Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why I Don't Use Retractable Leashes

I have been wanting to write about this subject for some time. As a professional pet sitter, my first and foremost concern of course are the pets -- their safety and well-being. When I'm walking someone else's dog(s), as well as my own, safety for the dog, others and myself is a priority. Having an enjoyable experience is also important for all involved!

Over the last twelve years, I have either experienced or witnessed all kinds of situations and scenarios while walking dogs. I have had someone else's (otherwise friendly) unleashed dog attack and almost kill the dog I had on a leash. I've had dogs come charging out of an open door or gate while walking by with a dog so many times I can't begin to count them. I've had small children come running at me (with parent near by), wanting to pet the dog I'm walking, which is not friendly and doesn't like to be around children. There have been times I have turned around and run the other way with the dog to avoid situations. 

Just recently I passed someone walking their dog on the other side of the street and she wanted to bring her dog over to say "hi" to the dog I was walking, which was 1) not my dog, 2) not dog friendly and 3) was barking and displaying aggressive body language that was obvious to me, but was not understood by her. She got mad or offended when I said it wasn't my dog and declined! 

 I've had dogs pull out of their collar. I even had a dog back out of her harness once (which was obviously fitted too loose). I've had collars break, leashes break. I mean, when you do something long enough, you will experience just about everything that can happen while doing it. And as you go along, you learn by experience what kinds of things or situations to avoid. So for safety's sake, my rule of thumb is stay away from all others -- people and other dogs.

Another thing that I have learned along the way to avoid are retractable leashes. They are anything but safe. If you want to use one while walking your own dog, that is your choice. But as a pet sitter in a big city, I don't use them walking other people's dogs. I don't use them to walk my own dogs either. For many reasons:


  • They are easily pulled out of your hand. A sturdy loop that is around your hand and wrist can't be beat for control and control of the dog is of the utmost importance.

  • They allow dogs to get too far away to have reasonable control if something occurs to warrant quick action. Six feet away is long enough. I have seen people use retractable leashes with prong choke collars, which is an oxymoron.

  • They can break or snap unlike a regular leash (that is the correct size and strength for your dog).
  • They can cause burns, cuts and worse -- amputations.
  • They are dangerous in that dogs can easily jerk their necks or cause spinal injuries while behaving like the animals they are, and charging after something full speed, or just running and not realizing when the end of the line is coming.
  • They actually teach dogs to pull. Dogs learn that to get a longer extension, or to go where they want, all they have to do is pull hard enough and they get it.
  • To have any dog, especially a large dog, essentially on a string/thin cord/thin ribbon is not a good means of control. When I see children walking their dogs on these, I just cringe.
  • They are just harder to manage, especially if walking more than one dog and picking up the poop, which in most places is the law.
  • They can malfunction and won't retract.

  • They can frighten dogs (especially fearful ones) if they are dropped, and then are injured due to running to try and get away from the handle that is chasing them.

  • I don't know of a good positive reinforcement dog trainer that recommends them.
While I was in the process of writing this I had to take one of my pets to the veterinarian. While we were waiting to be seen, a young mother with two small children, a boy and a girl, and two small dogs came in. The dogs were on retractable leashes. The mother originally had the leashes but as she was standing at the counter filling out paperwork, her children kept asking to have the leashes. She gave in and I watched as these two small children under the age of five got themselves and the dogs all tangled up to the point that the little girl was totally wrapped up in the leash and couldn't move. After the mother got them untangled and took control of the leashes again (still filling out paperwork), she was oblivious to the fact that one of the dogs still had the thin cord of his leash wrapped around his front leg and he kept hopping around trying to pull his leg out of the loop, which he finally managed to do after several tries. 

This is a perfect example of why I cringe when children use them. I have either experienced, witnessed, read or heard about so many different instances in which people and/or pets have gotten injured or worse while using a retractable leash. 

So if you are a client and you set out the retractable leashes, they will not be used. I (we) have my (our) own preferred equipment that provides the control and safety that I require. And if someone walking a dog sees you coming towards them and they go the other way, don't be offended. I'm just playing it safe and keeping it fun!

I want to thank Karen Becker, DVM, for recently writing an article on this subject, which inspired me to finally write about it too. Read her article here: 

Dr. Becker: 10 Reasons Not to Use a Retractable Leash