Why I Do Not Use Extending/Retracting Leads


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I was driving when I saw a jogger with a dog on an extending/retracting leash. The dog was repeatedly running halfway into the busy street causing drivers to swerve or slam on their brakes.

I was at a dog event.  A competitor was walking his dog on an extending/retracting leash through the parking lot.  As a vehicle was backing up, the dog lunged to the end of the leash and behind the moving vehicle.  (I have seen this in parking lots at pet supply stores too!)

I was at a supply store when a dog lunged across the wide, center aisle at my dog.  My dog was on a four-foot leash and was held close to me.  The other dog was on an extending leash.

I watched as two dogs on separate walks became tangled in over thirty feet of cable as they attacked each other. The owners were walking towards each other on the sidewalk.

I watched a dog come across a vet clinic waiting room after my dog who was sitting next to me.

A child I knew was hospitalized due to severe injuries to the backs of her legs when an extending lead cable was pulled along them by a dog.

I have watched dogs on extending leashes tear into yards, get on porches and cause trouble.

Years ago I was on my motorcycle when a small dog darted into the street to give chase.  He was on an extending leash.  Luckily I was able to safely swerve as he made it more than halfway across two lanes.

What is the attraction to these leashes?  Well, dogs can roam and range while being “safely” attached to his human.  Yes safely is in quotes.  Are extending/retracting leashes really that safe?  Why do people like them?  Well, the dogs can range about yet still be attached to the handler.  Unlike long leashes, there is no slack you have to worry about coiling up as the mechanism does it for you.  They are convenient but they are not safer.

I do not want to post graphic pictures but I will suggest you do an internet search for them.  Here is one article from 2009 (I was interviewed for it) from Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports

Extending/Retracting leashes have many risks. Here are a few:

If the cable breaks or pulls out of the handle, the dog is loose. There have been several cases where new leads did not have the cable/leash part solidly attached to the casing.  A person I used to train with had this happen.

If the cable or leash part breaks the cable can snap back with great force.  Here is an article about what happened to a girl when a lead snapped. Retracting leash eye injury  Remember the mechanism will retract the cable at a high rate of speed.  Here is a short paper from the NIH and read the reference section links.  NIH

Friction burns, cuts and finger amputations have happened as the leashes pull along human and canine flesh.  There is no way to inspect the inner workings for damage.  The locking mechanisms wear out over time.  This means the dog cannot be secured close.  The leash can come loose from the handle allowing the dog to escape.  The handle can be difficult to maintain a strong grip on when a dog is lunging.  In 2014, Veterinary Information Network (VIN) published a piece where veterinarians outlined what they were seeing in dogs regarding extending/retracting leads – behavioral and physical damage.

Even after reading all the risks you have decided you still want to use an extending/retracting leash.  First you must make sure your individual dog is a good candidate.  Avoid if/when any or more of these situations are present:

  • Your dog has any reactive behaviors based in fear or enthusiasm – leash lunging, trying to get after distractions on walk, has bitten, tries to escape situations, etc.
  • Any back or neck damage.
  • Your dog cannot walk nicely on a loose leash.
  • Your dog is prone to giving sudden chase.
  • Your dog does not have a solid recall (coming when called) under high distractions.

These leashes do NOT reel your dog in unless your dog WANTS to come back.  Think realistically – your dog has to pull against the mechanism to get further away from you.  This means the mechanism will not bring your dog back unless he wants to come back.

Your dog will never be on a loose leash with these devices.  They always keep tension which can increase stress in some dogs and teach others they have to feel tension in order to be on a walk.

Basically your dog must be easy-going, laid back and have impeccable manners, be able to listen to you, impeccable manners, and follow directions under high levels of distraction (can your dog ignore everything) before you even consider one of these leads. You also must make sure you can keep the mechanism locked so the dog is not on a tight lead while you teach loose leash manners.

So you still want to use an extending/retracting lead, consider the settings under which you will use one.

Never use them in places where a dog being away from you could be risky. This includes:

  • waiting rooms
  • urban or suburban sidewalks
  • stores
  • where other dogs are in the vicinity
  • near kids playing
  • when you are walking with other people/pets
  • sporting events
  • the majority of areas you see these leads used.
  • never use them near streets

So where can you carefully consider using them?

I recommend using these leads only in fields where the dog can range out with increased safety. I would not use this with other dogs in the area.  It is too risky.  Your dog should be the only dog in the area.  I would not use them if I am walking more than one dog.  I have watched dogs with the same owner become tangled and panic.

With a regular leash, walk your dog to a large field.  Put the extending/retracting lead on then remove the regular lead.  When you are done, the regular lead is put on and the extending taken off before the walk back.

Next is choosing a product.  I would never buy them on line or through discount stores.  I would only buy a brand name and test it before using.  This means making sure the leash part is attached to the reel.  Make sure the locking mechanism works.  Buy at least one size larger than recommended for your dog’s size.  Avoid the ones where you have a cable attached to a leash/collar.  Look for a product where it is a solid web leash throughout the unit.  Test the lead out before EVERY walk.  Remember, you cannot see inside the casing for wear and tear.  Unlike a regular leash where I can look for worn stitching, tears in fabric, etc., a lot of the extending/retracting leash workings I cannot see. Make sure that locking mechanism is working.  Do not rest your finger on it during walks.  I have seen too many owners accidentally release the lock thus allowing the dog to get into trouble.

Personally, I avoid extending/retracting leashes with my own dogs. My dogs do not need them nor do I.  If I am in an area where I can let them range out or want to (I can allow them to sniff and poke on a six foot leash) it will be done on a long leash and not an extending/retracting one.

Sarah and Uhura 4

A long leash is a safer alternative to a retracting lead. (c) West Wind Dog Training

Finally, know your local laws and the laws of where you are walking your dog.  Many areas have leash length rules.  National Parks for example are all dogs must be on lead no longer than six feet.  This means no long lines or retracting leashed and absolutely NO walking your dog on shock collars and considering this as a safe alternative as I am seeing an increasing number of people doing.

Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William Count and founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.

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