One afternoon, I was walking my six month old puppy, Kiwi, on a four foot lead, browsing our local pet store. I had a day off, and planned a day of shopping with my pup. As I was looking over some holiday stuffed toys, I saw a furry face, with two blue eyes, in my peripheral vision. I turned around and saw a blue merle miniature Australian Shepherd headed towards me at super speed. My first thought was, “This dog is attached to a leash, but where’s his owner??” Before I could explore the thought further, the dog was upon us. He stuck his nose in Kiwi’s face and started smelling her. Kiwi looked shell shocked for a moment, and she looked up at me quizzically, and then went on to smell the little Aussie back. I looked around, wondering where the Aussie’s owner was. Finally, she peeped her head around the corner. “Ohh, there you are Sky, oh I’m so sorry, I lost track of him.” I looked at her hand, and saw that she was using a retractable leash. “It’s okay,” I told her, “I would appreciate it if you locked your leash though.” The woman had already wandered off with her dog, and didn’t seem to hear me.
Throughout the rest of my time at the pet store, I had two more run ins with the woman, and each time, her dog ran right up to Kiwi, and stuck his nose right in her face, and tried to play with her. The retractable leash kept getting tangled with my four foot lead, and the woman never once locked her retractable leash. This wasn’t the first incident that I had with an irresponsible owner that was using their retractable leash improperly. I had many dogs try to approach my dogs, and their owners were all the way across the store, engaged in conversation with someone else. I had even seen a dog on a retractable leash leave a store, have the automatic doors close on the leash, while the owner was paying for their items. All these incidents are dangerous and can cause potential accidents with the dogs and people involved.
A news story covered by ABC News notes that the cords of retractable leashes have “sever[ed] fingers” or “lacerated skin of both dogs and people.” The girl in the story suffered multiple injuries, received eye damage, and will need future surgeries in order to heal. In fact, in certain cities in the United States and parts of Canada, retractable leashes are actually banned or you cannot extend the leash past a certain point.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think retractable leashes are a useful tool and an appropriate leash for some dogs--some dogs. But after working in the pet industry for over three years, the vast majority of pet owners are not using their retractable leashes correctly. A retractable leash is made up of cord-like material and comes in a plastic handle. As the dog moves forward, the cord extends, and if the dog moves towards the handle, the cord will retract. Retractable leashes have a max length of about 16-20 feet on average. The handle comes with a “lock button” that the user can press down and “lock” the leash at whatever length they desire. A retractable leash is appropriate for a dog who is well-mannered, and knows to walk right by its owner’s side, or for someone who owns a lot of property, and wants their dog to be able to roam, and for an owner that remembers and uses the lock button at an appropriate time (i.e., crowded shops, streets, or if another dog is passing by).
However, most dog owners either: Are not paying attention when they are walking their dogs Forget to use the lock button, and instead grab the cord to pull their dog back, causing burns and lacerations Use them on dogs who are reactive or who will run to greet other dogs. Even if your dog is friendly, the other dog may not be appreciative of a dog rudely invading their space, which can lead to accidents where both dogs or people are injured. Use them on young puppies, who do not know how to walk nicely on a leash yet, who end up pulling so hard, they break the handle or the leash flies out of the user’s hands, causing an accident. Do not pay attention to their dogs, so while they are on one side of the street, the dog is across the street, or around the corner. This creates a lack of control over one’s dog, once again, causing accidents. Use a retractable leash in conjunction with a training tool, such as a pinch collar. This keeps constant pressure on the dog’s neck, defeating the purpose of using such a tool, because you cannot correct the dog. So if you fit into any of these categories, please consider buying a different kind of leash, such as: A slip lead, if you don’t like putting a collar around your dog’s neck, use a slip lead. A slip lead, like it’s name, is easily slipped over the dog’s neck and can be adjusted to fit your dog’s neck size. A four to six foot lead (usually nylon) is a great option of you have your dog on a training tool, such as a pinch collar. This allows you to keep the dog close to you and to correct the dog when it starts pulling, or acting out. A leather lead, comfortable for the handler to hold in their hand, easy to clean, and long lasting! So before you go to the pet store to buy a retractable leash, carefully consider the pros and the cons, and think about if your dog is a good candidate for this type of leash. If not, a shorter leash would be more appropriate! Remember, it’s about keeping your dog safe, and preventing accidents, that could lead to further behavioral issues or safety concerns.