A lot of dog owners love retractable or “flexi” leashes for the increased freedom they allow dogs. But this additional freedom comes with additional risks. For a number of good reasons, many dog trainers, veterinarians, and other pet professionals recommend against using a retractable leash to walk your dog.
Retractable leashes allow the dog too much freedom and the handler to little control.
In a secluded area this might not be too much of a problem, but most of us are walking our dogs in an urban or suburban setting where we’re likely to encounter people who don’t want to be bothered by dogs, other dogs who might not be friendly, things on the ground you don’t want your dog eating, and roads with busy traffic. If your dog is walking 20 feet in front of you on a retractable lead, this could lead to a potentially dangerous situation because you will be too far away to take quick action and reeling your dog in can be difficult.
Retractable leashes encourage pulling.
Retractable leashes reward rather than discourage a dog from pulling. Dogs learn that every time they pull on the leash, it gets longer. Pulling becomes a habit for these dogs, making it difficult for the handler to control them even when using a shorter flat lead or when the retractable is locked at a shorter length.
Constant pressure on the neck is not good for your dog.
If you walk your dog with a leash attached to her collar and your dog pulls at all, this puts pressure on her trachea which can cause breathing problems and pressure across the cervical vertebrae causing tension and micro trauma. A retractable leash putting constant pressure on the neck only exacerbates these problems.
Use of retractable leashes is also associated with excessive paw licking in dogs. According to the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal “the spring of the retractable leash causes a continuous pull that generates a degree of stress in the cervical region… And, when the dog gets to the end of the retractable leash, the sudden stop and jerk causes additional force… This causes spasms and inflammation in the inter-scapular region and nerve and energy meridian pathways are affected or impinged by tight muscles.” and this causes some dogs to pay “attention to their feet because of an abnormal neurologic sensation or referred pain originating from the neck.”
Retractable leash lines can cause severe friction burns.
The line of a retractable leash is typically made from a thin cable rather than a flat piece of fabric. If the leash gets wrapped around your or your dog’s body (for example if you wrap it around your hand when trying to reel your dog in or if you or your dog get it tangled around your legs) it can easily cut through skin and sometimes even muscle if your dog is pulling.
Safer Ways to Use a Retractable Leash
When it comes to walking your dog, the safest and best choice is to get rid of your retractable leash and replace it with a flat lead no longer than 6 ft. But if you can’t bring yourself to give up your retractable leash, there are a few things you can do to make using it safer for you and your dog:
- Choose a flat, belt-style retractable leash rather than one with a thin cord to reduce the risk of serious injury if the leash gets wrapped around you or your dog.
- Keep the retractable leash locked at 6 feet or less at all times, unless you are in an open area, away from roads, other dogs, and people.
- Only use the retractable leash with a harness, never a collar, to avoid putting pressure on your dog’s neck.