Where I live, I see a lot of dogs on retractable leashes. They are generally wandering pretty far from their owners, investigating something in the grass, or interacting with someone. While these types of leashes may be appropriate for some older adult dogs, they are never appropriate for puppies. There are a couple of reasons for this.
1. Unless locked or slack, retractable leashes exert back pressure on the collar at all times. The back pressure is associated with freedom to explore. This is generally a reward to puppies. So these types of leashes reward puppies for pulling. Is that what you want to teach your dog?
2. Retractable leashes also give the puppy a lot of distance from the owner. This decreases the owner’s control.
3. Retractable leashes are difficult to reel in quickly. So if your puppy is in trouble, it is a challenge to get the puppy back to you in enough time to intervene.
Instead of choosing a retractable leash for your puppy, choose a 4-8 foot leather, cotton, or nylon leash. This way, the pup will be close to you and you can easily take up the slack if need be.
Another group of dogs who shouldn’t be on retractable leashes are reactive dogs. These dogs bark, lunge, and pull toward cars, dogs, skateboards, and people. In situations like this, the use of a retractable leash is downright dangerous. Walking a reactive dog requires control and that cannot happen on a retractable leash.
Sometimes my clients who own reactive dogs will say that they keep the leash locked so that there is slack and the dog is relatively close to them. Despite that, this is not an effective way to walk a reactive dog. Unfortunately, I have been witness to more than one retractable leash breaking as a large dog lunges at the end of the leash. Not a situation that I want to be in! Also, the handle on these leashes keeps the owner from bringing the dog closer to them quickly. When you are handling a reactive dog, you have to be able to move the dog closer to you or away from the stimulus at a moment’s notice. You can’t do that with a retractable leash.
One of the downsides to ditching your retractable leash is that you will have to train your dog not to pull. There are lots of humane head halters and no pull harnesses which will help you to control your dog on walks. Another is that you will most likely have to pick up the pace of your walks to match your dog’s need for exercise. If this really gives you pause, you can wear your dog out by playing in the house or yard before a walk so that he or she is a bit less energetic.
And finally, a good positive reinforcement trainer can help you teach your dog to walk without pulling.
So, which dogs should be on retractable leashes? Older dogs who don’t pull and are well mannered are good candidates for these leashes. Of course, even older, well mannered dogs should be kept on 4-8 foot leashes if they are in busy areas so that they don’t get into trouble.
You can find information on leash training your puppy at The Three-Step Correction Method for Puppies.
Dr. Lisa Radosta
Last reviewed on October 7, 2015