Reel It In – Why I Don’t Like Retractable Leashes


There’s an old joke about if there’s one thing that two dog trainers can agree on, it’s that the third one is doing it wrong. But if you know me at all, you know I hate online squabbles; I don’t participate in digital fights about training methods or tools. That said, I think I’ve found something that very nearly ALL dog trainers agree on, and that I will defend anywhere, anytime, and it’s this: Retractable leashes have no place in dog training.

It almost reaches the level of a joke: If you go to a dog park or almost any gathering of dog people and their dogs, the worst-behaved dogs will be the ones on retractable leashes. It’s sort of a chicken or the egg thing: What came first, the poorly behaved dog or the leash that teaches him nothing?

I get how convenient it is to be able to walk along with your dog on leash and have your dog stop for a moment to smell something or take a quick pee, and you only have to slow your pace for a moment, rather than stop dead. When he’s through or he hits the end of the retractable line, he can trot to catch up, and you don’t have to scoop up all that line the way you would with a long leash, you can just allow the spring-loaded retractable thingie to wind it up.

However, what do you do when your dog is at or near the end of the line and:

  • You are suddenly confronted by a loose dog, looking a little aggressive, coming your way, fast.
  • Someone walks quickly out of a storefront, in between you and your dog.
  • Your dog suddenly sees a squirrel on the ground across the street and bolts into the street in an effort to reach the squirrel.

The biggest problem is with these and countless other situations, when your dog is more than a couple of feet from you, there is nothing you can do very quickly to get him back to your side. The products can retract only when there is not tension on the line. As you know if you’ve ever used one, you really cannot grab the part of the cord that retracts into the handle and pull even a smallish strong dog back toward you. About the only way you could pull a dog to safety would be to mash the lock button down, while quickly turning in the opposite direction and trying to call or drag your dog in the other direction – depending on whether you’ve trained him to do emergency U-turns or whether he’s engaged already with the other dog or still on the hunt for the squirrel.

And to retract the slack when there is a chaotic situation brewing, like when that loose dog – or even one on leash! – is squaring off with your dog, and they are spinning around? Lock to prevent the dog from getting farther away, release to retract, lock, release, lock, release . . . it’s darned hard to do in calm circumstances.

When I want a dog to explore his environment without taking him off leash, I use a long line – a 20 or even 30-foot leash. I only use a tool like this in an environment where there are NO other people or dogs who might get tangled up with us, and the line is as smooth and easy to handle as my leash; I can easily grab anywhere on the line and manually reel in the dog if I have to.

And what about the many cases in which someone accidentally dropped the handle, which started dragging on the ground and clattering loudly behind the dog, and spooked him into running in a blind panic into traffic? A dog who takes off dragging a regular leash stands a good chance of being caught by someone who manages to step on or grab the leash. But the retractable leash is likely to retract after being dragged a way, so that it’s short and very difficult to grab.

We don’t even have to discuss emergency situations to get most trainers to chime in about how useless these tools are. They more or less train dogs to pull against pressure, by rewarding/reinforcing the dog when he pulls against the product’s spring (there is always some tension, even when the operator isn’t pressing the lock button) in order to reach something he wants to investigate. Getting to sniff something he was curious about is a reward – and behaviors that are rewarded get repeated. Simple as that.

Yes, a person can lock the handle and prevent the dog from pulling the line out of the device, preventing him from getting this reward. But then, you may as well just have a fixed-length leash.

As a final point against them, all I can say is, when this blog gets posted to the WDJ Facebook page, go ahead and post your photos of the deep, slashing cuts that you or someone you know has received when a retractable cord got wound around their leg when a dog was going nuts. That should give a little credence to the warnings against these products.

Can anyone honestly make a case for the responsible use of retractable leashes?


  1. Surprised you didn’t mention that people don’t especially appreciate a dog running up onto their lawn and urinating or walking through their beds on retractable leashes. I wish someone would address dog/owner etiquette.

  2. My mother in law, despite my warnings, walked her dog daily on one. Until it ran out on the street and got hit and killed while chasing a squirrel.

  3. I personally know of two dogs who were hit by cars and killed while their owners stood there holding a retractable leash in their hands.

  4. I was thrilled to learn that retractable leashes are banned in many towns in California. I wish the rest of the world would jump on this bandwagon. These leashes are destructive at best and I’ve been the victim of having another walker’s dog go round and round my ankles so I can’t move and can’t pull my feet out of the grasp. It’s very upsetting. These leashes also get caught on car fenders and pull the dog under to his death. I have a ten foot regular leash that I use for recall practice but I can reel that in to 4 feet once the recall is accomplished. I agree with you, they are EVIL and make dogs believe THEY are in charge, not us.

  5. A retractable lead is a tool. Like all tools in the right hands, under the right circumstances it is a useful addition to a dog owners ‘tool box’. It is very fashionable and i think lazy writing to knock these leads. Generally I enjoy WholeDog Journal articles. This however was it seems, a band wagon jumping piece of lazy writing. Weather Seeking to alienate some dog owners, or believing that people that choose to use these leads are lazy or ignorant of how to safely use this useful tool. I agree, they can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Many people do use them in inappropriate situations. But…..I believe most readers of this journal have the wherewithal to use this tool appropriately, safely and responsibly. All this said, keep up the great work on this site and….vive le difference!

  6. I use a retractable leash because I am in a motorized wheelchair and one hand is on the joy stick and the lease on the other. I keep by 14 lbs dog close when I am in an area with people and let her go out more when I’m not. It works well for me and will use nothing else.

  7. I absolutely agree. I take in boarders and many come with a retractable leash. I don’t let the leashes in my house.

  8. I own 3 stores and we do a lot of pet grooming. I have not sold these in my stores in years. To watch people come in for grooming with 3 Shih Tzu each on one of these extendable contraptions is absolutely worth a Youtube video. It is hilarious and tragic at the same time. Have subscribed to WDJ for years. Keep up the good advice.

  9. Agreed. I constantly encounter people who have no common sense. My dogs are barking at them and they continue to approach with no respect for my dogs or me. They also let their kids do the same. Common sense – people! Get some! This is a common occurrence no matter what leash my dogs are on.

  10. Seems like this is a people issue. Safety and etiquette, not a leash issue. Great tool for trained dogs and people who understand how to use a Flexi.

  11. I tell my clients that the ONLY dogs who should ever be walked on a retractable leash are those that are never reactive, walk perfectly on leash, and have perfectly reliable recalls and leave-its. Not even my service dog clients are willing to bet me their dog is that perfect. If owners already own an expensive retractable, I have shown them how to use a retractable for capturing new behaviors using a marker/clicker and no cues, lures, or prompts. I hook the handle of the leash over a rebarb-stake (outside) or behind a door (inside). The dog has limited freedom of movement to reach a treat they’ve tossed just out of reach and the cord retracts nicely when the dog returns to try again. This is helpful for owners who cannot handle a regular leash, clicker, and treats well. Helps improve their focus and timing and treat delivery!

  12. I use both. A retractable when walking around the neighborhood or the park, and a standard when we go anywhere there will be people, or I’m just taking her for a ride. I’ve been using retractable on my dogs for decades. Never a problem, and retracting is not difficult. My thumb stays on the brake, and if my dog starts to run, she only gets about 2 ft before I stop her.

    I agree with (Stuart), it’s not the leash that’s the problem, it’s the people using them.
    Instead of bashing a perfectly good product, why not teach people how to correctly use them? We are talking about trainers afterall, right? This is as bad as bashing Tesla, because some drivers don’t pay attention when auto-pilot is on, or putting restrictions on doctors because too many people are dying because of illegal fentanyl.

    Oh, one last thing: I have a retractable that has a dial to set total length, anywhere from 1 ft to 15 ft. Good for any situation.

    And to (Mary), where’s my dog supposed to urinate when we walk? She won’t go on pavement or the sidewalk. And she will always need to pee.

  13. I almost watched my neighbors dog get hit in our parking lot a week ago. It ran off the sidewalk to greet us and directly in front of an incoming car,which fortunately stopped in time. They are lovely people, but also said they didn’t want to train their dog because they didn’t want to change her personality.

  14. I used to have a Greyhound who when on a normal lead or off lead would stick his nose either in my hand or pocket, put him on an extending lead and he would investigate everywhere, he needed the tension that is on these leads.

    2 years ago, next month a woman who didn’t know how to use these leads caused me to fall breaking my femur, I was 75 years old and my femur was smashed, I had a 3 hour operation to sort my femur out including a large plate and donors bone. I was in hospital for 6 weeks and should have been on a Zimmer frame when I came out but being very stubborn, I worked hard enough to come out on crutches, one of the rare occasions I did as I was told :).

    I had 5 dogs at that time, being a pensioner, I don’t have a lot of money, thankfully I have good friends who do home boarding and have a doggie day care which my dogs love. 2 of my dogs were young, high energy dogs, my 3 girls were a lot calmer, so they came home quicker than my 2 boys. I have been disabled for quite a few years and have a mobility scooter to exercise my dogs which helped.

    My dogs are all on a short lead, approximately 30ins, when I am exercising them, anything longer is very dangerous especially an extending lead, dogs go in front of a mobility scooter no matter how well they are trained and sometimes the lead doesn’t lock when we put it on. Even though I am disabled my dogs have been taught a good recall so can go off lead and I know that they will come when called unlike most dogs with owners who are not disabled, my dogs show them up.

    No matter what we put on our dogs, or horses for that matter, if used properly there is no danger, extending leads should only be used on an open field, I prefer long lines as there is no tension on them, so my dog feels free. An extending lead always has tension on the dog, and they should NEVER be clipped to a collar, dogs’ necks are similar to ours and can be broken if they charge off and get to the end of the extending lead. They should NEVER be used walking along a road especially at the end of the lead, if they see something on the other side they can try to run across, many dogs have been run over like this.

    It is the same old story, people don’t bother to teach their dogs what they should do, they depend on force to control them, confining a dog on a lead is force but necessary when walking along a road. Many people don’t bother to teach their children how to behave so what chance do dogs have being taught this.

  15. I will make a case for responsible, practical and very successful use of a retractable leash. Two years ago, I adopted a Shiba Inu who had gone from puppy mill, to “luxury” NYC pet store, to living in a crate 24/7 in his new home where his guardian thought he was a fox hybrid and lost interest in him quickly when he wasn’t affectionate with her. She also seldom fed him or provided water. He was 10lbs at 2 years old when rescued, and obviously suffered from lack of socialization and distrust of people and novel things. He loved his new life and being able to go for walks, but he spent most of these walks desperately trying to escape from the human on the other end of the leash and even high value treats could not convince him it was a good idea to walk tethered to a human. I decided to work with him on our property using a long line, but this poor boy also suffers from level 3 luxating patella, and the training lead wrapped around his leg once while he was running and he ended up hurt and limping, and subsequently afraid of the long line. So, I got a 21 ft retractable lead made for a large dog, with the ribbon instead of the string, and I belted the handle loosely around my waist so it cannot be dropped but I can still hold it and manage it. This attached to his Ruffwear padded harness (initially Webmaster and then switched to Frontrange). We started off working on cues — “that’s it” meant he’s getting close to end of the line, “wait” meant he should stop until I caught up, and of course a recall. With his new “freedom”, he finally began to work with me and would even choose to walk closer at times, and periodically choose to check in with me. Once we built a good relationship and he was more trusting, we began work again on 6 ft lead and walks around the neighborhood. But, he’s been with me for 2 years now and every day we do still play in the yard with the retractable on a belt so he can run, play, climb the rock wall, jump back and forth over the stream, etc. I am SUPER cautious with this tool and agree — it is NOT for use by most. But I’m glad it exists because this turned out to be the best solution for our unique training problem.

  16. Geez… this article makes it sound like retractable leash owners are all idiots. I’ve used one for over 20 years without a single incident. I guess it must be a case of using common sense.

  17. I also abhor retractable leashes. Here’s two more reasons to add to the list:

    1) When I lived in California, one of my customers was walking on a paved road with her small dog at the end of a twenty foot flexi and had the poor thing snatched by a coyote. The leash was ripped right out of her hand. The coyote didn’t even break stride she said. Had the dog been closer, it is less likely that the coyote would have been brave enough to try. A wider leash might have allowed her to hang on, saving her dog’s life.

    2) Bike paths are often used for dog walking as well. I approach dogs on leashes cautiously anyway because I’m a fast moving object and dogs sometimes don’t like cyclists. I approach retractable leashed dogs with extreme caution – even more caution than when approaching parents walking with their kids on bikes with training wheels! Even if I call out “on the left”, people underestimate how long the line is, can’t get it retracted because the dog is solidly planted sniffing some ‘peemail’, can’t get it retracted because the dog is trying to get ME or just plain can’t hear because of the darn ear buds they’re wearing. I’ve had to stop completely while an owner struggled to pull their dog back to their side. And if the dog has problems with bicycles, the ensuing leash-wrapped-around-legs-yap-fest, while slap stick comedy worthy, is so dangerous for owner and dog. I’ve had owners apologize profusely as they struggle to get things under control, but most of the time they snark at me for scaring their dog. I know it’s because they are embarrassed but it really tics me off.

    The inventor of these contraptions should be covered in honey and left on a fire ant mound.

  18. There are no instructions on these leads when people are buying them, the pictures of them being used shows them clipped to a collar which can break a dog’s neck. Many people buying them have no understanding of dogs, you see it all the time on Facebook, owners asking for advice because they can’t cope with their dog’s behaviour.

    Don’t blame Whole Dog, they are trying to get the message out about the dangers of these leads, if you are going to blame anyone, blame the manufacturers who don’t bother to give information on how they should be used nor that dogs have to be trained to be on one.

  19. While I agree that retractable leashes are an accident waiting to happen when used by pet dog owners, to say “Retractable leashes have no place in dog training” is a mistake. Most of us who train obedience use them to help teach the retrieve and to avoid having the dog make a mistake in some of the other exercises. Go to an OB trial and you’ll see the Utility level handlers using a retractable to warm up their dog. I also use my retractable in nosework training. Though frowned upon by some of the old-school trainers who favor your long line suggestion, I’ve seen far many dogs get tangled and pulled off working odor while their handler disentangles them. There is a place for long lines; in tracking and in teaching circle work in agility are just two examples. Likewise, there are also good reasons to use retractables.

  20. As said by another, retractable leashes are a tool. With awareness and forethought, they can be used responsibly. My dogs are trained on a short leash before allowed on a retractable and they are never allowed to pull, no matter what. I use a retractable as you would a long line. When something unexpected comes up, the leash is retracted and locked, and therefore acts as a short leash. The flexibility of the retractable is really nice in the right situations and a lot handier than a long line. Untrained dogs and their irresponsible owners give retractable leashes a bad name.

  21. In my opinion, Stuart, above, says it all. I do agree with others that it is not a Training Tool! Training needs to be done first, not only basic training but leash (of all kinds training), and after that, it is a great tool for both dog and handler … however, there are places it should never used.
    Ever. Dog shows of any kind, when doing any sort of work with/around elderly or disabled or small children, etc. A little sense is wise and necessary, and being aware of where you are and your surroundings is a good idea even if you are out and about even alone.

  22. I have both a retractable and 2 6’ leash’s. I use the retractable leash but never extend it over 6’. The retractable is more manageable for me and set at a fixed 4-6 ft and with an attached wrist strap it controls my little 20# Schnauzer quite well. I allow my little dog the opportunity to “smell the roses” on our daily 1-2 mile walk … exercise is not the only reason my dog needs to leave the house. She is a terrier and needs exploration opportunity’s, but only when I allow with a key word or hand signal … otherwise she walks beside me or slightly in front with a slack leash. She knows that poop or pee time is on the median between sidewalk and street. I have a 3 poop bags attached to the leash handle and visible so everyone knows I will pick up after her. I usually have 1-2 bag in my pocket as so many other owners seem to “forget” their bag … I give them one. I use the non-retractable leach to take her to the vet or store. Responsible dog owners can use a retractable leash and keep it short or lengthen slightly to accommodate the given exploration opportunity’s …but she is never over 6’ for from me.

  23. I agree with all the arguments against retractable leashes. I use one only when I am in an area where my dog can have more freedom, and I bring my dog close to me to pass other dogs. And when I walk my dog on a 6′ leash, he doesn’t pull. One more story about retractable leashes. The posted leash law in a nearby county park is maximum 6′ leash. Many people walk their dogs on retractable leashes, and do not limit their dog to 6′. Yet, at this same park, I have known people who were training their dog on a long line, and the rangers stopped them for breaking the leash rule. Frustrating!

  24. We live in a community with no fences, lots of lawns, lots of open space and mulch. Out of a sense of etiquette, I do not allow our dog on anybody’s loans. She can do her business in the mulch, or in the open spaces. This includes always, always picking up after her. It also includes picking up after others to help maintain the good reputation of dog people!

  25. I have a well-trained shepherd – standard poodle mix at 11 years and 60 lbs who has been on a retractable leash almost her entire life. It’s not the device – it’s how you use it. I have modified it with a wrist cuff so that there is a fail-safe if my grip slips. I keep a thumb on the trigger and she is closely attuned to it clicking tight, and she stops when I trigger it. She is only ever at full length when we are on the bike path with little traffic, or in the woods where she can walk single-file ahead of me. In crossing streets, approaching other dogs on-leash or off, or in heavy bike or pedestrian traffic she is directly at my side where I can also lift her harness to control her movement. The leash gives us both some freedom, her to sniff, me to swing arms walking without affecting her gait. But thumb on trigger, always, and it doesn’t take me more than 2-3 seconds to go from full extension to full retraction.

  26. I have found a retractable leash very useful in a few isolated circumstances. However, for general use I think they should come with a disclaimer that they are only for use by experienced handlers and well trained dogs. Otherwise, they are an accident waiting to happen.

  27. Stuart , sadly, I think you are overestimating people. I own a pet store & grooming business and I can tell you endless horror stories (broken merchandise, dog fights, peeing inappropriately, cord burns on staff) about retractable leashes. The vast majority of users either do not know the leash has a lock feature or don’t understand what an appropriate situation to use one is (like indoors for one). We even have signs. I hand people the dog back with the leash locked and half of them unlock it instantly. Additionally, walking a dog on a retractable teaches a dog to pull and that they are in control. I constantly have people looking for product solutions for dogs that pull on walks. First question I ask is what kind of leash do you use. A dog should not be walked with the leash unlocked. If you want your dog to stop and sniff or pee, then stop, unlock it, and relock it when you are ready to continue walking. They are great for people to give dogs potty breaks when they don’t have a fenced yard. Other than that, what is the purpose? They are banned at all dog sporting events and show events that I have ever been to. I know vets, groomers, stores and so on who have banned them and so on. They wouldn’t be need to be banned if most people knew what eh right circumstance was to use this tool.

  28. Retractable/No Retractable. We still have neighbors that allow their dogs to relief themselves in our yard. The dogs are either let out of house to run free or has owner walking them on a (regular) leash. How do you teach those people? These are adults too, not kids!
    We have found these poohs in the front yard – wherein our dogs use only enclosed, fenced in backyard. I’ve seen the one neighbors who allow their dogs to roam free and act like they don’t see it even though they are in front doorway/on their porch. Adults can act like children. 😡

  29. your yard would be a good start. The dog park or apartment complex if you have no yard. Non dog people don’t want your brown spots or in some cases unretreived poop. Is is afterall private property

  30. I was tangled around a retractable lead with a Great Dane on the other end. I held my Chihuahua over my head as I hollered at the owner to get control of her dog. The dog was bigger than me. It was very scary.
    The owner never even apologized!
    I recently fell because I was caring for a small dog and all I had to walk him was a retractable lead.He pulled and I fell over. I have the cut and bruises to show for it.

    The leashes should be against the law!
    No dog needs to be far from it’s owner.

  31. I have to disagree. This is a people training issue and a little common sense. I have two dogs that are both on retractable leashes – high vision florescent yellow cord or ribbon style with reflectors on casing. I like the “controlled” freedom this allows for them and me. I also use them wisely and am very aware of my surroundings. If anyone is within 50ft of us, they are reeled in and put to a heel. They are at a heel on sidewalks next to roads and lawns but I let them wander on pathways, green spaces and parks. If a cyclist lets me know they are going to pass me on a pathway (they need to take responsibility of their actions too!!), I reel them in asap (I’ve trained them to come and not doddle) so as not to interfere with the cyclist. I never wear headphones either. There are proper ways to use these leashes as a tool. Why not teach that as part of your training instead?

  32. Retractable leash’s and elevators, don’t mix. In my apt building, 2 dogs almost strangled because the owners were slower than their dogs or they were to busy gabbing to pay attention to their dog getting off or in the elevator. Even worse, they were friends so often together. You’d think one would have learned from the mistakes of the other. The other bought her dog a harness. So instead of hanging by her collar, she was hanging on a harness!! And, a different woman let her dog pee as soon as they went onto our rooftop garden. We have a place for the dogs to go. Her excuse, “he goes in the garden because I can’t stop him”! THAT IS WHY OUR DOGS HAVE TO BE ON THE LEASH!! She has moved, so they can destroy another garden. When she first got the leash, she had no concept on how to use it!

  33. I saw a woman in this neighborhood walking with her 2 year old child and large dog.
    The dog was on a retractable lead and the 2 year old was holding the handle of the lead!
    As they got farther down the sidewalk I heard the child crying. I looked and she had fallen. I have no doubt the dog pulled her down.

  34. I used to work a booth for a dog obedience school at fairs, etc. I heard your last sentence SOO many times. 🙁

  35. I agree that the problem is with the handler, not the tool. I have used them safely as a trainer and dog walker for decades. I teach my clients that they need to teach proper leash walking on a regular leash, and only use retractables in certain situations (if at all). They are not a safe option for walking along streets, bike paths, or other places where the dog can suddenly be in danger or endanger someone else. But for parks, swimming, and exploring in open areas, they can be an appropriate tool. Taking along a 25′ longline in addition to a regular leash is a hassle, when you’ve got the rest of your training gear with you. And I had a dog swimming on a longline once and the line drifted and got caught on something so that the dog couldn’t get back to shore til I swam out and freed it. Wouldn’t have happened on a retractable. And many of the dangerous situations described below would also have happened on a long line because the handler was not PAYING ATTENTION and allowed their dog to be too far from them–it wouldn’t have mattered what kind of leash was involved. If you are not aware of your surroundings and paying attention to your dog and the environment, a long line will not save you. It absolutely requires attention to what you’re doing. However, a long line can be more forgiving of handler mistakes, and people who are not paying attention (75% of the dog-owning public, often because they are looking at their phones) should not use a retractable. Period. But that’s different than saying that retractables should never be used by anyone. I do agree that retractables should be labeled with instructions and warnings.

  36. I agree that most readers of WDJ most likely already know better than to use these leashes. However, I plan to share this article to my FB page, as many of my FB friends have asked me “why not?”. This article explains it better than I have been able to. I hope many others will also share it. I only wish she had led with and expanded on how they teach dogs to pull on the leash. I intend to copy and paste that paragraph at the top, since many people are not going to read a long article on FB.

  37. Back in the olden days of dog training, we used 20 foot cotton leads. I tossed my retractable lead when it was yanked out of my hand and my setter ran off with it bouncing behind him. And after a friend almost had her finger amputated when her Rottie whipped around her and she tried to stop her by grabbing the line.

    And, as a veterinary clinic receptionist I’ve seen two dogs get bitten when their unconscious owner sent them in ahead of them on a 16 foot flexi lead and they ran into the faces of other dogs. MANY people do not know how to retract the lead, let it dangle dangerously around the dogs feet, and too many try and walk two dogs on two different flexies!!

  38. I agree. I use a retractable leash when we hike. I have never had an issue “reeling in” my dogs when others approach, nor has anyone ever been injured while we used them. When we walk in town and around populated areas or busy trails I retract it in and lock it down to a 5-6 ft length. First and foremost, my dogs were trained on regular leashes and took obedience classes as puppies and taught manners. Frankly, more dogs run up on my dogs on regular leashes then retractable ones so manners should be the topic, not leashes.

  39. I agree with you Margaret. I have a large 110 lb dog that I walk on a short lead to keep him next to me on our daily walks. I am 4’11” and need to have control of him, especially because his is reactive to other dogs out walking. I have yet to see anyone that uses those retractable leashes actually use it to keep their dogs out of harms way. The owners are usually texting or talking on their cell phones while their dog is meandering all over the place including running up to mine. Then when my dog barks and gets excited, only then do these owners pay attention to what’s happening and give me a dirty look as if my dog was the culprit. And of course there is the danger factor with these leashes. From what I have seen in my own neighborhood, I do think some dog owners think that it replaces traditional leash training.

  40. If you can’t handle your dog you shouldn’t have one, if you can’t or won’t train your dog you shouldn’t have one, stuffed toy dogs are more suitable for you. Many trainers don’t understand a dog’s body language, they don’t know how to train a dog, in fact, it is the owner who should be training the dog not the trainer, the trainer is supposed to be teaching the owner but how can they when they don’t know how to? I am not a trainer but I understand dogs a lot better than a lot of trainers.

  41. Yes, I honestly make a case for the responsible use of retractable leashes, with emphasis on “responsible.” The thing is that the user needs to understand that the only time to unlock it is when they want to temporarily go on on a controlled “off-leash.” In my case, it was even a useful training tool.

    I used an eight meter-long Flexi Giant for a while when Daisy Mae (Lab) was still in basic training and bolted after a squirrel I didn’t see before she did had me in the emergency room with a fractured ring finger when my 6′ leather leash became inadvertently looped around it. I kept the Flexi locked at about six feet except when we went into a wooded park nearby and released it for anticipation of surprise encounters with critters. She still followed close to me, but when she’d bolt, the unreeling Flexi gave me time to call out “steady” before she hit the end. She quickly learned the “steady”command meant stop and learned to resist chasing after them at all, so I retired the Flexi went back to the leather leash.

  42. @randall McKenzie…that’s YOUR dog YOUR problem…Mary’s lawn is NOT there for YOUR dog to mess on..Seriously? it’s private property for you think people with lawns owe your dog a place to piss or dump?? Learn some etiquette & manners..

  43. Thank you Stuart. I live in the country in Colorado. In many situations I use the retractable leashes on my two mini Aussies so that they can explore their environments on our walks/hikes without suddenly spotting a wild turkey or deer and taking off after it to the animal’s or my own dog’s harm. There can definitely be a “time and a place” for such a thing. BTW, when we are in town I use my regular leashes to keep the pups under control. So you see, you can be a responsible retractable leash walker under the right circumstances. Not everyone lives in the city where those leashes are less practical.

  44. I have found an extra-long retractable leash to be a valuable tool for teaching two persistent leash pullers to relax and walk on a slack leash. My experience with traditional long lines has been abysmal. Like others have said, a retractable leash is simply a tool. The retractable also gave enough room for a rescue Dutch Shepherd to eliminate at a comfortable distance from me (a dog who for a couple of years would not relieve himself on a 6’ leash). Each of the dogs I have used the retractable with have turned out to be “best dogs in the world”. There are times and places where these tools are a godsend, just as there are times and places they are completely inappropriate. And in the wrong hands, as with any tool, they can be disaster. But to say they have no place in a trainer’s toolbox I think is a mistake. Disclaimer: I am not a “trainer”, simply a responsible dog owner who has always taken manners and training seriously. I am sorry to read these tools have been banned in some towns (although my leash of choice in town is still a sturdy 6’ leather leash), because that means it won’t be long until they are banned everywhere. Instead, I wish we could simply ban fools!

  45. Totally Agree – All the examples of how bad the retractable leash is are really examples of how irresponsibly people use them. Would be more useful to do an article on responsible use of a retractable leash.

  46. I agree that retractables can be very dangerous and have limited application in training. After a few negative experiences mine sat dormant for years, until recently. It has become a very useful tool for guiding my now very elderly shepherd mix who spent most of his life either being well behaved on a short leash or running off-leash. We live in the country, and as his attention and/or hearing fail it gives him a sort of illusion of freedom to explore smells and things along the way while giving me a more reliable recall from bad choices. He still loves the stimulus of checking things out and I feel that keeping his world a little bigger while having a way to reel him in when necessary has been a positive compromise. Retractables do require good leash skills and owner judgement calls more than a standard lead.

  47. I’ve been using retractable leads almost daily since they first became available and have never suffered a burn – because I always use them correctly and carefully. I live in the city, have a small yard and multiple dogs so we do a lot of walking. I lead train my dogs using a 6 foot obedience lead and all have good lead manners, but retractable leads used correctly allow my dogs to get more exercise that my old legs can manage. Dalmatians trot faster than my fastest walk, and trotting is good for dogs. Used properly, we can maximize our walks, and for conditioning show and performance dogs retractable leads are very helpful. My daughter walks her three dogs on Flexis with no problem, although I rarely walk more than one of mine at a time. Retractable leads should never be used in stores, or crowds or where you are likely to encounter other dogs, and you need to pay constant attention to what is going on around you. A pocket full of treats and a good recall allow you and your dog to stay out of trouble. That being said, I wish dog owners had to take a class and pass a test to buy one, and all stores and vet offices need to have a sign that says retractable leads are not acceptable. Like everything else, the leads are not the problem. It’s always “operator error”.

  48. I don’t like the leads myself and don’t like the handles that I could easily drop. I have seen many people with these types of leads who think they can just let their dog roam up to mine before Evan asking permission. I also new someone who line snapped with a big dog .

  49. I have a small labradoodle and have worked with him extensively in regards to walking with a retractable or a short lead. When we walk in the evening, he is on a retractable and knows he can explore and smell all he wants. If we’re going to the vet or a store he’s on a short lead and walks beside me. I’m am always respectful of others on our walk and try to be cognizant of my surroundings ( to reign in or stop). I think one needs to know their dog and use what’s best. I do, however, think there needs to be some kind of warning, or videos the owners need to watch on etiquette!

  50. One Christmas morning my husband Dick was on a wide and busy street, walking our 12-year-old cairn terrier Arlo on a short leash. When he saw a couple with a German short-haired pointer coming toward them on the sidewalk, Dick moved with Arlo into the bike lane, which was separated from the sidewalk by a parking lane, in order to allow plenty of passing space between the two dogs. But the pointer was on a retractable leash and lunged at Arlo, picking him up in her mouth and shaking him, resulting in serious injuries for Arlo and an angina attack for my husband. Fortunately, both survived the trauma—Arlo, thanks to the doctors at the veterinary emergency hospital where the three of us spent most of the rest of Christmas Day, and Dick, thanks to nitroglycerin. Since then, including once last week, I have experienced large dogs on retractable leashes trying to get to my three small dogs while I was walking them. It’s scary.

  51. No, it’s not always operator error. There are built in problems the best handler cannot always manage..

    A trainer, instructor, and exhibitor, I’m old enough to remember when the original retractable leads were sold ONLY to dog professionals by our newly opened mega pet supply store. (No flat ribbon cord then available; it doesn’t help anyway.) I personally know of some fairly severe injuries from retractables. We also had someone in our breed originally endorse the newly available retractable for herding training. That disaster definitely didn’t last long, disappeared to be replaced by a warning when the inevitable unfortunately happened.

    Yes, there are better and worse ways and places to use a retractable. The problem arises when unexpected things occur. (You were sure there were no other dogs, no people, no small animals, etc., anywhere near. Ha!) At that point your retractable becomes a negative factor and can lead to injury or even death. Sound extreme? Maybe, but it’s not.

    Use a short lead or a long line, folks!

  52. I will also add, another neighbor was using one for his 70-80lbs one year old male lab (BOISTEROUS!) which is risky enough, but then rhe handle slipped away from him and the exact situation the article describes played out. The handle hit the ground, retracted, hit the dog on the butt then spun around a low “keep off the grass” sign; the line snapped and the dog is now zooming in circles on the lawn next to a very major city street. It was the ribbon type leash that had snapped off the wire extension and good luck trying to catch a spazzing out lab by a sliver of ribbon, in the dark! He finally got it under control without major damage done, but I did tell him, that’s why you’re not supposed to use those types of leashes…

  53. What advice do you have for people like me who have arthritis in their hands and find that flexi handles are the least painful and offer the most secure grip compared to non-flexi leashes?

  54. There may be some people who use retractable leashes appropriately (although I have not seen them in my own experience). I work with a rescue group for Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. Yes, we have very large dogs up for adoption. We go to Meet & Greets often. I absolutely hate it when some itty-bitty dog (don’t get me wrong, please–I like small dogs, too–we have a small dog) comes around the corner on a retractable leash with no owner in sight. Itty-bitty sees scary huge dogs and starts barking, growling, and acting like he’s going to try to eat our rescues. We try very hard to ensure all the dogs we take to Meet and Greets are pretty “bomb proof” and won’t react to barking dogs, dogs coming up to them (even if not invited), etc. We try very hard, but I always worry that itty-bitty dog will bite one of the rescues and then all bets are off–huge dog may object to that (and I don’t blame them–I object to being bitten by a dog) and may hurt itty-bitty dog (even if not meaning to). We are always getting complaints from itty-bitty dog on retractable leash’s owner about having our “vicious” big dogs in the store or park or wherever. Excuse me! Really! My huge dogs are just lying there minding their own business and your dog comes up and is behaving in an aggressive manner toward them? And my dogs are vicious and shouldn’t be allowed in public? If you use retractable leashes, please do so responsibly and don’t allow your dog to go out of your sight. You don’t know what your dog will encounter. I don’t blame the unsocialized itty-bitty dog (I blame the owner who failed to socialize them to large dogs), but if your itty-bitty attacks a huge dog and the huge dog tries to defend him- or herself, your itty-bitty doesn’t stand a chance of escaping without injury (usually serious). If you’re out on a trail in the wilderness, itty-bitty dog may face a predator who thinks itty-bitty dog is a perfect meal. If you use them, please use them responsibly.

  55. Lorna: I understand your annoyance at trying to control upset dogs when it seems like the people who are causing them angst are just making it worse by walking towards you. And at the same time I can understand that people are just trying to walk down the street and mind their own business (I’m assuming no one’s coming up to try and pet your dogs while they’re barking at them).

    Their mindset is they know theyre not going to harm your dog and assume you have control over your dogs so everything will be ok. This is actually a good turnout because it shows your dog that they were not dangerous after all and with enough experience of people walking towards them without harming them, they will eventually learn that there’s no threat. This is a key part of socialization with puppies (meeting lots of different people) Where they learn there are all kinds of different looking humans, and about the about the intentions of others (strangers walking towards you is not a threat on its own).

    If they’re barking to get attention from them, then the message becomes -> humans walks by without interaction and thus the barking doesnt get you the attention you are demanding.

  56. Why do people always bash retractable leashes? It’s just a tool! If a carpenter built something for you and did a lousy job, would you blame the hammer?? If people don’t train their dogs it doesn’t matter what kind of leash they use. Retractables have a lock on them for a reason – people are just to lazy or ignorant to use them properly. It’s NOT the leash, it’s the handler/owner.

  57. Thank you Sandi. I was going to say just that. My dogs were trained using regular leashes (they are certified Canine Good Citizens). I walk them using a regular leash when we are in dense urban environments but when we go hiking a retractable leash just gives them a little more freedom to sniff, explore and the stretch their legs a little more than they could otherwise. Unfortunately there are no off leash trails where I live so unless I choose to break the law a retractable leash is a helpful tool to give my dogs a little more freedom. I agree, there is a time and place for everything. Retractable leashes would probably not be a wise choice for reactive dogs. But in my case they have been a helpful tool, in certain settings and environments.

  58. I’ve been using retractable leashes for about 40 years, almost daily. Most of that time has been walking two large dogs with 2 Giant Flexi’s attached to harnesses. I also have several leashes of various lengths, some with built in short leads for traffic safety. I chose the appropriate leash depending on what we’re going to do. I use the Flexi’s for hiking and trails, basically for areas where many others allow their dogs off leash (illegally). I love them because they allow my dogs greater freedom to check out the forest/field but I can intervene quickly to prevent them from harassing wildlife. I feel they are safer than off-leash because even a rock solid recall cannot be counted on- guaranteed-100% of the time-in an uncontrolled environment. I pay attention and reel them in when anyone else is around (which takes seconds and is easily done). I can keep them locked at 4-6 feet when need be and at that length they are no different than a regular leash. I do think that dogs need to be trained on a regular leash, first, with one exception. They are fantastic for potty training puppies. Obviously, they shouldn’t be used near traffic or in heavily populated areas.

    I do wonder about the tone of some of the more recent articles written by WDJ. It seems to me that rather than present arguments for or against a product or philosophy, the tone of your articles are increasingly becoming more condescending, contemptuous and frankly, demeaning to your audience that either hasn’t had the same experience or disagrees with your viewpoint or doesn’t know/understand. I find it very Trump-like and feel that it is needlessly polarizing to your readership. I’m not sure if you’re doing it intentionally or if our increasingly polarized society is just taking its toll on your writers but once you’ve offended/polarized someone, it’s very unlikely that they are going to thoughtfully reflect on any points you make and change. I really hope the tone of your articles will gravitate back towards the more informative/educational articles that attracted me to your magazine in the first place.

  59. I remedied the dropping after a couple of times with a Nylon paracord loop attached to the handle.

    Also, I had one of the little ones years ago and never had confidence in it, so I’m not surprised to hear about the incident when it broke. The I used one in my earlier comment, I got the Flexi Giant with an 8 meter 3/4″ wide flat nylon lead. That’ll probably handle most anything!

  60. The retractable leash is authorized equipment for military dog handlers. “Kennel Masters may approve other leashes, such as heavy duty retractable models, to meet operational requirements.” Maybe it is the operator or his/her attitude and not the equipment.

  61. Didn’t have time to read ALL the comments sp apologize if I’m repetitive. I agree with the initial premise that retractables aren’t good as a training tool. That said, I think they’re not an issue if the dog is already well trained and the owner has reasonable situational awareness. All the time I’ve had my girl (6+ years), has been spent training her to walk off leash while avoiding all the issues discussed. Two examples: she loves chasing squirrels but (and I know this is hard to believe) she will stop at the curb when the squirrel goes into the street and will only go to greet another dog once I’ve asked if it’s ok and released her from a ‘wait’ command. Don’t even get me started about people who are SO concerned about their precious lawns they object to a dog sniffing around (provided of course no ‘presents’ are left behind). They just need to get a life.

  62. I hate flexi-leashes. That being said, after reading some remarks, I will admit they can be used as a proper tool for dogs and owners/handlers who have already been through at least basic training. Too often, owners “know better” than the trainers or more experienced owners who just try to give good advice. One of my friends only uses a retractible on his dog, and the times when I’ve had to hold the leash I’ve kept the dog close to me. Fortunately, this is a moderate sized, very well behaved, older dog who has no prey drive and likes his humans, so is easily controlled. Several other owners I know who use retractable leashes have no clue how to properly use them and are a danger to other humans and their dogs.

  63. “Spot on” Krista J. ! Have been using these retractable leashes for 9 years, ever he was a puppy; he
    presently weighs in at 52 pounds. Some other readers noted it was not the “tool” (retractable leash) that was the problem but the users of these tools. I’ve witnessed on too many occasions someone using these tools incorrectly either due to lack of motor skills or just plain ole ignorance. Not to mention the fact that many of them are more
    intersted in their i-phones, ear-buds or head sets, than being aware of their dog’s behaviour.

    Yes on a number of occsaions I’ve dropped them while walking my dog. On all of these occsasions I yelled STOP! This one word was one of many he was taught as a puppy and has come in handy on a number of occasions whether
    he’s on or off-leash. The environment we’re in will determine the amount of “freedom” or “slack” he can have. Going for “HIS WALK” is one of his greatest joys and I want him to have as much freedom (or the illusion of it) that he wants on these occasions. Improper use of “any” tool has it’s consequences!

  64. My experience with a retractible leash was not good. While walking my 90# lab, she spied a bunny and took off after it. The leash wound all the way out and the handle was yanked from my hand (broke my little finger) and I was pulled down on my right knee (broken) and tore my right rotator cuff.

  65. I think you don’t like retractables because of the HUMANS on the other end of the leash that are not using them properly. It’s not the tool, it’s how it’s being used.

    You prefer a longline versus a controllable length retractable leash?
    Of course you only use a longline when there’s no one around… so… it’s a tool with rules required to keep it a tool used safely…. just like a retractable.

    Longlines get wetter, dirtier and are NOT as controllable as a retractable when you’re trying to recall a dog in a HURRY. I can brake & lock the retractable in a millisecond. Getting a long line off the ground, wound back up in hand to where my dog hits the end can take a minute or two – way too long in an emergency.

    If my 165lb dog takes off on the longline… I’m dropping it, pure and simple to save MY life and limb (I’ve had to do that in the days before I used a retractable… and easily recaptured that previous dog when the squirrel went up a tree).

    Longlines on the ground are a HUGE hazard. Loose lines can get tangled in EVERYTHING. At LEAST as dangerous as a misused retractable. Longlines must be used INTELLIGENTLY to be safe, just like retracables.

    I do use a longline – because it’s 50ft, and my retractable is only 15ft. When my mastiff goes swimming in January, I prefer NOT to go in the water with her. LOL.

    When I’m in the ‘hood and want a casual walk, allowing my dog to sniff and stroll while I maintain a constant speed, the retractable is PERFECT!

    My mastiff is already trained. The retractable is a REWARD for a well trained dog, it is not a training tool. The retractable allows us near-off-leash enjoyment while being legal, and with a safety net if I need to hit the brake in a hurry. My mastiff is ALWAYS under voice control… off-leash, on her longline or on her retractable.

    Again, if you have issues with untrained dogs and untrained handlers, that’s a whole different subject on which we can agree. Just stop blaming the tool.

  66. Cause people NEVER drop the 6ft leashes, right?
    A spazzy lab is ALWAYS going to be extra fun to catch!

  67. My childhood piano teacher had the end of her finger chopped off when the retractable lead cord wound round it and her dog suddenly pulled hard.

  68. EXACTLY!!

    I actually lock mine down to 1 inch when in populated/busy areas… my mastiff is tall, so having a simple handle attached to her collar is great! And she’s smart enough to know the difference between the “pull” of the retractable, the locked in resistance and being off-leash. It’s really not difficult when you know how to train your dog. My mastiff is also registered CGC.

    Our last dog was a bit more exuberant when out walking with our dog sitter. We had to have her walk him on a simple 6ft leash. He was fine with me on the retractable… but she was a bit looser with the rules, and he took advantage. Know your dog, know your own limits!

  69. About Mary’s lawn… I never really considered it until our neighborhood group started talking about it. I always pick up after my dog, I don’t let her go more than 3ft into anyone’s un-fenced yard areas (even when on her 15ft retractable), and I don’t let her stop at the yard with all the “I hate dog poop” signs.

    But one dog trainer in our area has actually trained his dog to only go at home, not while on leash walking.

    This would be a problem for us, as we go camping and hiking all the time… so… she needs to be able to go when NOT at home. She does have a “potty” command, but sometimes, when you gotta go, you just gotta go!

  70. U r 100% accurate!’s the owners , who do not use the JESCH correctly that r at fault..put your damn phones away..don’t let your dog be on a long lead if there is s chance he could dart into traffic…USE YOUR DAMN HEAD!!!!..#ITSNOTTHELEASH!!..#ITSTHEOWNERS!!!

  71. I actually think non-retractable leashes are cruel. I’ve been use a retractable for at least 10 years and I’ve never had an issue. Of course I’m hyper vigilant and I reel him in at any sign of danger, stress, or general disorder. What’s the point of keeping such deep control over every move your dog makes. Let a dog be a dog.

  72. Depends. I use one when it’s safe, generally walking rurally or in my campground (I’m a fulltime RVer), as it gives my dog a lot more “steps” than a walk on a straight leash. If we’re in town, around crowds or lots of other dogs, it’s a straight leash all the way. I am very careful w/the retractable and always pay close attention to my dog and surroundings and have it close to locking. That said, I agree that most people are not safe using them. I have had my lower legs burned by an out of control dog on a flexi.

  73. This is disheartening. I had just signed up for a subscription to whole dog journal. I can’t stand all the self righteousness that I see in this article AND many of the responses. The leashes aren’t the problem, the people using them are. And to some of you, dogs aren’t people. They pee outside. You can’t expect them to only pee and poop in certain places, and if you’re one of those insanely controlling people who want that out of your pet, get a child instead.

    I’ve canceled my subscription, before it even began.

    Thanks for nothing.

  74. Running late to an appointment yesterday, I made a quick left onto a street only to slam on my brakes. In my direct path was a small dachshund—at the far end of a sixteen foot retractable trotting ACROSS the street from the owner. She simply smiled. Boy, did I want to yell at her about her stupidity. I guess it takes an accident for some people to get it.

  75. A retractable leash is a tool. Used improperly, it is a dangerous tool.
    Used properly, it can be very helpful. It should only be used if your dog has good to excellent leash manners.
    Here is my case for proper use of a retractable leash.
    I use one occasionally with our dog to work on moving recalls. He never extends the full length of the leash and respects the curb boundary. He knows to stay on the easement and off the main yards. I also pay 100% attention to him and the environment around us and reel him in if anything unusual is noticed.
    A long line can be hard to manage and can get caught up in the dog’s extremities or the handler’s hands and both can sustain injuries.

  76. Thank you John Zappe, I was going to use these training examples as an appropriate use of the flexi, but you beat me to it and explained it quite well.

    A second use I have for a flexi is when letting my almost 15 year old Golden have some sniffing/walking time in the grassy field at my house – the flexi helps since it’s much easier to allow her to go slow and take her time sniffing.

    She is however a trained dog and so elderly that she doesn’t run around on it or cause any possible danger.

    However, as a professional dog trainer I do let my clients know how dangerous they can be.

  77. I also dislike retractable leashes. We once had a dog who could chew through the lead in no time at all. Spent lots of time trying to get her back. She was a mixed breed, maybe 60 lbs. Give me a tough nylon or leather lead anytime.

  78. I’ve been a WDJ subscriber continually since 1998 and although I haven’t been in synch with everything, I have never been disappointed. Hands down, I’ve found it to be the best publication I’ve found anywhere for information to make a better and more healthy life for our dogs. The annual dog food issues are, by themselves, worth the cost of the subscription.

    In this case, the article reflects some the reasons why dog trainers have commonly recommended against using retractable leashes and what you see here, like it or not, is a free discussion of the topic by subscribers, something most other dog publications don’t have the “guts” to offer.

  79. For goodness sakes, if you dont like retractable leases, dont bloody buy one. Leave the rest of us alone. End of story.
    I have had great dogs of all breeds using retractables for as long as they have been in existance with zero issues, but then again I do use what little grey matter the good Lord has given me.

  80. THANK YOU! We have an 80 lb. English Lab/Mastiff mix and we use a retractable leash all the time. He’s very non-reactive. He does want to greet people, but he’ll ask for my permission before going up to them and sitting, waiting to be petted (he’s not a jumper). If I do sense a potential problem, I lock the leash so that he can’t get away from me. I also use a harness.

    I’ve seen dogs on regular leashes act all the ways stated in the article. It’s a matter of training.