Recently I was on a walk around the lake with one of my besties when we encountered a woman coming towards us with a very cute dog at the end of a retractable leash. As we got closer I kept hoping that she would notice that her dog was veering more and more into our walking path and retract the lead. If she did notice, she didn't retract, and I had to move off the path to the other side of my friend, otherwise I would have walked right into or tripped right over the cute dog. I couldn't help thinking to myself had I been walking with my eighty-year-old mother, she most likely would not have been able to dip out of the way in time, and could have tripped or worse. She's fallen once before in a dog-related episode, and I would hate to see that happen again, to her or anyone else.
If you're not familiar, a retractable leash is a lead usually made of a thin nylon rope that lets you "feed out" or retract the length using a large plastic handle that contains a brake-and-release mechanism. I have yet to meet a pet care expert—be it trainer, walker, or vet—that doesn't cringe at the mention of a retractable leash, and for good reason.
When used in a wide open space or an area with few distractions, a retractable leash can be beneficial for both the dog and the human by allowing the pup more freedom to roam, smell, or practice recall or tracking training, all while still being securely on leash. But for every day use, especially in an urban setting, they have the potential to be incredibly problematic and downright dangerous.
Here are just some of the safety and training concerns associated with retractable leashes.
Not Enough Control
When your pup is more than six feet ahead of you, it's hard for even professional walkers to control and protect a pup from potential dangers and sudden impulses, such as chasing a squirrel into the street, running up to a stranger or another dog uninvited, or eating something potentially harmful off the ground. Keeping the dog close allows you to keep it, and other dogs and humans, safe.
Potential To Get Tangled
Dogs on retractable leashes can get tangled around people, trees, dogs, children, or anything they come in contact with. Two dogs getting tangled and trapped in their leashes can increase stress, anxiety, and even panic in some dogs who may feel trapped. This can escalate quickly into a dog fight. Not to mention other humans may not realize your pup is on a retractable leash and could potentially trip over it themselves.
Serious Injury to Dogs and Humans
When your dog takes off running in a moment of perceived freedom while attached to a retractable leash, he has the ability to build momentum. When he hits the end of that lead, the strong force against his neck or chest has been known to cause burns, cuts, and spinal and trachea injuries in your dog.
That same strong jerk can break the nylon cord or potentially pull the handler to the ground, injuring you or causing you to drop the lead. Skiddish dogs can be so frightened by the sound of the plastic handle hitting the ground that they take off running, dragging the handle behind them. Sadly, it may seem to the dog as if the handle is chasing them, so they continue to run frantically to get a way. It's no fun.
When we humans suddenly need to retract the leash we often instinctively reach to grab the rope part of the lead to gain control of our pup in a hurry. This scenario has been known to cause bad cases of rope burn, cuts, and in a few reported cases a severed finger!
Teaches Your Dog To Pull
The retractable leash literally teaches your dog to pull because there is always tension on the leash. While this may not be dangerous, loose leash walking is one of the most important skills you can teach your dog. Not only can it save your shoulder and back, having your dog close and attentive to you during a walk can help keep them safe and minimize accidents.
If you want to allow your pup more freedom to roam and explore on leash, try a basic nylon long lead like this one from Leash Boss, and choose an area free of distractions like a wide open park or beach.