Retractable Leashes – Better Off Without Them?

Retractable leashes.  If you are like me, you cringe when you see them no matter where you are.  While many people own them, use them exclusively and think they are the greatest invention ever, there is a growing number of people who find them annoying, useless and downright dangerous.

Can they be used properly? Certainly, but people who use them correctly seem to be few and far between.  Generally, if

Retractable leashes can be dangerous if not used correctly

you are using a retractable leash, it should be in a setting where there are no roads close by, where there are no blind corners, where there are very few other dogs also walking on lead and most certainly not in a crowd of people.  Due to the mechanics of the lead itself, extra care must be taken to ensure that it is in good working condition BEFORE you leave your house with your dog.

Proponents of retractable leads love the fact that their dog has the freedom of 16-20 feet to wander and smell and mosey around.  Sure, your dog undoubtedly loves the fact that he can be off and wandering even though he isn’t actually off and wandering (he may not even realize this!).  If you are out in a field under the above conditions, a retractable (or better still a long lead with no mechanics involved) can be a great tool.  Unfortunately, these places aren’t plentiful.  Generally when you see dogs on a retractable leash, it is anywhere BUT a place where they safely should be.

Why so many detractors?  Retractable leashes, when used correctly, aren’t the issue – unfortunately, 90% of the time, they are used in an unsafe manner.  For one thing, they afford very little control over your dog.  When a dog is 16-30 feet ahead of you and has a good three second head start on you, if they decide to go after a squirrel, into the road, after another dog, run into an unfriendly dog around a blind corner, run into a person or any number of other things, the chance that you are going to be able to do anything about it is slim to none.

Perhaps an example will help.  Your dog is meandering on his 20 foot lead, fully extended, as you chat on your phone.  Squirrel runs past dog and into street – dog follows.  You cannot reel in the leash quickly enough (remember it is fully

A regular 4′ or 6′ lead is generally the best and safest way to go in most situations.

extended so your only chance is to run towards the dog who is currently running away from you) to stop the dog from reaching the road.  Car coming.  Dog is hit while you hold on to his leash.  Not a situation any of us would prefer to find ourselves in.

Next scenario – dog is again ahead of you on his 20′ leash walking down the sidewalk.  As he approaches the corner he is suddenly faced with a large somewhat dog aggressive dog.  Again, you are 20′ behind your dog – what are the chances that you are going to be able to get to him before the dog who is currently attacking him does a decent amount of harm?  Not very good.

It matters not how friendly you believe your dog is.  Not all dogs are accepting of a strange dog randomly running up to them and not all people are either.  If you are taking your dog to a pet store, vets office, an on leash dog event or in any sort of crowd, wearing a retractable leash can be a disaster.  Unless you are absolutely positive that you can keep the lock in place and keep your dog on a respectable length of leash, you should not use one.  In fact, wouldn’t it just be easier to have them on a plain old 6 foot leash?  Lock mechanisms break, slip etc.  Sometimes it just plain hard to get your dog reeled in for you to lock it at a decent length.  Then there is training class.  It is simply NOT possible to use a retractable leash in training class unless you take it off and work leash free.  Remember to always use a standard 4′ or 6′ leash when participating in a group class.

Its not only the dog that harm can come to when a retractable leash is being misused.  The human on the other end is susceptible to injury as well.  If you are trying to reel your dog in, especially in times of imminent danger, you are less likely to consider what you are doing and will simply react.  This often leads to people grabbing the cord that makes up the majority of ‘leash’ in a retractable.  The slick, skinny, thin cord is not something that you should ever grab if you can avoid it.  People have injured themselves grievously to the point of actually losing appendages when they are sliced by that nylon cord.  Is it the leash’s fault?  Not a bit – its human error, but an error that too many people make.  Burns and cuts have also been sustained on ankles and wrists when they have gotten tangled in that same cord.  It is certainly a more dangerous prospect for the dog’s handler than anyone would have guessed.

There are right times right places and right ways to use a retractable leash.  It is our duty as pet owners to know when and where and how.  Misuse of retractable leashes is causing them to be banned at more and more dog activities including places like pet stores and dog shows.  While they have their good points, without proper and well thought out use, those good points may as well not exist.  Use common sense and always have a regular standardized leash to use in the event that your retractable isn’t appropriate.  Use one leash to walk through a crowd, down sidewalks, in pet stores and when getting your pet out of the front door or the car, and another when you are in a more secluded less populated and safer environment.  Don’t be that person standing on the edge of the road holding one end of a retractable leash while your dog lay injured or even dead from the car that ran him down – all because leash or not, you couldn’t stop him from running into that road.