Trainer’s Corner: Retractable Leashes

May 1, 2015 by megan

icon-cuts-burnsAs far as walking equipment goes, I don’t like seeing dogs on prong collars or choke chains or on leashes made of literal chain link because those things make me sad for the welfare of the dog. But I have an especially visceral reaction to seeing a dog on retractable leash walking on the street. It’s a combination of sadness for the dog and the anxiety I feel when I see a dog that is free to run up to my leash reactive dog. Retractable leashes are bad for your dog, and they are bad for your neighbors. Here’s why. Retractable leashes are bad for your dog The constant pressure of the reeling mechanism is a barrier to your dog learning good walking skills. The pulling pressure of the mechanism is there whether your dog walks near to you or far from you, whether you are turning left or right, slowing down or speeding up. It ruins the leash as a form of communication between you and your dog on a walk. Retractable leashes can be harmful for your dog’s body. The constant pulling by the spring-wound mechanism can damage the neck and trachea. And, because the long lead lets a dog accelerate to a pretty good speed as they run toward something, there’s a risk of serious injury to the neck, trachea, and even spine when they hit the end of the reel. Dog owners in the city need to be vigilant about the presence of chicken bones and “street meat” that are so tasty to your dog. You cannot monitor your dog’s intake from 20 feet away. If your dog runs into trouble with another dog or a human, you should be right there with your dog. Maybe you can prevent that interaction, but when bad things happen you should be there to perform an extraction if necessary. Being 20 feet away and trying to reel your dog in like a fish is dangerous.  Don’t leave your dog in that position. Retractable leashes are bad for your neighbors If you’re 20 feet in front of your dog, you’re not likely to notice if he’s pooping, so you’re probably not going to pick it up. I don’t have statistics on this phenomenon, but it feels like if I had a dollar every time I saw this scenario, I’d be a rolling in dollars. Instead, I find myself picking up a lot of dog poop. As the owner of a leash-reactive dog, nothing terrifies me more than a dog running up to my dog’s face. I keep my leash reactive dog on a 5-foot lead at all times, and go out of my way to avoid dog-dog encounters on the street. Retractable leashes allow your dog to run up to my dog’s face--a dangerous situation for your dog, my dog, and me. Retractable leashes are so long that they can wrap around innocent bystanders, and, because the thin cord is attached to a spring-loaded mechanism, it’s not easy to get out of this entanglement. The result can be falls, lacerations, and even amputations. Mechanical failures in retractable leashes have also caused blindness from the metal clip flying into someone’s eye. Just check out the precautions that come with the Flexi brand lead, or check out this article from Consumer Reports. Conclusion Some of my fellow dog pros have posted about the pros of retractable leashes in the city, and they have valid points.  However, in my daily walks with my dogs and our Doggedly Devoted dogs, I do not see the kind of responsible use of retractable leashes that Brian Burton of Instinct Dog Behavior and Training outlined. Instead, with almost every retractable leash I encounter, I see a potentially dangerous situation unfolding.