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  • Writer's pictureEric

The Retractable Leash Debate

Picture it. You are taking your dog for a leisurely walk around the block. The sun is shining on a beautiful afternoon, and everything is picture perfect.

Suddenly, you turn the corner and are unexpectedly faced with another dog. The other person begins to struggle to reel their dog in closer to them. The interaction between the pooches start with snarls, then the snapping begins. As you bolt out of the way with your dog to avoid further escalation, you notice the other person uses a retractable leash. You have seen it before, and you're sure you will see it again, so you shake your head, roll your eyes, and continue on with your walk.

The debate over retractable leashes has been churning on for decades. In recent years, we have seen a surge in this modern spin on the traditional leash. This has set the stage for arguments for and against their use. Let's examine some scenarios when a conventional, fixed-length leash could be a better, safer choice. Many dog enthusiasts have only had negative experiences with the retractable variety, so we will also look at responsible, appropriate uses of the retractable leash. Ready? Let's go for a walk...

What's the Difference?

The fixed-length leash is a simple, sturdy, and reliable design. These leashes almost always have two features: a loop for your hand and a clasp to attach to a dog's collar or harness. The most common size we see used for walking dogs is a 6-foot leash. This tried, and true leash is the perfect choice for when you want maximum control over your dog. You can easily pull your dog closer or give your dog a bit of slack to take in the smells as they desire while still maintaining full control.

Retractable leashes feature the same metal clasp to attach to your dog's collar or harness, but the other end offers a spindle with a brake. This added feature means you can allow your dog to travel much further from you than a traditional leash. The brake mechanism gives the handler the ability to push a button to lock the leash in place, thus preventing further extension of the leash. Unfortunately, retractable leashes do not provide the handler an easy way to reel a dog back in closer. This is a significant drawback to the retractable variety of dog leash.

Old Faithful

Traditional Leash for Everyday Use

Traditional, fixed-length leashes seem to be the right choice when you walk your dog in an area where there are other dogs, people, traffic, or other unpredictable elements to the environment. In many cases, owners tell stories where quick reaction time is needed to ensure their dog stays safe. Imagine the need to respond to everyday events quickly:

  • a fast-approaching, unruly child;

  • an encounter with a cat that came out of nowhere;

  • a cyclist who is headed in your direction;

  • crossing a busy street with other pedestrians

In these circumstances, many elements of the environment are out of your control, so the ability to maintain total restraint over your canine companion is essential. The fixed-length leash is the best choice for providing maximum safety in these more complex situations, where you may be sharing the space with several other people, dogs, cars, etc.

One example of a complicated, unpredictable situation is a trip to the store with your pup. In recent years, many businesses became pet-friendly and now allow dogs to accompany their owners while shopping. The traditional leash is really the only choice you should make for a trip to the store since there are so many possibilities for a confrontation that may make your dog uncomfortable and put him in a lousy situation. Remember, you are likely to share the same close spaces with other customers, their children, and their dogs. You do not want to be in a dangerous position where you cannot immediately pull your dog closer to you.

Go Go Gadget Leash

Retractable Leash Use in an Open Field

The newer model, the retractable leash, may seem desirable for regular, everyday use, but what you gain in flexibility for your dog, you may lose in lack of quick reaction time when you least expect to need it. However, contrary to popular belief, the retractable variety of leash does have it's placed in a responsible dog owner's day pack. When the area you are enjoying time with your furry friend is more predictable, such as a large field with no other people or animals, a retractable leash may be better suited. This retractable leash application is a safe way to give your dog a little more room to run while still ensuring he does not stray too far.

Even when you have decided a retractable leash is a good option for your surroundings, we always recommend having a fix-length leash on hand. Imagine taking in a nice leisurely walk after work across the empty baseball fields at a neighboring elementary school, only to hear the school bell ring, followed by what seems like hundreds of excited children running out of the school. You will want maximum control of your dog when a situation suddenly changes, and a retractable leash is no longer optimal. No problem! Reach into your back pocket and attach the traditional, fixed-length leash on your dog's collar.

Some users of retractables have even reported rope burns when their dog becomes excited and accidentally wraps the leash around their handler's leg. Imagine the feeling of a dog running away at top speed while the thin rope causes a burn on your leg. Ouch! This situation is much less likely to occur when it is just you and your dog spending time together, rather than in a place with the possibility for other dogs to cause that kind of excitement.

The Winner?

While we will not declare a winner in the great leash debate, there do seem to be more everyday situations where the traditional, fixed-length leash is the better option for safety. When you have more control over your surroundings, and it is just you and your dog, a retractable leash may be a perfectly safe option to give your dog a little more room to roam. Just remember, you never know what is around that corner until it is too late, and we know you want to keep your best friend safe from harm.


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