I'm going to just come out and admit it - Yes I sometimes use a retractable leash to walk Kitsune.
I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding their use. A Google search for 'retractable leash' turns up page after page of websites listing the many ways these leashes can be dangerous. In most situations I agree that regular leashes should be used over retractable leashes. I also don't deny that retractable leashes do come with their share of problems, most of which are caused when they are used irresponsibly. However, I also believe that, under the right circumstances, retractable leashes can be a great tool to give well behaved dogs a little extra freedom.
Like any other tool, anyone who is going to use a retractable leash should learn how to do so safely and responsibly. Whether you already use a retractable leash, or are thinking about starting to use one, here are some safety tips you should always follow.
- Using any type of leash never replaces training. This is especially true when it comes to retractable leashes. I didn't start using a retractable leash with Kitsune until after he had learned some basic commands, including coming when called, leave it, sit, stay, and heel. I taught him loose leash walking and that pulling exceedingly hard on his leash, whether it's his regular leash or a Flexi leash, won't get him to where he wants to go. Kitsune knows not to pull hard when/if he gets to the end of his Flexi. He runs to me if I call him, and walks just as nicely next to me on his flexi as he does on his regular leash if I ask him to do so.
- Respect is key. No matter what type of leash you are using, it's rude to allow your dog to run up to another person or dog without first getting permission to allow them to do so. Flexi leashes allow your dog to get further away from you, so require a little bit more vigilance on your part. For example, I always make sure to call Kitsune to my side and lock his Flexi leash when we turn corners, just in case there are people or dogs that I can't see around the bend.
- Stay alert and know your dog. When you are walking your dog on a retractable leash, it's important to be walking your dog. As in, paying attention to your dog at all times and not talking on your phone, listening to music, or being otherwise distracted. If you're in an area with lots of squirrels, and you know your dog likes to chase squirrels, then it's probably a good time to call your dog to your side and lock your leash. Having a quick trigger finger (er...thumb), or being able to quickly issue your dog commands (as long as he'll actually follow them!), can mean the difference between your dog having the ability to run into the road and get hurt, or being stopped safely at the sidewalk.
- Only use retractable leases in appropriate environments. I would never use our Flexi leash on one of our regular walks around the city. I use ours mostly in wide open places, especially where there are no other people/dogs around. For example, I like to put Kitsune on his retractable leash when we go to the park, the beach, and sometimes on hikes depending on the area.
- Select the correct gear. A lot of the dangers you hear about retractable leashes can be mitigated by selecting the correct products for your dog. If you're worried that dropping your retractable leash will frighten your dog and cause him/her to bolt, then a simple wrist strap can be added. This way, if you do loose grip on the leash handle, the heavy part of the leash will hang from your wrist instead of falling to the ground. If you are worried about your dog pulling too hard and hurting his/her neck, then attach your leash to a harness instead (although you should also train your dog not to pull). Retractable leashes come in different sizes, strengths, lengths, etc. Take the time to select the one that is right for you. If you are worried about corded leashes, you can get all nylon Flexi leads (this is the type I use). Also, check your leash often for signs of wear or damage, and replace as needed.
So many of the issues I've heard or read about involving retractable leashes had to do with human error. I don't think the leashes themselves are bad, but they are not by any means appropriate for every dog or in every situation. Part of using a retractable leash responsibly is having the common sense to know when you should not use them. That may mean not using them in certain environments, or maybe not using them at all if they are not suitable for you or your individual dog.
Unfortunately you can be the best dog owner in the world, but there's not really anything you can do to control the actions of other people. I definitely do understand why some people get nervous when they see other dog owners using a Flexi leash. What do you think? Do you love or hate retractable leashes? Or do your opinions fall somewhere in between? Comment below!
To up the cuteness factor of this post, here's a short video of Kitsune enjoying the beach. 🙂 FYI, you probably can't tell because he's just standing in one spot, but he is on a Flexi leash in this video. The beach, as long as it's not crowded, is one of the few places where I think it can be appropriate to use a retractable leash.