Retractable leads are probably one of the most widely used tools – everyone seems to have one. And on the face of it they seem to be a really useful tool – your dog can have a degree of freedom to run around while also not being able to run off or get lost. While I do believe, if used appropriately, in the right environment and in the right way, they can be useful, there are also so many dangers that can come as a result of using a retractable lead. Hearing a story from a friend today about something that happened to her friend just yesterday has prompted me to write this post.

I DO have a retractable lead. I dont use it very much, as I much prefer using a long line than a retractable lead for many reasons, but I do own one and I would, and do, use it in certain situations. The main time I use it to be honest is when I am down in Dorset at my parent’s flat and I take my dog downstairs to the garden to go to the toilet. Apart from that I use a short, fixed length lead or a long line. I will also add that the retractable lead I use is a “giant” one, designed for dogs weighing a lot more than the 26 kilograms my dog weighs, which means it is less likely to fail due to the weight of my dog.

One thing I hate seeing is people walking their dog along the road on a retractable lead, with the dog way ahead of them….all it takes is for that dog to spook at something and jump into the road, see a cat or another dog on the other side of the road and try to get to them, the lock function to fail. I do not allow retractable leads in class, and below I am going to list some of the pitfalls to be aware of when using these leads.

There is constant tension on the lead

This is due to how the lead works….There is an enclosed plastic housing that contains a thin rope or ribbon-like lead coiled within it and a comfortable handle. You clip your dog on and let him walk or run ahead of you while you walk. Because of the fact the lead is coiled inside the handle, there is constant tension, meaning there is an argument that these leads, if used regularly, can encourage the dog to pull. In addition, these are often used as a middle ground before letting a dog off lead…..but because of this constant tension, it is very clear to the dog that they are still on lead…..so when you do let them off lead it is a totally different ball game….all of a sudden they are free! Long lines are far better for recall training.

The mechanisms break

This is something I have SEEN happen. I met someone out on a walk with a Cockapoo on a retractable lead….the dog lunged to the end of the lead in excitement, the lead snapped and came out of the plastic casing, and the dog was free. Luckily in this case nothing happened, but that was just luck. Imagine if this had happened on, or near, a road.

I have also seen the lock function fail on many an occasion….you are supposed to shorten the lead and press a button to lock it in place. This can easily fail and then you have totally lost control of your dog, or you have a dog walking along on the end of a very long string which you cannot shorten. Unless you try to reel it in yourself….which brings me to my next point.

They cause injuries

If you are faced with a dog at the end of a retractable lead that you need to get back to you quickly, our first instinct is to grab hold of the lead and reel it in. Doing that with one of these leads, especially the tape kind, can cause horrific injuries. You can get severe rope burns, and even risk losing a finger as the string leads are like cheese wire.

These injuries can also extend to peoples legs if you have a dog on the end of a retractable lead and the owner doesn’t shorten the lead…the dog then dances round peoples legs with the lead cutting into flesh. It has happened many a time.

It is so easy to drop the handle

This is just one of the reasons (the many reasons) I do not allow retractable leads in my classes. I have seen this happen numerous times where someone has shortened and locked the lead, the dog has jumped or pulled forward, and the handler has had the plastic handle pulled out of their hands. This big plastic handle then lands on the floor behind the dog, startling them which then causes them to bolt……but of course the lead is still attached to them so is “chasing” them, making the dog run faster to get away, which of course it cant. Its a vicious circle. I have heard (not seen luckily) of multiple dogs that have got killed in this manner by running into the road to try to escape a retractable lead bouncing behind them

A real life example

These examples above are all pitfalls known to be associated with retractable leads….they do happen, and people know they do happen. However, what happened to a friend of one of my friends just yesterday was a shocking freak accident that nobody could have seen coming, and it just highlights how dangerous they can be.

This lady was standing at the kerb to cross the road, with the retractable lead in the locked position. The puppy started jumping up at the owner and by doing so managed to click the lead out of the locked position, then running forwards straight into the wheel of a car travelling at about 30mph. He has shattered one of his legs which will need surgery and the vet was very unsure if he was going to make it through the night. If the surgery doesn’t work he could well lose his leg, and they will not know until tomorrow when they operate. This dog is 10 months old.

So while I am not someone who says retractable leads should never be used, I do feel the times they are appropriate to be used are limited. I do not feel they should be standard leads which are used in place of a short, fixed length lead for walking along the road, attending classes, going to the vets, walking in groups of people and dogs. I would encourage people to reserve their retractable leads for country walks far away from roads and crowds of people, and work on teaching their dogs to walk nicely on a short fixed length lead for road walks or when near roads, and familiarise themselves with using a long line safely for recall work. As with anything there are dangers and benefits, but for the majority of single dog homes, I don’t feel retractable leads should be relied on quite as much as they are. And if you DO use a retractable lead, please make sure you use one designed for dogs weighing a significant amount more than your dog does actually weigh.

Polite Paws Dog Training 2018