|A perfect reason to use a retractable leash! Do you want|
to step into that snow with her so she can explore?
I hear these things a lot from other dog owners and trainers and while some aspects may have some merit, I tend to disagree with many of the statements. Can retractable leashes be dangerous? Sure. There's no denying that. But knowing how to use it (which is ultimately not very hard) minimizes the potential danger of the leash. Could dogs run up to other dogs or out into the road? Sure. The leashes do usually extend anywhere from 12 to 26 feet. This gives a fair amount of leeway and if the owner is negligent and not watching their dog or what's going on around them anything could happen. But that comes down to the owner. I've had people let their dogs come up to mine when it was on a 6-foot leash and I've seen owners standing near the sidewalk let their dog wander into the road on a 6-foot leash. And worse, I've seen plenty of folks walking untrained dogs off leash. Do retractable leashes teach dogs to pull? Not in my experience. Are they as bad as choke chains or prong collars? No. That's a pretty ridiculous statement. They are intended to be a means of containment not an aversive way to stop a dog from doing something.
Should they be banned? Absolutely not.
I do, however, have certain rules for the type of dog I will use a retractable leash with and when/where I will use the leash.
Rules for the Dog
1. The dog must not be able to pull me off my feet if it hits the end of the leash at a full run. This means I am likely to only use the leash with small to medium sized dogs instead of larger ones. My dog is 50 pounds. I use the leash with her. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable using the leash with a dog who was larger or more muscular.
2. The dog must not be a dedicated puller. A dog who pulls once in awhile is ok. But if the dog pulls constantly and is always at the end of the leash then the reason for the leash is pointless. I will only use a 6-foot leash with such a dog until he/she has learned not to pull.
3. The dog must not be an unpredictable bolter. In other words, if a dog tends to be a squirrel chaser and gives no warning signs that they've seen the squirrel before giving chase, then a retractable is not the right leash for this dog. My dog does like to chase squirrels but (a) she gives plenty of warning signs (e.g. she freezes in place and stares first) and (b) I've trained her to only chase when I give her the command so her freezing in place has become more pronounced over time.
4. The dog must be trained and under voice control. It doesn't have to be perfect voice control, but a dog who is able to respond to "stop" and/or "come" is a good candidate for a retractable leash. If it breaks (and in over three years I've yet to have one break), I want to be able to control the dog with my voice.
Rules for Me
1. I will pay attention to my dog. If she is wandering too close to the street, I will reel her in and/or lock the leash. If there is a dog nearby, I will reel her in and/or lock the leash. If there is a squirrel she wants to chase I will allow her if it's safe (running with her so she doesn't hit the end of the leash) or I will reel her in and/or lock the leash.
2. I will pay attention to our surroundings. I will be aware of where cars and other people are. I will keep an eye out for other dogs. I will not let her precede me around corners where I cannot see what is coming first. I will never ever listen to music or talk on the cell phone while out on a walk with her. What is going on around us is important.
3. I will not choose a knock-off leash made by some unknown company (I use Flexi brand leashes only). I will not use a corded leash, instead using the "full leash" retractable leashes as they are less dangerous and break less often. They are sturdier leashes, especially when used with a larger dog.
4. I will make sure I know how to use the leash and will keep it in good repair. I will keep my thumb hovering over the lock mechanism and will use that mechanism at a moment's notice.
Rules for When to Use the Leash
1. I will not use a retractable in places where the dog must always be kept close at my side. This includes festivals and walking in the city, among other places.
2. I will not use the retractable in classes or at trials. Again, she needs to be kept close to me during class. She also likes to tug on her leash as part of getting excited to go out and "work," and retractable leashes should not be played with in such a way.
So obviously I have thought long and hard about when and where and with whom to use a retractable leash. People can call me and my dog whatever acronym they want (the latest annoying one is ROAR: Rover on a Retractable), but it's not going to prevent me from using my retractable leash. I use it wisely and responsibly and my dog is happy to have the bit of freedom for sniffing that the leash allows her to have.