Retractable, or extendable leads are those thin lines which wind in and out of the box container you hold. You can lock them or allow your dog to pull more line as they go. They are different to long lines (which we discuss in our blog here) which are a fixed length and don’t roll in and out.
You might have seen some mixed recommendations online, or even been told people’s opinions if out using one.
And generally the answer is going to be no, you shouldn’t use a retractable lead. Although in some circumstances it can be done well.
The questions is: should you use them?
Longer lines can give a dog who isn’t safe off the lead (for any reason such as lack recall, reactivity, avoidance behaviours etc) the option for more exercise and exploration. So I do understand the drive for people wanting to use these but let’s look into more detail at the negatives:
One of the biggest reasons is due to injuries. The lines on these leads are generally a very thin wire, which if grabbed by a human, or caught around another dog or person, can cause serious injuries. Many fingers have been lost to retractable leads, and serious burns caused too. This is a real danger and can be difficult to mitigate against and so always needs to be considered.
One of the other big arguments against these leads is the lack of control. Many people use these leads and see their dog as being controlled, but actually the dog has a huge area it can move around in. This can be especially dangerous when pavement walking. When your dog has that length of lead and is ahead of you, there is no way for you to stop them stepping into the road. Unfortunately this happens far too often and can have devastating effects.
Interactions with other dogs whilst on these leads also can cause problems with dogs getting tangled and stressed and fights more likely to occur. If you know us then you know we never recommend dogs greeting other dogs on the lead due to the restricted movements and normal interactions it prevents. These lines are not the solution to this problem and can sometimes be even worse than fixed leads.
A relatively minor problem with retractable leads is delays in learning about appropriate lead walking. Dogs who are walked on these leads are actively encouraged to pull when there is tension, this gives them more line rolled out, and more room to explore. If you are then trying to teach this dog not to pull, and to avoid tension on the lead it can be quite difficult as you are actively teaching them the exact opposite!
Other negatives to consider are weight restrictions. Most leads will give an idea of weight but anything medium (15kg) or bigger has a real chance of snapping the light weight line in these leads. And any dog running who suddenly hits the end of the line will have a huge amount of force go through them. If this is attached to their neck at a collar this could be catastrophic.
So should you use one?
Probably not. The only real benefit can be offered with a safer alternative such as a long line which we would recommend instead, or going to a private freedom field!
If you absolutely must then it should only be with a small breed dog, away from other dogs and people and always attached to a harness.