There's a lot of debate around the use of retractable leashes—these pros and cons may have something to do with it.
I'd like to start this article off by saying that I don't like retractable dog leashes. I’ve tried them with my dog and they don't work for me. I find that there's a lack of control and it makes me uncomfortable. When I let the leash out to give Oscar a bit of leeway, the switch doesn’t pull him back to me fast enough when I want him to heel. The same goes for when other people use them while walking their dogs. When they see Oscar, the dog runs toward him and the owner doesn't try to stop him. Oscar is a nervous little guy and he needs his space, and I don't like being tangled up in leashes as they chase each other around my legs.
But that's not to say that there aren't fans of the retractable leash. In fact, I know many people who use them and wouldn't go back to a standard hand-held 6-footer. They tell me they've never had an issue and remain in control at all times.
Because the back and forth over retractable leashes has been going on for what seems an eternity, there's little hope that we'll all be able to come to a common middle ground any time soon. There are new retractable leash models hitting the market every year and they come equipped with some pretty fancy features. But when you strip away the bells and whistles, they're still retractable leashes.
Let's talk about a few pros and cons of retractable dog leashes, and feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section at the bottom of the post.
Well-behaved dogs have more freedom to explore, smell interesting spots, mark new locations and run on ahead. With extra freedom can come more self-confidence; thanks to their good behavior, they've earned a little more fun and exercise, without being attached to their owner’s side. Many people use the retractable leash as an advanced tool, once a dog has learned and obeys commands.
Retractable leashes can be used during training sessions to practice being called to "heel" or "back" on walks. If control is a problem, you should take your dog to a secluded, safe area and practice his recall. Retractable leashes allow your dog to explore the area, letting him go out as far as the leash will go. When it's time to call him back, the retractable leash gives you control if he doesn't listen. By using the switch on this type of leash, you can reel him back in if he is distracted during his lesson.
In bad weather, you can’t beat a retractable leash. Let's say it's pouring rain and your dog needs a bathroom break. You stay under the porch for shelter while your dog does his business. Yes, this one's a little selfish, but if you're dressed up and don't want to get wet, it can be an outfit saver.
You can't control a retractable leash if your dog is over-active or is hard to manage. You can click that switch all you want, but your dog has enough distance to possibly do some damage once he sees something interesting. Does this sound like your dog? Then you shouldn’t use a retractable leash where you're around things that easily distract your dog and make him charge (squirrels, other dogs, people, etc.).
The most common side effect of retractable leashes is getting tangled with the cord and getting friction burnt. The leash line can easily get wrapped around another dog or someone’s legs, or even your fingers, causing serious injury. Depending on how strong and fast your dog is, this might just be a nuisance, while with other dogs you could end up with some nasty ER bills.
Retractable leashes are not meant to be used when first training your dog to properly walk on a lead. This can lead to pulling, and once your dog gets far enough out in front of you, he will start to pull. To discourage pulling, your best bet is to start off with a traditional 4- to 6-foot fabric or leather leash.
The long retractable leash line may be hard to see, especially at a distance for someone coming at a rapid speed. You may be tempted to use it in places where you think it’s okay, like a hiking trail, but it’s a hazard to others. These trails that are frequented by runners or cyclists who won’t see the line until it’s too late.
Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.