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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Retractable Leashes Ruin Everything

I am not a fan of retractable leashes most of the time. I actually own several and use them regularly, but I think the vast majority of people aren't actually thinking enough when they clip it on their dog and leave the house.

When is a Retractable Leash OK?
Photo by Erin Koski

I use a retractable leash when I am taking my dog to a place where it is always acceptable to have him 15' away from me. This means there are no obstacles, roads, or other people. Basically, I use these for parks and hikes. One of our favorite hiking spots has clearly-posted leash laws that limit leash length to 6', so I leave the retractables at home when we go there. 

Anywhere there might be a danger, hazard, or other person within 15' of me, I leave the retractables at home. It doesn't matter that the leash retracts and can be locked at a fixed length, I can't rely on it performing perfectly in an emergency. When I use retractable leashes I always carry regular ones along in case I need to control my dogs. I have never walked into a store or a veterinary clinic with my dog on a retractable leash because I would not do the same with my dog off-leash.

Which Retractable Leashes are OK?

All retractable leashes are not created equal, and I really only trust the ones by Flexi. These leashes retract because they each contain a tightly-coiled spring that stores an enormous amount of energy. I wouldn't purchase a small bomb or a gasoline-powered device from any manufacturer that I did not trust completely. I've seen several very old Flexi leashes that were still in good working order, and I've used several dollar-store and value brand leashes and had them break. The best case scenario for a broken retractable leash is one that has jammed and no longer extends or retracts. The worst case scenario is one where the leash is fully extended and then the clip breaks and flies are uncontrolled while the leash retracts at top speed. Those things sometimes end up in people's eyes. Honestly, the Flexi leashes are also the least-bulky and most comfortable ones to carry, on top of performing better than anything else on the market.

Tape, Because Cord Cuts Like Piano Wire.

The cord is basically invisible.
I do own a cord Flexi leash that I use for Ru, but only because he generates very little pulling power. For anything more than a featherweight dog, cord leashes are basically like walking a dog on a cable saw. Retractable leashes are designed to extend and retract very quickly, and they can cause friction burns or serious cuts because they concentrate all the force into a very tiny area. It's like grabbing a moving fishing line with something powerful on the other end.

Getting the cord wrapped around a body part is even worse. I was once walking Brisbane in a park when I saw a large, unruly Labrador towing a guy around with a reatractable leash. They were between us and the exit, so I put Brisbane's regular leash on and tried to stay as far away as possible. As we got closer I realized that the other dog's retractable leash had jammed and he was attempting to untangle it. The cord was wrapped around his hands when his dog spotted Brisbane and lunged very hard, pulling it tight. There was a lot of blood, and I don't know what happened because all I could do was get my dog away so his would stop pulling. He could have lost a finger, and he wouldn't have been the first

The Flexi leashes for large dogs all use nylon tape instead of string, this makes them easier to see and less dangerous. There are also all-belt leashes for smaller dogs, this is what I have for Brisbane.

There is No Kill Like OverKill

Of course, it's also perfectly ok to use a giant dog Flexi on a less-than-giant dog. I like to make sure my dogs are well under the limits for their Flexi leashes. That means 40lb Brisbane uses a leash for dogs under 55 pounds. Ru weighs 6 pounds, but uses a leash for dogs up to 25 pounds. I see an awful lot of broken and repaired Flexi leashes, and each of these represents a chance for a dog to run into the street, start a fight, or escape in an unfamiliar area. Going up a size just means more security, and less chance of ruining an expensive leash.

Retractables are for Harnesses Only!

Brisbane is extremely good at walking on a loose leash, especially when he is wearing a collar. The spring inside the Flexi leash keeps tension on the dog at all times, so I attach it to Brisbane's harness instead. He has been taught to pull in a harness, so he knows a little tension is ok. Of course, I wouldn't attach the Flexi to any type of harness that discourages pulling, either. That wouldn't be fair. 

Retractable leashes attached to collars are pretty much always a bad idea, even for dogs that are willing to pull. Most Flexi leashes are 15' long, and the world is full of squirrels and mail carriers and other excitement that could tempt a dog to run to the end of his leash. When a dog has been running all-out for 15' and hits the end suddenly, he can hurt his neck, throat, and spine. The absolute worst combination is a retractable leash attached to a head halter

Basically, I only use Flexi leashes, preferably the all-belt style, only on dogs that can walk nicely on a regular harness, only in open areas free from hazards. It means I don't get to use my Flexi leashes very often, but it also means I don't have to worry about my dogs darting into traffic, knocking over store displays, tripping people, harassing other pets, or generally doing things they would have to be off-leash to get away with.

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