Retractable leashes are very popular, and it is not uncommon to see a dog running wild at the end of the line while an inattentive dog owner is on his/her smartphone. These leashes provide a false sense of security and are very dangerous. Retractable leashes cause more problems than a traditional lead.
The thin cord or cable that is housed inside the plastic handheld device is not a leash. The real purpose of a leash is to keep the dog safe and under control. Most leash laws allow for a leash length of six feet or shorter.
Retractable cables are a bad idea for dogs who have no leash training. This thin cord actually teaches a dog to pull. When the dog pulls, the leash extends. The device itself is counterproductive to training loose-leash walking. In essence, the dog never learns where the end of the leash is. It teaches the dog to pull and ignore the handler. Professional dog trainers often refer to this type of equipment as the “lazy man’s leash.”
Injuries to Humans
The thin cord can break, snap back, and injure the human. In addition, the thin cable can cause superficial burns and cuts on hands and legs. It can also cause more serious damage, like amputations, if it wraps around a finger with enough force.
Injuries to Dogs
The plastic handles are bulky and can easily be pulled out of your hand. The handle can fall, causing injury to a small dog. Fearful dogs are often frightened of the sound of the snap/lock, the thin cord whizzing out, or the loud crash of the device hitting the ground. A fearful experience can result in a negative association with the leash, with you, and/or with the environment.
The length of these cables, some of which can extend up to 25 feet, allows dogs to get far enough away from their humans that a situation can quickly turn dangerous. Dogs are often able to run into the street or make uninvited contact with other dogs or people. They allow more freedom to pull, which may be interpreted as aggression by another dog.
As with any piece of equipment, mechanical error can occur. The button that locks the cord into place can break down over time. The thin cord itself can snap and/or break. The plastic handheld portion of the device can easily crack.
Room for Human Error
If the lock mechanism is not pushed fast enough, the cable can become very long within seconds as a dog starts running. Dogs can run very fast in a short amount of time, thus opening them up to myriad dangerous situations. In a panic or under stress, many people are unable to work the leash and cannot get it to retract fast enough or even at all.
Many major cities like San Francisco and all California state parks have banned retractable leashes. Leash laws are ultimately created for safety, and these thin cables nested in a plastic casing are dangerous to both humans and dogs.
Long lines and harnesses are a much better option. Long line work simulates off-leash training but in a safe and managed way. If you do use a long line, it should be in a large open area, safe from dangers and distractions. Working with your dog on a long line can be a wonderful connection exercise. But you must be aware of everything and everyone around you!
Teaching your dog to pay attention to you while you move together (loose-leash walking) is an important skill for every dog to learn. There are many simple and positive training techniques that teach your dog to walk politely by your side.
Jamie Bozzi of SMRTDog is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant (CBCC-KA) and a Certified Nose Work Instructor (CNWI). She enjoys freelance writing, competing in scent detection trials, and hosting special events.