If there’s one seemingly innocuous item I could eliminate from the Earth, it would be retractable leashes. These leashes are popular with owners who love the freedom it affords their pet. Indeed, the dog can jet ahead, trail behind, sniff or eliminate without causing a break in pace for the owner. Additionally, retractable leashes aren't as cumbersome as carrying a long-line. Over all, it would seem like a dream come true. I know many people who love these leashes so much that to take it away, you’d have to pry it from their cold dead hand. There can be advantages if the leash is used by a conscientious owner who understands its inappropriate use, and can judge whether their pet should be walked on one at all.
Though the lead itself seems benign, the design lends itself to becoming a mobile razor wire and tripping hazard all in one. This is no joke! I have long suggested retracto-leads as a James Bond weapon. If you look at the packaging, you’ll see a sticker or packaging alerting you to the danger of cuts, burns and finger amputation. It can cause bodily injury due to falls caused by tripping or wrapping up in the line. Additionally, if your pet breaks the lead, there’s a danger of face or eye injury. Oh yes, it sounds like you’re playing with a bright shiny chainsaw rather than a dog leash. In fact, the danger is so severe that labels state, “avoid using around small children”.
Besides the ghastly injuries that they cause, I hate them due to the way people use them. If you have a dog that pulls, a retractable leash only teaches your dog to be more effective at pulling. When an owner notes the dog is harshly gasping against the pressure of its collar, they often opt for a body harness. You know—the ones they use for sled dogs. Nothing like a good tractor pull! Far worse is the owner who combines the retractable with a choke or prong collar, since the dog will be constantly correcting itself while pulling for more lead. Mind you, most people miss the warning on the device stating it isn't to be used with “disobedient or uncontrollable” dogs.
If you’re enjoying your walk with your dog romping around 10-25 feet away, it makes it difficult to keep track of what’s going on. At the park, it’s not uncommon to see owners talking to a friend while their dog is off leaving a fecal calling card in the distance – with the owner totally unaware. They may also not notice that their pet is running in between people, tying a kid to a tree or rushing someone else’s dog. In the case of the latter, the leash may fly out of the owner’s hand and the line could break or cause damage to the other dog when the line is retracted. I especially hate these leashes in a veterinary setting. On a regular basis an owner would be at the front desk, while their dog wandered across the room, relieving itself on a plant or harassing a poor cat stuck in a carrier.
Speaking of control, the “brake” button is a great source of false security. I often call it the “pause” button. Cheap ones have a hard time engaging and must be held down manually, while more “deluxe” models have an integrated lock which is a pain to engage. The brake gives a false sense of security since it takes time to engage, and by that time your dog has covered a lot of ground. The brake on the leash is just like the brake on your car – it’s only helpful if engaged at the appropriate moment…which is tough from a distance.
All of this being said, I remind myself: training tools can be helpful when properly utilized. They aren't “bad” on their own. It just appears that the wonders of retractable leash attract all the wrong people.