I once used them, touting how much freedom and rein they provided my dogs. In fact, I thought they were genius; right up until they started leaving leash burns on my legs and I noticed my dogs becoming more and more unmanageable due to all the extra room they had to pull, lunge, and generally wreak havoc. I brought in a dog trainer friend to help me get my trio of terrierists under control, hoping he could give me a few tips on how to rein them in while still giving them their FlexiLeash freedom. The first thing he said: “Get rid of the retractable leashes!” At first, I felt guilty putting them back on regular leashes; they’d become so accustomed to that 20 or so feet of cord, but very quickly, I noticed their return to well-behaved sanity. Essentially, retractable leashes are not even leashes from a practical perspective. They are just feet upon feet of thin cord nestled in a spring-loaded device, all wrapped up in a plastic handle. Leashes are not meant to be mere tethers binding us to our dogs; they are tools to help us not only keep our dogs safe while outside, but also help us manage their behavior. In each of these tasks, retractable leashes do not succeed.
- Because of the length of cord inside retractable leashes — sometimes up to 25 feet — there is so much room between a dog and their human, a situation can quickly turn dangerous. There is enough tether for a dog to run into the street or have an uninvited interaction with other dogs or humans. In these scenarios, it is nearly impossible to gain control of the situation in time.
- Because retractable leash cords are quite thin, they’re susceptible to breaking; this is especially true when a strong dog is on the other end. A snapped cord not only puts your dog (and whatever he may be chasing) in danger, but I guarantee it’s going to end in pain for the human, as well, if it recoils back and hits them.
- Retractable leashes frequently cause injuries to both dogs and humans. Back to the cord and its thinness, there have been many accounts of leash burns, cuts, and even amputation. That’s right – it’s not as uncommon as you may think for a human to lose a finger due to the slicing potential of the cord. Falling is another risk, as many people have been swept right off their feet when dogs hit the end of the tether and just keep going. Dogs, as well, are not immune. Not only are lacerations and leash burns a risk for them, but severe neck injuries have occurred when they are jerked back after hitting the end of the proverbial, and literal, rope.
- The handles of retractable leashes are bulky, cumbersome, and easily dropped or yanked from an owner’s grip. Not only is this an obvious concern – after all, a relinquished leash is as dire a situation as not leash at all – but the situation is exacerbated as that clunky plastic handle starts bouncing and skidding across the ground straight towards your dog. Most of them are terrified of that noise and perceived threat, which causes them to run even rather away from their human, in an attempt to escape the evil plastic monster that’s chasing them. Very quickly, a bad situation is made far worse.
- Retractable leashes train dogs to pull by rewarding the dog with more, extended rein. If a dog is not well-trained on regular leashes – and let’s face it, many of our dogs would probably fall into this category – then retractable leashes only exacerbate and reinforce their bad behavior. Also, because the owner’s control is dramatically limited, retractable leashes make it nearly impossible to correct their behavior.
For tips on how to properly walk with a non-retractable lead, turn to no other than the whisperer of canines himself, Cesar Milan.