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Down Under Dog Trainer

Retractable Leads – The Pitfalls

With more dogs and puppies around than ever with lock downs, and people working from home, there is an awful lot of first time dog owners out there who may be tempted by the highly convenient devices and who don’t know their pitfalls.

HOW MANY TIMES have I seen a dog running in a panic, being “chased” by a rattling plastic retractable leash handle that was bouncing along the ground and bumping the dog’s heels after the owner dropped it? (Answer: Too many to count.)

I get that these devices are great for what we like to call “sniff walks,” where you allow the dog to stop and start and wander at will. But most trainers hate them because they also condition a dog to pull against the pressure of the spring-loaded leash to reach what they want to smell or see. When the holy grail for most dog walkers and trainers is walking with a dog who doesn’t pull and drag you around, this is counter-productive.

Also, if the dog suddenly pulls toward something, unless the owner is paying absolute attention, is ready with the button that operates the brake, and the brake actually works (the “bargain” models tend to break down), the dog can bolt into the street (we’ve heard stories of dogs getting hit and killed by a car while on one of these leashes), bolt toward a frightened person or a person with a fearful dog (starting a dog fight, making a person fall, etc.), or “clothesline” a person who might be jogging, skateboarding, or riding a bike.

The biggest problem is that there is not a good way to reel the dog back in, if he’s already out at the end of the leash. The models that have a cord inside can get wrapped around dog or people legs and can cut deeply; if you grab one, trying to control the dog, the cord can slice your hand open. The ones with a “tape” or flat line inside are safer, but there is still no good way to shorten the leash quickly if the dog is pulling away, only if he comes back toward you or if you can catch quickly up to him.

If you are not completely focussed on your dog, and it extends out and wanders over to an on leash dog that may be aggressive, reactive, or a little nervous, it is totally unfair to that dog and their owner, and an explosion is likely to erupt. What control do you have then?

And, of course, if someone lets go of the handle, an inexperienced dog tends to panic and run blindly with the leash handle chasing it.

Some of you may defend them, but, in my opinion, they should never be used with a big dog (they don’t give you enough control), and never never never around other dog walkers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. They are just an accident waiting to happen in crowded environments.

What’s your favorite cautionary tale about these leashes? What circumstances do you think they are perfect for?