Monday, August 3, 2015

Bad Idea: Why Can't I Use a Flexi Leash With a Gentle Leader?

Working at a doggy daycare, I see a lot of egregious misuse of dog gear. Some are merely self-defeating, others are actually dangerous. My least-favorite gear combo is a retractable leash attached to a head halter.
Not pictured: the leash I'm standing on, attached to Brisbane's collar for safety.
Photo by Erin Koski

Why Is This a Bad Idea?
A Halti, Gentle Leader, or other head collar with the leash attachment at the front of the dog's head, has a surprising potential to cause harm. These tools require very little strength on the part of the handler because they control the dog's head. This is at the very end of his spine, obviously. A head collar is intended to teach loose-leash walking, mostly by making pulling on the leash uncomfortable for the dog.

A retractable leash, like the perennially popular Flexis, works by means of a spring inside the leash casing. This spring applies continuous tension to a wheel in order to keep the leash taught and off the ground. While it does not apply a lot of force, the entire reason retractable leashes retract is because they exert continuous leash pressure.

So the first problem with the Flexi/headcollar combo is that the leash puts continuous pressure on the headcollar and therefore the dog's face. They can't really walk on a loose leash unless the brake is locked. This is often uncomfortable for the dog, and habituating them to leash pressure is the exact opposite of teaching them to walk nicely on a leash.

The second problem with this gear combo is that retractable leashes tend to be longer than fixed leashes. The longer the leash, the more speed a dog can build up before he hits the end of it and comes to an abrupt stop. Hitting the end of a 15' leash at top speed on a neck collar, where the pressure is closer to the center of his spine, is bad enough. Hitting it on a head halter can cause serious neck injuries and even be fatal in certain circumstances.

Good Idea
I would love to see the general public give head halters a little more respect. It needs to be used with very light pressure, otherwise you're torquing your dog's neck around all over the place. I like to use a 4' leash to limit how far my dog can get from me, and remind myself that we are using a training tool so I need to stay attentive and hopefully redirect my dog before he tries to run somewhere.

I'm not a big fan of Flexi leashes in most public spaces, but I still own and use several of them because they are just so convenient is certain outdoor spaces where it is acceptable for my dogs to be 15' away from me. I always attach a Flexi or any other long leash to a harness. That way, when my dog suddenly sees a squirrel, or hears a poorly-timed firework, or any other unplanned event causes him to suddenly speed off without warning, he won't get hurt when he hits the end of the leash. Not every dog is prone to bolting, and it may not happen very often, but I still think it's wise to be careful. If my dog suddenly finds some reason to run to the end of his leash at top speed (deer, mail carrier, gunfire, zombie attack, clowns) there's no chance he's going to injure or break his neck.


  1. I work at a dog daycare too and geez I see some weird gear usage:
    -a prong and a GIANT flexi for a huge rottie
    -easy walk harness with a spiral bungee type leash
    -easy walk harness with flexi

    its ridiculous, my neighbor also does this with a Freedom no pull with a flexi, I've tried to explain it to her, but she says she has more control with a flexi vs regular leash. *facepalm* I give up.

    1. YES! The Flexi/EW combo will be appearing soon here. It's one of my pet peeves. I haven't personally seen the stretchy leash/Easy Walk combo myself. I'm currently dogsitting for a puller though, so I'll have to give it a try and see how it works.