. Any additional height will make the handle unstable and could injure or cause pain to your dog.

 Our most requested upright Semi-Rigid handle lengths: 3" - 5"

 A few factors can affect the length of handle you require. For a dog who walks slowly or is very tall compared to the handler, you may benefit from a shorter handle. The opposite is true of fast-paced or smaller dogs with a tall handler.

A screen-reader friendly image showing and explaining how to measure your dog for a rigid handle