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My Thoughts on Retractable Leashes

With the weather finally stable in WI and an acceptable temperature to take our SideKicks out for longer strolls and exploration, a lot of my recent clients - naturally - have questions about improving their SideKicks' leash-walking skills. It's an understandably difficult skill to learn and teach because dogs aren't born knowing how to walk on leashes, how to avoid cars, how to stay in their "lane" on the sidewalk, etc.

I could spend hours talking about how to improve leash-walking skills, but the biggest, most important suggestion I've given lately is to ditch the retractable leash.

I'm not usually the type to completely dismiss a training tool, so I don't make this suggestion lightly; there are, I'm sure, plenty of people who use retractable leashes with their SideKicks and have zero issues.


One of the reasons I hear the most in support of retractable leashes is that they let our SideKicks roam and explore and sniff on walks. Make no mistake, I completely support this idea! (Anyone who has ever heard me talk about taking our SideKicks for walks has heard me talk about giving them plenty of opportunity to sniff, experience the world through their noses and just DOG).

However, there are a number of different tools that allow you to provide your SideKick with space and opportunity for exploration - and without the risks associated with retractable leashes. Two of my favorites (and that I use with my own SideKick) are 1) simple cotton webbing leashes (available in a variety of different lengths at pet stores and online) and 2) nylon rope with a metal clip or clasp attached (as long as you can splice rope, you can make it as long or short as you like and it floats in water!).

A decent portion of the risks associated with a retractable leash revolve around the safety of the leash, the person using the leash, the dog, and people around the the user and dog. With those risks in mind, I can't and don't recommend retractable leashes to friends, family, or clients. The risks of using a retractable leash simply outweigh the benefits of using one.

1) Retractable leashes are quite long when fully extended and a dog can get pretty far away from their walker in the blink of an eye, ending up in the middle of the street or getting in the face of another dog or person easily.


2) It is nearly impossible to gain control of the situation if the need arises when a dog has made it out to the end of the retractable leash. The thin cord of the retractable leash makes it extremely difficult to physically reel a dog back in.

3) While on the topic of the thin cord...it really is thin! And I've had clients tell me stories about the cord breaking on their leashes. I couldn't imagine relying on such a small cord to maintain control over a situation involving an over-excited 70-, 80-, or 90-pound dog!

4) Getting tangled in the leash cord or trying to grab it to reel a dog in manually can cause injuries to the person walking the dog or to the dog.

5) The handles of retractable leashes are bulky and can be easily pulled out of human hands.

6) The clattering that results from dropping the plastic handle can startle, scare, and frighten fearful or shy dogs (or any dog!). What's worse is that the scary noise is then chasing the dog if they bolt in response to the initial, startling noise.

7) The mechanism within the retractable leash handle wears out over time and malfunctioning - possibly at a time that puts the walker or the dog in jeopardy - becomes more and more likely.

8) By their nature, retractable leashes train dogs to pull while on leash because they learn that pulling (against the tension of the device) extends the lead and gives them more space to roam. Small dogs or puppies may not even be large enough or strong enough to overcome the tension of the device, making it difficult or, at least, a fight to move away and explore - which defeats the purpose of having a retractable leash as a long lead.

Questions? Or do you just want to chat about other tools for walking on a leash?

Shoot me a message! I'm happy to talk shop with you!

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