When is it right, if ever, to use a retractable leash?

Did you know that across the nation, emergency rooms see over 20,000 patients a year for injuries related to retractable dog leashes? It’s true… and of those 20k people, over 10% are children ages 10 and younger. A quarter of the injuries are related to hand or finger injuries, some of the injuries so serious that they required amputations of digits. Burns and cuts on the hands from the rapid leash retraction garner the most casualties but eyes, legs, torsos, faces, or injuries from falls or pulls are listed as “danger zones” for leash accidents. And this is just the HUMAN number of injuries.

When you start to see the numbers of dogs injured and treated for retractable leash related accidents, the impact of design flaws and improper usage is clear. Over 350,000 injuries attributed to this type of leash were reported by veterinarians nationwide, and that’s just “reported.” Unknown numbers of dogs (and humans) have low impact injuries, or damage NOT reported.  The injuries to dogs can be broken down into body areas; shoulders, throat/neck, foot/leg, and even injuries from humans falling on the dog are all common. Dogs pull against the tension of the lead and that can cause back/neck damage. Running at the full length of the leash, then coming to the end and violently being snapped backwards can damage shoulders, necks and can cause catastrophic injury that requires emergency surgery. Dogs often get tangled in the longer leads, which can get wrapped around legs, feet and neck areas. Burns from the fast retraction have also been reported on canines.

The possibility of injury due to the misuse of the leads is also high and climbing yearly. Some owners “free release” the leash, then “snap back” in small, but violent, tugs to shorten the distance and regain control. Dog on dog violence is also always a possibility, as two dogs meeting on the more loose and free retractable leads can get tangled, or end up in a fight before control can be gained. Faulty or damaged retractable leads can allow Rover to break free, or their guide to loose tension and control in an instant. People often use the wrong size retractable lead for the dog being walked. This can cause injuries and suddenly unleashed dogs simply because of improper use of the product.

More than 50% of our states have put restrictions on the use of the retractable leashes. Let’s be clear, it’s not illegal to own one, but how and where you can use it has been legislated in more than half of our states. And in the states themselves, some cities have passed sweeping changes in leash laws that include breed restrictions and how far you can allow your dog away from you on the spring load leash. There are areas of the country where retractable leashes have been banned completely.

DogValy.com lists the following as reasons you should NEVER use a retractable leash;

  • Loss of control – the further away from you the dog gets, the less control you have to correct or restrain the animal

  • Twisted Lead – The leash turns and kinks, making it unable to retract, or snapping back with unexpected force and suddenly stopping. This can cause injury to the dog, other dogs and all people in proximity

  • Runoff – A sudden and unexpected strong pull from your dog can cause owners to drop the handle, thus giving the dog an unexpected freedom. The possibilities of injury to an unleashed dog on the loose in various environments is unimaginable

  • Loss of Control and Safety – In crowds, close quarters, narrow and busy walk areas, near traffic, the ability to regain control of a dog who has too much leash becomes difficult. Everyone in the immediate area, including owner and dog, are at risk of a variety of injuries or incidents

  • During Training– The vast majority of trainers would NEVER use, or suggest, a retractable leash. They are unnecessary and dangerous, compared to other options

  • Confused Doggo– The idea of control, and who has it, is confusing with this type of leash. Distances change, tension changes, the feel of the resistance is always shifting, so your dog never gets into a comfort zone while using the retractable lead. What you consider “more freedom” is actually just a contradiction in the dogs brain

  • Cost prohibitive- These retractable leashes simply cost more… and MORE… the cost jumping as the quality improves and sizes go up.

  • High Incident of accidents and injuries – This is the key reason that was discussed earlier in our blog. Animal, and human companion, are both in situations that could lead to minor or major injuries

Understand, this is NOT a hit job on the retractable leash. There are owners who can use this leash type correctly, and safely. Our negative reaction surrounds the statistics and facts of owners misusing the lead, mostly due to a misguided sense of freedom for their dog, and lazy habits formed from misinformation on the use of the leash. If used correctly, the retractable leash is safe 90% of the time for most dogs and owners.

So, if the retractable leash is out, what is an owner to do when they want to take their fur friends out on a walk? It’s simple, old fashioned one piece, fixed leads do the trick.  Even better is a reliable harness for your pooch. This will shift the pressure and control point to the dogs back, and eliminating the full force of control being on the neck and throat areas. Not to mention, the non-mechanical leashes and harnesses are fashion friendly, coming in endless colors and patterns to choose from. Making your pet into a fashionista is a snap when you accessorize.

Regardless of what you choose to use, if you follow these simple steps, using a leash isn’t difficult;

  • Use your thumb– A great misconception is that the loop in the leash is designed to go around your wrist. By wrapping the lead around your thumb, then down through the palm of your hand, you gain control and lessen the possibility of losing the leash on a sudden and unexpected pull away

  • Fold the leash– Another trick to gaining extra control is to fold an extra length of the cord into your hand. This allows a small bit of extra distance at your control, and less effort to regain control when you need it

  • Use both hands on the leash– By having the end of the lead in one hand then grabbing it again about a foot down the cord gives you added control and a firm grasp

  • Stand on the leash when stopped- If you’re stopping for any reason, stand on the leash. This shortens the lead distance and cuts all “roam room”, giving you more control. Your dog would have to pull the lead out from under your foot, then out of both hands to get loose

  • Lean back to stabilize yourself- As your dog pulls to test control, and most dogs will, lean back and make the lead taught. This will cut all slack and allow you to slow the pace of the walk, made turns, or assure your commands are being followed

  • Don’t Jerk or Pull Hard– Ease into speed or course transitions. Gently steer your dog where you want them to go. Consistency in pressure and pace gives clear signal who is in charge of the situation, and allows your dog to relax and do “dog things.” The chance of injury is reduced considerably just by establishing alpha status on the walks by controlling the lead

  • Remember that training is a marathon, not a sprint- Time is on your side, so take it slow. Re-enforce the positive, then celebrate the successes with treats and love. It’s a given that most dogs want to please their people, they will react positively and remember what brought on the praise. Use upbeat and happy tones when training. If it’s fun, then it’s likely going to get done

  • Call in a Pro– If you try and try again but Lassie is still sassy on the leash, don’t be afraid to seek professional help and find an experienced trainer. Sometimes being a best friend makes it hard to be a teacher. There’s no shame in bringing in the big gun to be the heavy. After all, it’s the end result of safety and fun that you seek

Most dogs will learn the lay of the land, on the leash, in 7 to 10 days of practice. The road may not be easy at the start, but again, dogs live to please their owners. Be assured that the vast majority of dogs pick up leash leading in a short amount of time.  Teaching your dog the correct steps to a safe and fun leash walk experience is important to their health and safety. They will enjoy the together time in the fresh air, and you will have the peace of mind that you are ready for all potential danger or tight quarters situations that happen in the course of your walk.

When is a retractable leash acceptable?

Learn your local community and state regulations surrounding the retractable leash, but also learn where they are easiest and safest to use. Consider where you’ll be walking and know your route whenever possible. If you’re walking where potential close encounters with strangers are possible, the retractable leash might not be the best option. However, if you’re doing out into an open field or uncrowded/dog friendly beach, the freedom of the retractable leash might increase the fun you have with your canine companion. If your dog is a runner or overly interested in other people or dogs, or is on the opposite end and timid around strange dogs, having the control of the standard leash and harness would likely give you more peace of mind.

If you must use the retractable leash make sure you get a good brand from a reputable company. Check out Google or Amazon reviews to see what is hot and what scores high in safety and reliable usage. Test out the leash prior to purchase, if possible. Get a size appropriate lead for your pet. Using a smaller retractable lead on a big dog increases the chance of breakage or pull away.  Using a larger retractable lead on a small dog vastly increases the chance for physical injury from retraction and tangles. Be safe and assure the retractable leash you choose is appropriate for your dogs weight and size.

Your dog can’t choose their own leads, they seldom choose where they are walking, and they can’t know what dangers might lie ahead for them. All of those things are in the hands of their parents. Making the right choice for your dog is as easy as understanding the need, the dog, the situation and your personal limitations. Once you have the right leash, along with a well trained and mannered dog at the end of it… your worries are reduced and the fun can truly begin.

That’s our Dog Blog for this week. We sincerely hope you enjoyed the read, and maybe learned a few things along the way. The guilt and worry of knowing that your dog was injured in an avoidable accident is not worth taking a chance on an inferior or “wrong fit” product. As you would for your human children, take the time to research and train prior to putting your dog in a strange situation. This takes away the unknown and allows the good times to roll.

Come back next week to see what new words of wisdom await you, and ultimately what #FreddieSez! Have a fantastic and safe week with your special furry companions!