Retractable leashes or flexi leashes are popular because they give dogs more freedom to sniff and roam around on walks. Now isn't that a good idea? Yes, but...as a professional dog trainer, I must give you some cautionary advice about flexi leashes.
While it may seem like a great idea that your dog gets to burn more energy on a walk than you have to expend, flexi leashes have some serious downsides that you should consider before using or buying one.
Admittedly, I still occasionally walk my dogs on a flexi leash where I feel it's safe to do so, but generally I encourage people not to use them, especially if you have a reactive or very large dog, or if your dog doesn't pay you attention or reliably come when called.
Lack of control
Dogs can get too far away from you to be under control effectively and situations can quickly turn dangerous.
- A dog is able to quickly extend the leash and dart into the middle of the street or make uninvited contact with other dogs or people before you have a chance to react.
- The lock can fail. When buying a flexi leash, you choose the style that is geared for the size and weight of your dog. However, the lock can pop when a dog lunges against it allowing the dog to run to the end of the cable.
- Your fingers can slip and accidentally release the lock when you meant to set it. A dog can cover the distance of the cable before you’re able to lock it.
- Flexi leashes don’t reel in dogs as many owners assume. The unit rewinds the cable only when the tension on the lead is eased. If your dog is at the end of the cable and doesn’t stop pulling or come back to you when you call him, you have to manually ‘reel in’ your dog to catch up with him. This typically involves: lunge forward, shorten the cable, lock, release the lock, move forward, shorten the cable, lock, repeat.
Increased chances for dog fights
Walking your dog in town, you can't see what's around the corner. A dog on a flexi leash could turn that corner well before you do, and come face to face with an unfriendly dog. The confusion and sudden appearance without warning on both parties can cause a dog fight that would be difficult if not impossible to control, not to mention the risk of injuries to everyone involved from bites or the cable. This kind of experience can give dogs a life-long struggle when it comes to interacting with other dogs in the future and can even lead to leash reactivity.
Risk of injury to humans
Unfortunately, I can attest to this risk from my own two extremely painful experiences (Yes, I’m a slow learner…).
- If you get tangled up in the thin cable of a flexi leash, or grab it in an attempt to stop or reel in your dog, it can burn you, cut skin, and even amputate your finger. (If you’re not squeamish, Google “flexi leash injuries” and – Warning, graphic content - click on “Images” to see all the damage that a flexi leash can do to flesh).
- Many people have been pulled right off their feet by a dog that reaches the end of the leash and keeps going. This can result in bruises, "road rash," broken bones, and worse.
- The extended leash cable can trip up runners or cyclists because it is difficult to see against the pavement or other darker surfaces.
Risk of injury to the dog
- Dogs stand the same risk of injuries that humans do. The cable can cause burns and dogs had tails and toes severely cut or amputated.
- Dogs have also received terrible injuries as a result of the sudden jerk on their neck that occurs when they run out the leash, including neck wounds, lacerated tracheas, and injuries to the spine.
- The cable can also get twisted around a dog’s neck or legs. Worse, if your dog panics and jerks when he gets hog-tied, it could cause the leash to pull even tighter. The situation could quickly become life threatening. A cable that has wrapped around your dog’s neck might be difficult to loosen – you may need to cut the cable, but who carries a knife or scissors on a walk?
Risk of a runaway dog
Dropping flexi leashes is a regular occurrence often resulting in runaway dogs.
- Flexi leashes rarely have a wrist strap and the handles are sometimes heavy and bulky, which makes them hard to hold especially when wet.
- The thin cord can snap, especially when a strong, good-sized dog takes off at full speed.
- They’re easy to be yanked free. Test it, get your hand in a traditional lead loop, and have someone yank it. Now do the same thing with a flexi leash. Which one can you hold more securely?
It’s training dogs to pull
Flexi leashes teach your dog to pull on the leash to get to where he wants to go. They encourage pulling. The leash is always tight and the dog gets used to that sensation. If the dog wants to move anywhere, he has to put more tension on the collar and pull into the collar to move. It’s a recipe for disaster if polite leash manners is your goal.
It can scare a fearful dog
Many dogs – especially fearful ones – are terrorised by the sound of a dropped flexi leash handle and may take off running, which is dangerous enough. To make matters worse, the object of the poor dog's fear is then "chasing" her, and if the leash is retracting as she runs, the handle is gaining ground on her – she can't escape it. Even if this doesn’t cause physical harm to the dog or anyone else, it can create lingering fear in the dog of leashes and of being walked. Even worse, the sudden lack of tension can send the heavy handle hurdling toward your dog, smacking her in the head.
They malfunction easily
Again, I can attest to this from first-hand experience – I bought several replacements before learning the lesson... Using flexi leashes at the beach or having handles drag over muddy ground doesn’t mix. Generally, like most retractable devices, they have a tendency to malfunction over time, either refusing to extend, refusing to retract, or unspooling at will.
Let us know what your experience is with flexi leashes if you're using one.