I hate them. HATE them.
From the thin, wiry lead that I liken to a garrote — a strangulation device — to the big, cumbersome handle, to that tiny locking system that always seems to fail to lock fully, breaks, or more often, the owners just don’t use.
If you don’t know what a retractable leash is – good! That means you don’t use one.
This style of leash is designed with the line spooled inside a plastic handle, and extends as your dog pulls on it. They also have a locking system so you can choose the length you want it to remain.
There is no control to be had when using one of these types of leashes. It’s a dog walker’s nightmare. I won’t use them. If owners don’t want to purchase a typical leash, I insist on using my own. Have I given in on occasion? Yes. VERY rarely. Only if the dog is incredibly good on leash, and NEVER when I do a pack walk.
So why do so many caregivers choose these leashes? It comes from love. It truly does. I know this, because my own parents prefer to use a retractable leash for their dog, Rascal — a smart, playful, full-of-energy little dog who would love nothing more than to run freely in the woods.
As smart as she is, she is also stubborn. Rascal knows her basic commands, but when there are distractions, she quickly ignores commands in favor of running and exploring if she is able to escape. And she is an escapee who probably taught Houdini in another life.
My sweet, loving parents are like many pet parents. They know they can’t quite give Rascal the exercise and mental stimulation she needs, and they just aren’t going to stay on top of consistent training — so a retractable leash to let her roam “freely” without actually getting away is their answer.
They love her. They want to let her sniff around and enjoy her walks. They want to give Miss Rascal a sense of freedom without her actually being free to run away.
Plus, there are many people out there gushing about their love of retractable leashes. There are other blog posts in favor of them. Pet stores sell them. There might even be a trainer out there who actually prefers them.
And yet I respectfully, and vehemently, disagree.
They are terrible. At least 99.9 percent of owners should scrap those retractable leashes and just get a traditional style one.
That other 0.1 percent? They are the few star pupils who actually understand and consistently train their dog properly on a retractable leash. Plus, I would venture a guess that those caregivers don’t use this style of leash very often, and never a corded one.
Let’s face it, while there might be some benefits to using a retractable leash when trained properly, most dogs are not, in fact, trained for them at all.
It teaches your dog to constantly pull.
Retractable leashes place a bit of constant pressure on your dog, teaching them that they must pull in order to move forward. If you want to teach your dog not to pull on walks, that continuous pressure will only confuse her, and undermine any training you’re trying to accomplish.
Additionally, if you are using other training tools to assist you in teaching your dog to walk properly on leash, such as a training collar, a no-pull harness, or gentle leader, a retractable leash will add even more confusion. Those tools are meant to give you more control and your dog less, not the other way around, so they do the opposite of what a retractable leash generally does. This might even result in your dog becoming aggressive because she is getting such inconsistent messaging and has no idea what is expected of her, therefore leading to frustration.
Your dog can easily get tangled.
Retractable leashes range in length from about 10-25 feet. I have found that owners who love these leashes but don’t understand how to properly use them also tend to go for the one with the longest lead possible, then get frustrated when their dog gets tangled in brush or trees out in the woods. This isn’t fun for anyone.
With retractable leashes, you have less control.
If your dog is like our Little Rascal, she might dart out into the street when a car or bicycle goes by before you have time to react and lock that leash.
Or how about when you encounter other dogs? Not every dog enjoys visiting other dogs or humans, especially ones that run right up to them. I have encountered many a caregiver walking their dog with that leash unlocked and the poor thing pulling with all its might to the fullest extent of the leash. The dog spies us down the street with whatever pack I am walking that day, and she goes wild, barking excitedly because… Friends! Or possibly, and much worse… Foes! And she thinks she needs to go into protection mode.
Luckily, most of the dogs I walk are friendly and can handle these situations with ease, but that is not always the case. I used to have a large Irish Terrier mix who enjoyed playing with other dogs when off leash in a contained space, but was very leash aggressive. She would pull me down, quite literally, if I was unprepared and taken off guard by another dog approaching us. It doesn’t matter how friendly the other dog is, if one animal doesn’t enjoy this type of experience, it will end badly in a hurry.
The handle is just too cumbersome.
The big, plastic handle is large. I realize some people prefer this, but for me, it’s a hassle. I can hold and control the handle of a regular leash much more easily.
The cord can be dangerous!
Some retractable leashes have a tape style leash rather than a cord, but most people I’ve seen still use that darn cord. While I don’t like either choice, the cord can cause real harm when it gets tangled around yours or your dog’s legs, and it can cause cuts or burns on your hands or legs when the cord quickly releases when your dog darts out.
So what can you do instead if you want to give your dog a bit more freedom and exercise — particularly of you aren’t in a position to take good long walks, hikes, or even runs daily?
First, even several shorter walks can be beneficial. It gives your dog physical exercise, and if you work on proper manners while on leash, it exercises her mind as well. Additionally, it establishes a respectful bond between the two of you.
Along with that, you can play training games inside or in the yard with her. It feels like freedom and playtime to her, but again, it will exercise both her mind and body, while some of these games won’t be as physically taxing on you.
If you are able, hiring a reputable dog walker is another excellent option. While it’s great for you to walk your dog as well, the dog walker will take her on longer excursions, and some will even work on training and offer tips for you to work on.
Doggie daycare is another great way for your dog to get exercise as well as socialization. Not all daycares are the same, so do your research to be sure you are sending your best buddy to a safe and fun environment. And again, some daycares offer training, so that can be another plus.
There is almost never a need for a retractable leash, and plenty of options for how to give your dog the physical and mental stimulation she needs without one.
And although I personally am not going to go into any possible benefits of those retractable leashes, I do recognize that some people will insist on using them anyway. So if you must know a couple reasons why they might be useful, and want to use them correctly and only in the right circumstances, check out this blog by Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Kayla Fratt from Journey Dog Training
But seriously. Ditch that retractable leash and get a good, old-fashioned one. It’ll probably be less expensive to boot!