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Home > Dog Health, Dogs and the Law > The Case Against Retractable Dog Leashes

The Case Against Retractable Dog Leashes

November 24th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Why Retractable Dog Leashes May Not Be Your Best Choice

Retractable Dog Leashes Are Not the Best Choice for Training or Safety

Retractable Dog Leashes Are Not the Best Choice for Training or Safety

The mere fact that retractable dog leashes have earned the love of personal injury attorneys and the ire of dog trainers should tell you something.

What is a Retractable Dog Leash?

A retractable dog leash is a leash that is supposed to allow the handler to be able to adjust the distance the dog is permitted to wander away.  The leash itself consists of either a very thin or a webbed cord that is commonly about 16 feet (5 m) or 30 feet (9 m) in length.  The handle is usually plastic and contains a mechanism that allows the dog handler to stop the extension of the leash by pressing a button on the handle.  A clip on the leash attaches to the dog’s collar.

A Classic, Sturdy Six-foot Dog Leash is Best

A Classic, Sturdy Six-foot Dog Leash is Best for Dog and Handler

What is Wrong with Retractable Dog Leashes?

Retractable leashes have two big strikes against them:

  • They are not effective for training one’s dog.
  • They pose serious safety issues for humans and dogs.

Retractable Dog Leashes are Ineffective Dog Training Tools

The very characteristic that makes retractable dog leashes seem so attractive to dog owners is what renders them ineffective as a dog training tool.  The flexible mechanism allows the dog to wander away from the handler up to the length of the leash fully extended.  This encourages the dog to stop paying attention to her handler and to pursue whatever interests her.

Theoretically, the handler need only push the button to stop the leash; however, when you’ve already lost the dog’s attention and focus, it may be difficult to “reel” her back in, particularly if she has scented something much more interesting to her than your commands.  The flexibility of the leash gives the dog the erroneous impression that she is the master of her own destiny on the walk.  If you want to effectively train the dog to focus on and follow your verbal and physical commands, allowing her this sort of freedom on the leash is not the way to do it.

Many retractable dog leashes have a locking feature that stops the leash at a certain length.  However, if the leash has gotten damp or is starting to wear out, the locking mechanism may be difficult to engage.

Retractable Dog Leashes Pose Safety Hazards for Dogs and Their Handlers

Consumer Reports notes that retractable leashes have caused cuts, burns and even amputations when the cord came in contact with skin or became wrapped around part of the owner or the dog.  According to the report:

In 2007 there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes, according to Consumer Union’s analysis of statistics collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, about 10.5 percent involved children 10 and younger; 23.5 percent involved injuries to the finger. The CPSC’s data does not parse the leashes into types but it’s likely that the amputations were caused by retractable leashes.

Other injuries have been reported as well.  For example, in September 2008, the Slydog brand retractable leash was recalled due to complaints that the metal clip would break and fly off.  A Texas teen has sued the manufacturer after the retractable leash she was using snapped back and punctured her eye.

Safety Tips for Using a Retractable Dog Leash

This Puppy is Better Off Without a Retractable Leash

This Puppy is Better Off Without a Retractable Leash

If you must use a retractable dog leash, keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • A retractable leash should be used, if at all, only on well-trained dogs that respond immediately to voice commands.
  • Make sure to use the appropriate size leash for your dog’s weight.
  • Check the locking mechanism prior to each use of the leash to ensure that it will engage instantly if needed.
  • Do not allow children to use the retractable leash.
  • Read and heed all manufacturer warnings for the leash.

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  1. November 24th, 2009 at 15:11 | #1

    OM Dogs…don’t get me started on this. i have an old article in july 2008 called “frack the flexi”… but it isn’t so much about that as it is getting Loki to do his job of heeling. and ya, a flexi isn’t going to do it. besides, they’re heavy and cumbersome. and if the idea is to prevent pulling … the dog runs to the end anyway and pulls. i find them dangerous too. i personally like 6 foot (or 4 foot if for other training purposes) leather. Nylon can be painful if you are dealing with a difficult dog. Leather if you can afford them are great and strong. I also use a 6” tab for agility training so i can grab a “leash” handle if needed to but the dog is safe from a long leash getting caught on the equipment.

    the more new fangled dog equipment gets the worse dog behavior gets. gentle leaders are also not a great way to train a dog. I have a lot of trainers recommend them, but I personally find them dangerous for the dog’s cervical spine. i would not want to force my dogs nose in any direction via a harness or ‘force’. (using food to lure a dog under his nose is better than a gentle leader!)

    then there’s the regular harnesses and no-pull harnesses. which i admit to using when i first go loki, because i just could not handle his strength on leash. of course it did NOTHING to train him.

    a flat buckle collar, a 6 foot leash and some small bites of food are all you need to start training. Other “equipment” i also like is the prong (controversial, i know0 and the e-collar (not regularly though). for non food motivated dogs, a favorite toy is an option, but only a toy he doesn’t get to play with 24/7. If i only had 3 things i could use, i would use prong, 6 foot leash and a handful of AMAZING food (over a toy).
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..Pardon me… =-.

  2. Suzanne
    November 24th, 2009 at 19:53 | #2

    @Wild Dingo
    I’m just having trouble getting my mind around the idea that there might be non food motivated dogs out there! (I have two Lab mix mutts who live for treats!)

  3. November 29th, 2009 at 01:14 | #3

    oh i hear people say dogs are not food motivated all the time. the problem is they aren’t doing 2 things: 1. either not feeding the dog before training (the dog should be hungry) or 2. not finding the right food. if not going for the typical zukes or training treats, i have two words for that person: Oscar Mayer. I have a hard time believing a dog would refuse hot dogs, steak, tri tip, real chicken breast. shoot, i’ve used cheerios! i think it’s fine to train with a toy but can be too distracting. food is better…
    .-= Wild Dingo´s last blog ..Another One Bites the Dust =-.

  4. Anne
    May 17th, 2013 at 11:09 | #4

    I’ve got two dogs and a large, unfenced yard. I like to walk them at home on flexible leads, though I always use leather or webbing normal leads on longer walks! I don’t like the flexible leads because they are so easy to drop. I’ve got Cavaliers, they aren’t very big, but even a fourteen pound dog, at an unexpected flat out run, can jerk the lead from your hand! I made a circle of webbing like normal leads are made of, attached it to the flexible handle, and loop that over my wrist now, so even if I drop the stupid rigid plastic handle I have something to hold on to!

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