I was reading an article the other day about the top “must have” pet products for summer. I was really enjoying the article until I came to one entry: the retractable leash.
Retractable leashes are very, very popular. In case you aren’t familiar with them, they are leashes that consist of a long, thin cord on a reel. The leashes range in length, but their selling point is that they are very long (some up to 26 feet!), allowing your dog to roam and exercise but still be under control. With the click of a button, you can reign in your pet, albeit a foot or two at a time.
If there is a veterinary product that is more loathed by veterinarians than the retractable leash, I don’t know what it is. The retractable leash has sent many an individual (both pets and humans!) to the hospital. Sure, they allow your dog to stop and smell the roses without hindering your walk, but they also contribute to bad behavior and injury.
Retractable leashes almost always teach a dog to pull. Think about it—you’re on a walk and your dog wants to walk faster than you. He pulls on the leash, and you let out a foot or two of line to let him walk ahead. BAM! You just rewarded him for an undesirable behavior (pulling on the lead). When you reward behaviors, they are repeated.
Dogs who are 10 feet away from you on a walk are NOT under control, even if they are on a leash. The retractable leash isn’t magic—it doesn’t suddenly pull your pet to you when you unlock it. You have to essentially reel them in, and a lot can happen in the time it takes you to get control of your dog.
We veterinarians have seen all manner of injury due to the use of retractable leashes. Dogs on long leads can dart into traffic and get hit by a car. They can get into fights. They can get tangled in their own leash cord, which results in injuries to the limbs. They can tangle YOU in their cord, causing you to fall or be dragged.
The retractable cord itself is a hazard. Friction burns (or “rope burns”) are so, so common. Human hands and doggie mouths and tongues are frequent victims of a fast moving retractable cord. There are even multiple reports of amputations due to the cord being wrapped around an owner’s finger when their pet took off without notice.
Lastly, the reel and handle part of the leash are heavy and the unit is easily dropped. Imagine this scenario: you and your dog are out on a walk. She’s walking about 10 feet in front of you, and you both are daydreaming. Suddenly, she sees a squirrel (or other distraction) and bolts. You weren’t expecting this and you drop the leash.
Now the retractable leash is retracting, and the way your dog sees it, it is clunking along the road and IT IS CHASING HER! This can be terrifying to dogs, and will encourage them to continue running (despite dangers like oncoming traffic) and ignoring your commands to return. This scenario happens, and lost dogs or worse are the result.
Have I put you off this “must have” product? I hope so, and your vet does, too!