Retractable leashes: Just Don't Do It

If there is one thing that veterinarians seem to agree on regarding leashes and collars for dogs, it's that
retractable leashes are a horrible invention and should be banished for all eternity. Retractable leashes have many flaws and worst of all, the people that seem to use them are the people who also do not train their dog, which can be a deadly combination.

Because people like to read (and write) lists, here is my top seven list as to why you should throw out your retractable leash, immediately. Or burn it, so you can't be tempted to go get it out of the trash and use it again.

1. HBC. Dogs get hit by cars while attached to retractable leashes that are often still being held by the owner. It's easy: put your dog on a retractable leash. Turn the other way for 2 seconds. Or don't. Your dog sees something and runs out into the street to get it. Bam. While that may be insensitive, I have personally seen it happen and it is perhaps the most likely reason to change people's minds.

2. Amputation. The locking mechanism always seems to break or not work at precisely the wrong time. [See above].  When said dog runs into the street, or even after a SQUIRREL! or small dog, the locking mechanism fails, and the owner tries to get control of the dog by grabbing the cord. People have lost fingers this way. (This is why most newer ones have a fabric pull instead of a cord, but even that can cause serious burns).

3. Snap-back. The cord can break if the dog pulls hard enough, and the end attached to the dog can fly forward and injure the dog, and the part attached to the human can whip back so fast it can cut people's faces. This can even happen with small dogs, especially with a an older leash or one that has been chewed.

4. Follow the Leader. Dogs should walk next to you on walks, not all over the place. A walk is a journey in which the human is the leader and makes the decisions. This is a way to bond with your dog and teach them you're a pretty good leader. If a dog is in front, to the side, at a northwesterly direction, behind, diagonally, the human is not making the decisions. The dog is. And dogs inevitably make poor decisions. Like going straight into the dumpster. Your dog should walk at your heel and pay attention to your lead and where she is going. This cannot occur with a retractable leash unless it is kept short, so just do yourself a favor and get a regular flat leash.

5. Pull harder. Many people ask me how to get their dog not to pull on a leash. And rightly so, because it is rude on the dog's part and unpleasant for the handler. The first thing I say if they have a retractable leash is to - get rid of it! Man, you're getting good. Retractable leashes teach dogs to pull, because they can feel the traction as they pull forward, and they get rewarded for pulling forward because they are getting closer to whatever it is they want. I usually recommend Gentle Leaders because they do not allow dogs to pull, but do not even think about attaching a retractable leash to one. That should be a punishable offense, because the two opposing forces will create discomfort and confusion in the dog.

6. No recall.  A dog that does not immediately come when called has no business being on a 26 foot leash where he could get into all sorts of trouble at the other end.

7. Lack of Control. The vet's office is no place for a dog to be on a retractable leash. There are many other animals in close proximity so control of the dog is essential to prevent altercations. You will probably see your vet or technicians remove the leash and place a sliplead on the dog. This is to ensure the safety of the dog and the people around him by ensuring that he cannot get too far away from the handler, or too close to the other people working with him in case he feels the need to defend himself. One of the most aggressive dogs I have ever seen was brought to me on a retractable leash. And the dog knew that he had a lot of leeway in his leash, and lunged at me. And the owner could not pull him away quickly. Luckily I am pretty quick and got out of the way, but we had a serious discussion which included analogies to loaded guns.

Retractable leashes do nothing for training. And poorly trained dogs do not belong on the end of a retractable leash. There may be a case where a retractable leash is appropriate but I honestly cannot think of one.

Bottom line is: to control and protect your dog, and to protect yourself and others, do not use retractable leashes.


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