Retracting Leads - Some Pitfalls
The overly excited dog stood next to his owner while children
played nearby. The dog
lunged, covered a couple yards and playfully nipped a child.
was attempting to read a
label at my local pet supply superstore. My dog was on a short
lead at my side. All of a
sudden, a lone dog barrelled around the corner and into us.
observed a dog and human
standing on the edge of a busy street. The dog was nearly
as he lunged almost
halfway across a four-lane road. The jogger was running along
a very busy
road, his dog
kept darting off the sidewalk and into traffic, causing many
motorists to swerve
By now, you must be thinking, “Why were these
dogs not on leash? ”Technically, they were. However, the kind of leash used allows
for very little safe
control of a dog in most situations. Chances are if you are a
dog owner, you may have
one of these leads and use it regularly: the ever popular
retracting a.k.a. extending lead.
|They go by several brand names but
have the same concept:
plastic boxes with a long cable or nylon leash that attaches
to the dog’s collar. Inside the
unit is a mechanism that allows a cable to extend up to
fifteen to twenty-five or more feet.
In theory, the owner can push a button and allow the cable to
extend as the dog walks
away or lock it at a specific length. If the owner wants the
dog closer, all he has to do is
push the button and supposedly the mechanism will pull the dog
back. These leads are
touted as a safe alternative to allowing a dog to run loose.
However, how safe are these
leads? What does the average person using a retractable lead
not know in regards to their
safety? Let us look at some of the safety issues with
What are retracting leads?
Potential Problems of
Retracting leads do not reel dogs in as many owners assume.
The leads work by allowing
a cable to extend when a lock is released and tension applied.
The unit rewinds the lead
only when the tension on the lead is eased. In order to get
the dog closer, the dog either
has to walk towards the human, stop walking and allow the
owner to catch up or the
owner has to perform a “retraction two-step” (lunge forward,
shorten the cable, lock,
release the lock, move forward, shorten the cable, lock,
repeat). Even with small dogs,
the tension when the lock is released is not enough to pull
the dog back to the owner. If
desired, the dog can keep pulling and not allow the lead to
shorten. This can present a
potentially serious problem.
Other concerns are the lock failing and the difficulty in
holding the box’s handle. In the
opening paragraph, the dog that lunged and nipped a child was
on a locked lead
supposedly geared for his size and breed. The lock popped when
he lunged against it.
No, the lead was not faulty, this thing happens quite
frequently in my experience.
Another problem is a finger slips and accidentally releases
the lock when the owner
means to set it. In addition, these leads are harder to grip
than a fabric or leather loop
making it easier to be yanked free. Test it, get your hand in
a traditional lead loop and
have someone yank it. Now do the same thing with a retracting
lead. Which one can you
hold more securely? . Should you be caught off guard by the
lock failing and the sudden
jerk of the lead as the dog hits the end of the cable, there
is a better chance the box may
be ripped from your grasp. Some retractable leads now sell a
fabric loop you can attach
to the box for added security; however, it will not do
anything to prevent the lock from
slipping or the dog from maintaining constant tension.
A dog can cover the
distance of the cable before the human is able to attempt and
Now it is time to look at distance. The further away a dog is
from the owner, the less safe
he and the public are and the less control there is over the
dog’s actions. I have witnessed
fights when dogs on retracting lead pulled away from owners
and got close to other dogs.
Humans are far too slow to react when a dog lunges even when
on a six foot lead. A dog
can cover the distance of the cable before the human is able
to attempt and lock it. In
many neighborhoods where houses are close to the sidewalks, a
dog has enough cable to
enter yards and even get onto front steps and into trouble. A
dog on a four or six foot
lead is less of a risk and at less risk.
Then there is the risk these leads pose to runners, cyclists
or dirt bikers on paths. It is
difficult to see the cables against pavement or other darker
surfaces. This poses a risk to
those moving swiftly who may try to manoeuvre between what
appears to be a loose dog
and a human. A runner, cyclist or motorcycle running into a
cable can cause serious
injury to the rider and the dog. In addition, it is easier for
a dog on a retracting lead to
give chase over enough distance to catch a fast moving object
even if the person is trying
to go around the dog. Due to issues, many jurisdictions might
have restrictions on the
length of lead your dog may be on and even what type.
Dangers of retractable
Finally, the cables can cause friction burns and deep slashes
if pulled across skin. I have
had clients who bore scars from cables that wrapped around
their legs as the dogs ran. I
know of a couple children requiring emergency room care after
a cable was pulled across
bare legs by a running dog. The Consumer Product Safety
Commission has received
over 30 complaints of injuries ranging from mild burns to
amputation of fingers since.
(Author note, this number changed based on what report was
read: WKMG News 6,
Orlando, Florida reported 19 since 2001 where an article in
the Tallahassee Democrat
from May of 2005 reported 35 complaints since 2002, data from
CPSC could not be
obtained at the time of writing). I also found multiple
anecdotes of dogs receiving injuries
when they tangled in the cable of other dogs or even their own
Dogs with poor leash
manners are not safe on retracting leads
Sadly, those selling retracting leads are often unaware of the
risks and limitations. Dogs
with poor leash manners are not safe on retracting leads.
Since these leads offer
significantly less control than a regular leash, only dogs
with solid lash manners and
excellent voice control under high stress conditions should
ever be considered for one of
these retracting leads. The risks for the type of use most
owners want these leads for
outweigh the benefits. A dog can get adequate exercise on
walks with a four or six foot
leash. I do not recommend retracting leads for use under most
circumstances. Most dogs
are not ready for the lack of control they offer and too many
owners use the leads under
conditions that are not suited for this lack of control.
Are retractable leads
suitable under some circumstances?
Am I completely against retracting leads? No. I do suggest
them under certain
circumstances and advocate educated, common sense use of them.
I never recommend
retracting leads for general walking especially in suburban or
urban areas or for taking
dogs into stores or to dog parks. In any area where control is
vital or the dog may come
into close contact with humans, vehicles or other animals,
retracting leads should not be
used. However, I have suggested them for owners who do not
have a fenced backyard.
Properly used, a retractable lead can allow the human to sit
or stand in one spot while the
dog gets a chance to poke around with less risk than if he
wanders loose. Since the lead
maintains tension, it will not tangle around the dog’s legs as
easily as a long leash.
However, the constant tension can desensitize dogs to constant
tension if owners do not
teach good loose leash walking manners. Dogs must learn loose
leash manners before
using a retracting lead for anything.
I sometimes suggest retracting leads if the
owner and dog are going to be in an area where the chance of
encountering other humans and/or animals (domestic or wild)
is very limited. If a dog has good leash manners and solid
voice control, a retractable lead can allow the dog a chance
to poke and sniff more without being loose. For safety sake,
walk the dog to your desired spot on a regular leash and
switch to the retractable (never remove one lead until the
other is secured). Just be aware of the surroundings. If you
see or hear others sharing the trail with you, put the dog
back on the regular leash immediately. Be aware of park
and/or local regulations. For example, the National Park
Service has federal rules regarding leashes in all National
Parks or Forests, Policy from the National Park Service is
that all pets must be crated
or on a lead no longer than six feet with individual park
managers being able to further
restrict pets in parks. Therefore, in National Parks or
Forests, you cannot use a retracting
lead. If caught, you could face fines.
What are the best leads
However, for the average dog in the average neighborhood or
path in a park, retractable
leads are not a safe alternative. The best lead for walking is
no longer than six feet.
When compared to other leads (four or six foot leather, canvas
or nylon), retracting leads
do not offer adequate control or security for most conditions.
(Extending) Leads: the untold story
Pet Editor, Your Life Magazine on line,
West Wind Dog Training
© 2006 West Wind Dog Training, no part may
be used without written permission.