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Appropriate Use of Retractable Leashes

Love them or hate them, retractable leashes are everywhere. I tend to hate them because people use them irresponsibly. I have seen a dog bolt into traffic and get hit, I have seen a dog bolt into the woods because the handle was "chasing" her, and I have personally been wound up and gotten cuts on my legs while walking down the street in the summer; a dog popped around the corner of a building, surprising me and wrapping around my legs. Luckly, the dog wasn't aggressive or it would have been much worse. Most of the time I see people chatting on phones while their dog is 20' ahead of them or I see dogs come flying around the corner at the vet office, upsetting everyone seated in the waiting room. Let's review the risks and where you could use them along with where you should never use them:

Risks of retractable leashes:

  • The sharp wire versions of these leashes can cut into the skin, and the ribbon or cord-style leashes cause friction burns. Hands and legs are typically the places where these injuries occur

  • Your dog can get far enough ahead of you to go around a corner, surprising people or dogs you can’t see which can cause injuries

  • The locking or spooling mechanism can fail, leaving you with no way to stop your dog without grabbing the line which can injure your hand unless you wear gloves

  • Dogs can suddenly bolt and injure their necks when they hit the end of the line, and their momentum can cause you to fall, or the line can snap

  • Dogs learn that pulling on leash gets them where they want to go

As a person who is frequently around dogs, I have witnessed all of these things at least once. So why do people like them? They allow dogs a bit of freedom to sniff if you use them in the right places.

Great places to use a retractable and allow your dog to sniff:

  • Grass or dirt or snow or sand– if you drop the handle, it won’t bounce and clatter up to your dog as it retracts and is less likely to frighten your dog

  • Places without a lot of people around

  • Places where your dog won’t get tangled up in shrubs or brush

Places where a regular flat leash is a safer choice:

  • The vet –greetings at the vet hospital are a bad idea in general as other animals may be feeling unwell or stressed or just unfriendly, and people may be distracted in the lobby and not paying attention to your dog’s movements so could get surprised or tangled up

  • Near traffic - your dog may dart in front of oncoming traffic after a squirrel and you may not be able to lock the leash fast enough, or it may malfunction

  • Paved surfaces – if you drop the handle, it bounces and clatters and may frighten your dog into bolting

  • Busy pathways or crowded events where people may get tangled in the leash

  • Walking more than one dog at a time

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