I’ve realized over decades of being a dog trainer that I am not the only one who hates retractable extension leashes but that regardless of that, they are not going away.
So why are trainers so vehemently opposed to this product?
A retractable leash teaches dogs to pull on a leash just when we are trying desperately to teach them not to pull. No one has ever shown up at an obedience class asking me to teach a dog to pull on a leash.
The way to teach dogs not to pull is to have them walk on a standard (four- to six-foot) leash where you can actually work on getting them to pay attention, make eye contact, have them sit by your side, etc.
Sometimes this does require changing collars or harnesses, but not to a retractable leash.
You can’t use a retractable leash with a restraining or corrective collar or harness because then you’re giving them freedom – and then correcting them for having it.
Retractable leashes can be a horrible social experience for a dog. You can’t introduce him to other dogs without entanglements or, worse, a dogfight.
If he reaches the end of the leash and then you tense up and snap him back, you could injure his neck. This sends a message to your dog and might cause him to associate tension or pain with dogs in general, making him aggressive.
If your dog is shy, then the entanglement and closeness of another dog might cause him to be scared just when you are trying to make him comfortable.
The leash can cause human accidents, such as getting wrapped around or burning your hands or legs.
If you lose control of the handle, the dog gets frightened as this big plastic thing chases him down the street and he can’t get away from it.
I have seen the snap come off and hit owners, leaving bruises – and even one broken nose. I have seen dogs on these awful leashes run right into the street from a sidewalk.
Dogs on retractable leashes are put at risk by owners going into a pet store and getting caught in the automatic doors, or tripping people, or getting attacked by animals in the waiting room at the veterinarian.
Does that mean there is no appropriate place to use them? No, a retractable leash is an acceptable piece of equipment when you’re away from traffic, people, etc.
An open park, the beach, your backyard, an empty lot or cul de sac are places where dogs can sniff and smell and have a little away time to enjoy a romp. But that’s about it.
It is certainly not appropriate on a sidewalk or walking in the middle of a street or a busy area.
Don’t buy one if you don’t have one, but if you already have one, use it wisely.
Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. firstname.lastname@example.org